The calendar says March so, of course, spring can’t be far away. That means Easter will be here before we know it. It’s early this year, falling on March 31, only two weeks after St. Patrick’s Day. When I think of Easter eats, things like hard boiled eggs and ham come to mind. Ham became an Easter tradition for a very simple reason – early American settlers placed their hams in smokehouses generally in October and November and therefore they were finished by Easter. Families celebrated with their cured, smoked hams that were just ready to eat. Today, most of us purchase our hams already cured and sometimes even smoked from the local grocery store but the tradition has continued.
Even smoked hams will taste much better if you smoke them yourself. The smoke process in a commercial processing setting is not what you can do at home and smoking even a “smoked” ham will improve the flavor dramatically. When looking for the perfect ham to smoke, you’ll want to find one at least 10 to 12 pounds and bone in. I like the half shank ham and look for spiral cut as they will absorb more smoke and glaze than a regular non-cut ham that you’ll have to score yourself. Any ham that says “ham/water product” is NOT acceptable. Sure you can smoke it but it is a processed ham and not at all what you’ll enjoy on Easter or any time. Keep in mind that you can accomplish great smoked flavor cooking your ham offset from the coals and wood chips or propane flame in something as simple as a backyard grill. And since we’re basically re-heating an already cooked ham, with a tasty recipe, you can make something almost as good in the oven. In a smoker, grill or the oven, you’ll want to cook heat/smoke your ham for approximately three hours at 225 degrees F. In a smoker, add some chunks of hickory, pecan or oak. On a grill, use the same wood except soak the wood chips and sprinkle on the coals before you put your ham on. You can also use wood pellets wrapped in foil pouches with holes poked in them. This method can also be used on a gas grill. If cooking in the oven, unless you want to deal with your smoke detectors, don’t put any wood in! While I don’t care for liquid smoke, you can add a little bit to the glaze if you want. Personally, I’d rather skip any smoke if that’s all that’s available.
You’ll want your ham up to 145 degrees F or, if cured but not cooked, at least 160 degrees F. This should take about three hours. For the first two hours, just let it rise in temperature with constant smoke (if using the grill or smoker). Then, the last hour, baste every ten to 15 minutes with the following recipe:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup (dark grade B has more flavor than grade A)
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1-2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
1 tablespoon dry ground mustard
2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate
Place all of these ingredients together in a sauce pan and whisk together until it forms a thick sauce.
This will seep into the spiral cut slices and your ham will taste fantastic, one of the best you’ve ever had! Happy Easter, everyone!