How to Smoke a Fresh Ham: All You Need to Know!

October 27, 2022

If you want to know how to smoke a fresh ham, then you are in the right place! I am not the biggest fan of processed or pre cooked hams which is why I made the effort to figure out how to smoke this cut all by myself.

And, now, I can show you!

How to smoke a fresh ham

Choosing Your Fresh Ham

Finding fresh, raw ham to smoke is a lot more difficult than most people realize. This is because the majority of butchers and meat suppliers typically produce pre cooked ham or cured ham. You are also likely to find ones that have been brined, glazed, or treated in some way or another.

raw meat on a platter

This is why you need to be very clear that you are looking for fresh ham that hasn’t been processed, prepared, or cooked in any way.

The other thing that you will need to figure out is what portion of the fresh ham to get. See, the whole ham is made up of the round hip bone, the aitch bone, and a layer of fat halfway up the leg.

A half fresh ham, on the other hand, can refer to either the rump portion or the shank cut. The rump is also referred to as the butt portion. Now, the shank section tends to have a higher fat content which can offer more flavor and can be juicier too. As there is only a single bone, it is also easier to cut.

The butt cut is leaner but some people prefer it as such. The only thing to be mindful of here is that the bone can make it difficult to cut through.

Whole vs. half ham – which one should you choose?

Well, this all depends on how many people you are feeding. Keep in mind what some whole hams can weigh as much as 20lbs. So, unless you are catering to your neighborhood, prepare for some serious leftovers.

Of course, if you want to store your smoked ham and use the leftovers for some time to come, then such a large section may work for you. In case you don’t have anywhere to store your ham, though, I would suggest going with the half.

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Brining, Injecting, Oh My!

In general, pork is a rather delicate meat – as such, it has a tendency to dry out during the smoking process. The good news is that this can be avoided when you brine ham or inject it with a marinade. With a little bit of effort, you can get a texture nearly identical to pork loin.

Personally, I try to avoid the wet brining process whenever possible as it is messy and takes up too much space in my refrigerator. Usually, the dry brine is the way to go for me.

In this case, though, I find that injecting the fresh ham is the best option. For one thing, it often only has to be done a short while before smoking a fresh ham. For another, it is a rather fuss-free method.

I find the following injection recipe to be the best, but you can definitely choose your own:

  • 1/2 cup of apple juice
  • 1/2 cup of pineapple juice
  • 3 tbs. of the smoked ham dry rub
  • 2 tbs. of melted butter
  • 1 tbs. of Worcestershire sauce

Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan and turn the heat on low. Simmer until all the ingredients are combined and dissolved. Take off the heat and let cool until the solution comes to room temperature.

Then, suction up an equal amount of marinade for each injection. You will also have to inject evenly, in a grid format so that the entire cut absorbs the moisture and the flavor. As you are leaving the netting on, it should be easier to figure out where you should place the syringe.

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meat platter

When injecting the meat make sure to stick the needle deep into the cut. If it is too close to the surface, then the liquid will simply squirt outwards. However, you should avoid injecting too close to the bone.

Should You Leave the Netting On?

The other thing that you may be wondering is should you remove the netting that comes along with the ham? Well, this depends on what the material is made of. If it is plastic then you will need to get rid of it as it will melt and burn in the smoker.

If it is meant to withstand high temperatures, though, I would suggest keeping it on. For one thing, it ensures that the fresh ham holds its shape throughout. The grid is also helpful when it comes to injecting, flavoring, and glazing.

Scoring the Ham

In case you will not be leaving the netting on as you smoke ham, then you will need to score it. Cut diamond shapes into the surface. It is important not to cut too deep though – you should only cut into the fat and not the actual meat.

Try to keep the scoring to just 1/4th on an inch in depth. This will allows the fresh ham to absorb the flavors of the rub and the glaze more effectively.

Smoked Fresh Ham Recipe

Ingredients

  • 8lb fresh, raw ham
  • 5 tbs. of yellow mustard
bbq ham

Dry Rub

  • 3 tbs. of smoked paprika
  • 1 tbs. of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbs. of kosher salt
  • 1 tbs. of garlic powder
  • 1 tbs. of onion powder
  • 1 tsp. of mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp. of cayenne pepper

Glaze

  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1 tbs. of Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbs. of spice rub
  • 2 tsp. of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. of ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. of ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp. of ground cloves

Method

Step 1

Prepare the marinade and then inject the raw ham.

Step 2

Combine the ingredients of the spice rub in a bowl.

Apply the mustard all over the fresh ham in a thin, even layer.

Sprinkle the rub over the entire ham and press into the surface of the ham. Place in refrigerator for up to 4 hours.

Step 3

Power up the smoker, preheating to 225 degrees F.

Step 4

Place the ham in the smoker and smoke until the smoking ham cooks to an internal temperature reaches 130 degrees.

Step 5

While the ham is smoking, combine the ingredients of the brown sugar glaze into a saucepan over medium heat. Bring the solution to a boil stirring continuously. Take off the heat once it begins to boil and let cool and thicken.

Step 6

When the internal temp hits 130 degrees, open the lid of the smoker. If you have kept the netting, cut it away at this point, using kitchen shears.

egg and ham salad

Then, using a pastry brush, apply the glaze to the smoked ham, liberally.

Then, close the lid and continue smoking until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees.

Take the smoked ham out of the smoker and rest in a roasting pan or an aluminum foil container. Let the ham rest for up to 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Choosing Your Wood

When learning how to smoke a fresh ham, you also have to figure out the right wood to use for the job. If you are using a pellet smoker, then you will need to choose pellets. For a charcoal smoker, though, it will need to be either wood chips or wood chunks.

Now, both fresh and smoked hams tend to have a lighter, more delicate flavor. As such, I find it best to use woods that produce a more subtle smoke flavor. When I smoke a half or whole fresh ham, either apple or cherry wood chips are my favorite.

There is a nice smoke flavor but it isn’t overpowering. These fruitwoods also lend a lovely sweet taste that goes really well with smoked ham. Maple, peach, and pecan are also excellent options and a nice break from tradition as well.

Now, when smoking ham, you may look for a slightly stronger smoky flavor. In this case, you can try oak wood. While this does produce a more notable taste for your smoked fresh ham, it doesn’t overpower the natural notes of the pork.

I would stay away from any other more potent woods like hickory and mesquite as they will only make your smoked fresh ham taste bitter.

Now, when smoking ham, there is no need to stick to just one type of wood chips. Instead, feel free to mix and match with the fruitwoods or throw in a little bit of oak to keep things interesting.

Should You Soak Your Wood?

You will often find people recommending adding soaked wood chunks onto your charcoal grill. This is because it is supposed to help the smoking along, but this isn’t the case at all.

For one thing, unless you keep the wood in water for hours – often overnight, they aren’t going to absorb much water. The other issue is that when the water from the wood falls onto the coals, it creates steam and not smoke.

The steam can mess with the texture and the taste of your meat when cooking ham. As such, it is best to skip this step altogether.

Choosing Ingredients for the Rub

Figuring out how to smoke a fresh ham is just as much choosing the right ingredients as it is learning the proper technique. This is why you should choose the ingredients for your rub mix carefully.

Now, as you will have seen, I haven’t used any brown sugar in the mix. I usually add some when smoking meat, but I haven’t for this recipe. This is because of the glaze ingredients. If you take a look at that, you will notice it is quite heavy on the sweetness.

crossaint sandwich with ham

To ensure that I don’t go overboard, I have omitted the brown sugar from the rub.

In general, this is a good tip to remember. While you certainly can use the recipes I have used in this recipe, you may also want to experiment with other glazes and rubs.

If you do, it is important to keep that balance in mind. As these two components will often have the same ingredients, make sure that when combined that they don’t create a result that is too sweet or too salty.

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Using Yellow Mustard

I love using yellow mustard to smoke a fresh ham. This is because I find that mustard and pork always go hand in hand. If you aren’t a fan of this condiment, though, you may be hesitant. This is especially because both the glaze and the rub contain some form of mustard as well.

If you want, you can swap out the mustard for olive oil instead. Make sure to apply a thin layer, though, so that the surface of the smoked ham will not be overly greasy.

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How Long Should You Marinate the Ham For?

Once you have applied the spices, how long should you wait until you smoke the ham? Well, it is a case of more being better. This gives the ingredients time to truly penetrate into the surface of the ham.

At the same time, if you are also injecting a marinade, you don’t have to keep the ham for as long. I would say that a minimum of 4 hours works best. If you are short on time, though, you can certainly pop in the ham for smoking well before this.

Creating Your Glaze

You are going to find quite a few glaze recipes to choose from, particularly when it comes to smoking fresh ham. They are some that use different fruit juices or even rum. They may also contain various spices or herbs.

If you are unsure of what to go with, I would suggest starting off simple. Perhaps a smoky brown sugar or maple glaze. If you want a more balanced profile, try some pineapple juice. Needs a bit more spicing up? Then cinnamon is a good option.

A question that I get a fair amount is why is the glaze only applied towards the end of the smoke? Well, this is because if you apply it at an earlier stage, it will simply burn, leaving behind an unpleasant taste and odor.

At the same time, you don’t want to leave the application for too late, either. Then, the glaze wouldn’t have time to smoke and create a sticky sweet layer on the top. Thus, follow the instructions to the letter to ensure the best results.

Now, you may be wondering, do you need a glaze at all? There are actually plenty of smoked fresh ham recipes that aren’t topped off with a glaze. This is is something that you can try as well.

Personally, I feel like when you smoke a fresh ham that a glaze is practically expected and adds extra flavor. If you are worried about your health, want to used the smoked fresh ham in a greater variety of recipes, or don’t have much of a sweet tooth, then you absolutely can skip the glaze.

If you do decide to do this, I would suggest adding some brown sugar to the rub mixture, however.

Choosing Your Smoking Temperature

When you smoke a ham, it is important to go low and slow. The meat is rather delicate and it is prone to drying out. This is why I recommend a cooking temperature of 225 F. If you want to smoke the ham a little faster, then you can increase it to 250 F but I would keep a close watch on the internal temperature.

At this rate, an 8lb ham would take about 4 or so hours to cook. You should definitely not go by timing alone, but you can use it as a guide for knowing when to check the internal temp.

Smoking Ham to the Right Internal Temp

One of the main steps to learning how to smoke a fresh ham is knowing when your smoked fresh ham is done.

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter if you are dealing with a cured ham, fresh ham, pre cooked hams, or fresh ham, you have to cook the cut until the ham reaches 145 degrees F.

ham and cheese appetizers

When you smoke a raw ham, you do have to pay careful attention to the internal temperature. Most hams can burn easily if you aren’t careful. This is why the meat is smoked at such a low temperature.

Still, you should use a meat thermometer to keep track of the internal temperature throughout. Keep the temperature probe in the deepest part of the cut for the best results. However, make sure that it is at least an inch away from any bones or else you will get a false reading.

Take the ham off the heat the moment it is fully cooked.

Adding Liquid to the Ham

Some people like to add various liquids to the ham about an hour or so into the cooking process. The most popular options are apple juice, chicken stock, and beer. Once this is added, the ham is sealed up to maintain the moisture levels.

Now, due to the temperature inside the pellet grill, charcoal or electric smoker, the liquid is going to evaporate pretty quickly. As such, it isn’t going to make much difference as to how moist the meat is going to be.

The other issue is that when you pour the liquid over the ham, you can end up washing the spices on the ham. This will take away from the delicious flavor.

Thus, I wouldn’t bother with this step but you are free to give it a try. If you do want to try this step, then make sure to place the ham in an aluminum foil container beforehand. Also, instead of simply pouring the liquid, you can just add it to the pan and seal it up with foil.

Your other option would be to brush on or spray the liquid at intervals, taking care not to dislodge any of the spices.

Resting the Smoked Ham

As with any meat, it is important to rest your ham once it is finished smoking. As there is a glaze on it, it is best to place it in a roasting pan instead of a cutting board as you would usually do. There will be less of a mess and the meat will be able to more readily reabsorb the juices.

If you are cooking for a crowd or party, I would time the cook carefully. While you should always start a bit early to make up for the meat taking longer to smoke, it is a good idea to time it so that by the time the meat is finished resting, people are ready to eat.

This way, the meat will be the perfect texture and temperature.

Wrapping It Up

Well, there you have it – you now know how to smoke a fresh ham! All that is left for you to do is to put this knowledge to good use and wow your friends and family with what you can do.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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