Curing and smoking of hams began when pioneers faced the trouble of keeping their meat from spoiling. Today we cure and smoke ham for the love of the taste! Traditional curing must be completed during the colder months of the year when temperatures have reached 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit. However, you can cure ham any time of the year with the assistance of a walk-in cooler or spare refrigerator. Once the curing process is complete, the ham can be smoked for additional flavor. The smoked flavor will depend largely upon the medium you use for smoking.
Mix 4 pounds of salt and 1 1/2 pounds of white or light brown granulated sugar with a large mixing spoon. Optionally, you can also add 3 ounces of food-grade saltpeter, which can be purchased from drug stores. If using saltpeter, mix to ensure it is spread evenly. You will need 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 ounce of curing mixture per pound of ham.
Cut an opening near the bone of the hock end and forcing three tablespoons of cure into the opening. The hock end is the end that was closest to the buttock of the pig. This is necessary to decrease the chance of the bone going sour or spoiling.
Rub all of the skin and the cut side of the ham with the cure mixture and carefully place the ham in a stockinette. Stockinettes are mesh sacks made of polyester and cotton blends and can be purchased at meat specialty stores, through online retailers and sometimes at fabric stores.
Place the ham in a clean burlap bag if hanging in the garage or from a tree to cure. The burlap will help keep insects and pests away.
Hang the ham in a walk-in cooler, empty refrigerator, garage or from a tree. Ensure that the temperature is about 33 to 35 degrees. Do not let the ham freeze. The ham must cure for about 2 days per pound.
Scrub the meat with a clean, stiff brush and cool water to remove excess salt and bring out a brighter color when smoking. Allow the ham to dry overnight in a moderate to cool dry room away from insects and other pests.
Hang the ham in a smokehouse or place it in a smoker.
Build a fire under the ham with your favorite smoked flavors such as oak wood, pecan, apple or hickory. Do not allow the flames to touch the ham. Keep the smoke temperature between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Open the ventilator for the first day and close it on the second day of smoking. Check frequently to ensure the smoke is still billowing. Add more wood or smoke source to the fire as needed. After 48 hours the ham should be completely smoked and ready for consumption.