Home cured ham: how to brine a ham

Home cured ham: how to brine a ham

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One of the great things about raising your own pigs is having a full freezer after hog butchering is done. And while we all love homemade bacon, ham is a favorite as well. So let me share with you how we brine a ham (and then smoke it!) here at our farm.

(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)

While most people think of ham as a giant cut from the back end of a pig, you can actually make ham from any pork roast that you cut. At butcher time, we always cut several smaller pork roasts instead of two giant hams from each pig. We do this because packaging is easier, and it also allows us more flexibility in what we do with the pork roasts.

Interested in learning how to turn your pork into ham? Let me share with you how we brine a ham (or wet-cure a ham) here at our farm.

After choosing a pork roast (or several!) to make into ham, the first thing you need to do is brine the ham. Some people call this “curing” a ham — brining is a type of curing. To brine a ham is basically to wet cure a ham.

Brining takes several days, and it’s essential to the process of making a good ham. Please realize that making a ham from the pigs you have raised is not going to be an immediate thing — it’s definitely a process. Good things come to those who wait.

Interested in learning how to turn your pork into ham? Let me share with you how we brine a ham (or wet-cure a ham) here at our farm.

 

How to brine a ham

Here’s the method we use to brine a ham. For every 7 pounds of pork you’re using, you will need:

2 1/4 cups kosher salt

2 cups brown sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons pink curing salt <– needs to be this, not table salt

1 tablespoon pickling spice

1/4 cup molasses

6 qts of water, divided

Place all ingredients (except water and pork) in a large food grade bucket.

Interested in learning how to turn your pork into ham? Let me share with you how we brine a ham (or wet-cure a ham) here at our farm.

Bring two quarts of water to a boil and then pour over what’s in the bucket. Stir to dissolve. Then pour four quarts of cold water into the bucket. Stir until well combined. Then carefully place your pork roast(s) in the brine filled bucket.

Interested in learning how to turn your pork into ham? Let me share with you how we brine a ham (or wet-cure a ham) here at our farm.

(Remember if you’re using more than 7 pounds of pork, you’ll need to adjust everything in this recipe accordingly — including the water. Which means you need to make sure you have a big enough bucket to hold everything!)

It is very important to remember that when you brine a ham and while this brine is working its magic on the pork roast, the pork roast needs to stay completely submerged. You can do this by turning a dinner plate upside down and putting it on top of the pork roast. For extra insurance, we usually fill a Ziploc bag with water and place it on top of the plate to make sure the pork roast doesn’t come poking out of the brine.

Interested in learning how to turn your pork into ham? Let me share with you how we brine a ham (or wet-cure a ham) here at our farm.

Some people suggest turning or flipping the roast in the brine solution every day or so, but we’ve never done this.

The pork roast needs to brine one day for every two pounds of pork. In other words, a seven pound roast would need to brine at least three and a half days. This bucket of future ham needs to be refrigerated for the entire brine time. Plan accordingly!

Brine for the total weight of pork or the weight of the actual roasts?

I brine for the weight of the actual cuts, not the total weight of the pork in the brine bucket. If you are brining a bunch of smaller cuts equaling XYZ, the brine will obviously go through the cuts faster than one big roast equaling the same XYZ. 

In other words, the brine will go through an 8 pound roast much slower than it will soak into four 2 pound roasts. MAKE enough brine for the total weight, but TIME the length your meat will be in the brine by the weight of the individual cut(s) of pork

After brine time is done…

When the brining time is completed, you need to rinse the roast(s). Some folks rinse it in cold water for several minutes, other folks put the roasts back into a clean bucket with fresh water and let it sit overnight.

Interested in learning how to turn your pork into ham? Let me share with you how we brine a ham (or wet-cure a ham) here at our farm.

It all depends how salty you like your ham. The quicker you rinse, the saltier the ham will be. (We rinse ours for about five minutes – we like salty ham!)

After the ham has been rinsed to your liking, blot the ham dry. We actually set ours up to dry in the kitchen on drying racks with a fan. The drier the skin of your ham is, the more the smoke flavor will adhere in the next step.

Interested in learning how to turn your pork into ham? Let me share with you how we brine a ham (or wet-cure a ham) here at our farm.

The next step after you brine a ham? Smoke the ham.

We have an electric smoker (only because we don’t yet have a smokehouse) and so when our hams are ready to be smoked we put them in the smoker, turn it on, set it 225 degrees, fill the tray with wood chips, and let ‘er go.

Interested in learning how to turn your pork into ham? Let me share with you how we brine a ham (or wet-cure a ham) here at our farm.

Know this: it sometimes takes a lot longer to smoke your hams because the temperature outside is well below zero and it takes that smoker a little more work to keep up to temp. This particular 14 pounds of ham smoked for several hours at 225 degrees for the hams to reach an internal temperature of 150-160 degrees.

Even so, it was well worth the wait.

Interested in learning how to turn your pork into ham? Let me share with you how we brine a ham (or wet-cure a ham) here at our farm.

Can you “smoke” a ham if you don’t have a smoker?

You can! On a handwritten recipe card in my recipe box, I have the instructions that after you brine a ham, it should be dried, brushed with liquid smoke, and then baked at 325 for 30 minutes per pound, or until the internal temp of the ham reaches 150 degrees F. We don’t use this recipe now because we have a smoker, but it’s good to know the option is there.

There are also several articles on the Google that explain how to smoke a ham (or any meat) without a smoker—some of them are simple, others more involved. Try your luck with the Google and see what you come up with.

Or, you know, invest in a smoker.

Homegrown, home-cured ham is the best!

There’s nothing like sitting down to a plate of eggs from the coop, toast made from homemade bread, and a slab of ham from pigs that you raised yourself. It’s the best kind of meal, don’t you think?

Interested in learning how to turn your pork into ham? Let me share with you how we brine a ham (or wet-cure a ham) here at our farm.

Yum, you guys. YUM.

4.63 from 8 votes
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Brine (wet-cure) for fresh ham

Have fresh pork you'd like to turn into ham? Here's how to make it happen!

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups kosher salt
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. pink curing salt
  • 1 Tbsp pickling spice
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 6 quarts water (divided)
  • 7 pounds pork roast (adjust recipe if using more pork)

Instructions

1. Place salts, sugars, spices, and molasses in large food grade bucket.

2. Bring TWO quarts of the water to a boil and then pour over the dry ingredients in the bucket. Stir to dissolve.

3. Then pour FOUR quarts of cold water into the bucket. Stir until well combined.

4. Carefully place your pork roast(s) in the brine filled bucket. Turn a plate upside down and place on top of pork roasts to keep them completely submerged.

5. The pork needs to brine ONE day for every TWO pounds of pork. (7 lbs of pork = 2.5 days) and needs to be refrigerated that entire time.

6. When brining is completed, you need to rinse the roast(s). You can rinse the pork in cold water for several minutes (saltier ham). Or put pork back into a clean bucket with fresh water and let it sit overnight (less salty ham).

7. Blot ham dry, or dry on racks with a fan.

8. Smoke (electric smoker or smokehouse) until internal recipe reaches 150-160.

9. Don’t have a smoker? The ham should be blotted dry, brushed with liquid smoke, and then baked at 325 for 30 minutes per pound, or until the internal temp of the ham reaches 150 degrees F.

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53 thoughts on “Home cured ham: how to brine a ham”

  • I’m curious if you can help. This past week, we were given a full tenderloin, full ribs and 2 hams. All this was already frozen when we got them. They are wild boar and not tame hogs.

    Can you provide any direction on how I can cure, smoke or other ideas since these since they are already frozen? I’d love to have the hams for the holidays, but have no idea where to start with cooking.

    Thanks

    • In the past we have thawed our frozen meat (turkeys, pork roasts, etc) and then brined it. Then we smoke it and refreeze it. We’ve not had any issues with it. 🙂

  • 5 stars
    I have been looking for these ingredients and measurements for a year already. Thank you so much. It’s a miracle that I came across your website. Would this work with pork tenderloin or is that too small of a piece of meat? Thank you. Sansi

  • I have never wet cured a ham or any cut of pork. I have dry cured many hogs with great success. I am going to give your recipe a whirl. Have a blessed day.

  • We just reciently bought our 1st whole pig and received the ham( huge btw ) ham slices (2 per bag ) and the bacon sliced and in bags . Do I brine these pre cut pieces the same way? Just put all of the sliced bacon and ham slices in bucket ? Then to smoke do I just lay slices on grates not over lapping? After that is done do I refreeze in what ever portions ?.

  • 5 stars
    We used this on 30 pounds of fresh pork (never brined a fresh ham before, but go big or go home!) Absolutely perfect. The best ham I have ever tasted. Thank you for sharing your recipe!

  • 4 stars
    4 until I try it. Thanks! In the brine can I replace some or most of the salt with “No Salt,” that is a salt substitute? It is mostly potassium. I am on a low salt diet. I would still use the pink curing salt. I would use the soak overnight way of rinsing.

  • 4 stars
    You say “need to brine one day for every two pounds” then in you example say for a seven pound ham , 2 1/2 days, shouldn’t this be for 3 1/2 days? Just want to make sure I do it right!!

  • 4 stars
    I brined a bone in pork shoulder just under 7# It was only pink on the outer 2/3s Still grey inside. Dose it need more time in the brine?

  • Very interested to try this recipe. What cut of pork were you using in the recipe exactly? Was that a deboned, skinned pork ham or was it a deboned Boston butt (shoulder) or some other cut? Thanks for responding.

    • Hi there Mike! It could have been any of those cuts, we’ve turned lots of different cuts into “hams”. If its not a chop or bacon or ground for sausage, it gets cut as a hunk of meat and called a roast, which we then turn into ham. 🙂

  • 4 stars
    Looking forward to trying. I got a 18lb ham gifted to me. I feel 9 days of brining would be a lot. What do you recommend?

  • I have a 7lb pork belly that I want to make into bacon. I have tried this ham recipe and love it. I know you have another recipe for bacon but is it possible to use a belly with the ham recipe minus the pickling spice? I am short on time to brine so the 3.5 days is ideal for me. Why are the cure amounts so different between the bacon and ham recipes? Thank you for your help!

    • I am unsure about that, sorry! I don’t know the science behind why the bacon recipe is so much longer than the ham recipe, but I’ve often wondered the same thing myself!

  • I just put my pork in my brine, I have 4 smaller cuts, each cut weighing 2 lbs. Would you still calculate the 3ish days for the 8 lbs? Or would it be less since the cuts of meat are small? Also, can you “overbrine“ something or leave it in too long? The brine smelled amazing, can’t wait to try my ham!

    • For brining pork, I brine for the weight of the actual cuts, not the total weight of the pork in the brine bucket. If it’s a bunch of smaller cuts equaling XYZ, the brine will go through the whole cuts obviously faster than one big cut equaling XYZ. I am not sure that you can really brine something *too long* in your case (as in comparing whether to brine it as two pound cuts or an 8 pound lump), the only thing that might happen is it might be more salty. You can remedy that by rinsing the pork in cold water for longer before you smoke it. 🙂

  • Hi Amy. I’m planning on curing a boneless 7 pound Pork Shoulder. I checked out the curing salt in the link that you provided and the instructions say that you should use 1 teaspoon per 5 pounds of meat while your recipe requires 2 1/2 tablespoons. Why exactly do I need that amount? Is it because this is a “wet cure”? I also read the salt can be toxic. Just want to be on the safe side here. I appreciate your response.

    • There are lots of rabbit holes you can go down regarding the pink salt, nitrates, etc. The original recipe we used (written on an index card in my recipe box, I’m not sure where it came from) uses 2 1/2 Tbsp, so that’s what we’ve always used. 🙂

      • The 1 tsp per 5 lbs of meat is when mixing it into ground meat for making sausage, use a different formula when brining, I thought 2 1/2 TBSP sounded kinda high, but no expert

  • Hi there! This recipe looks delicious and I’m going to try a ham in brine for Christmas. I have a question about the curing salts-If the pork is in the refrigerator for the entire brining process, then smoked/baked until the correct internal temp is reached, does it NEED to have curing salts (yes-regular salt and sugar)? I’m looking for flavor, but not necessarily for it to be “cured”.
    My ham is HUGE so I might only brine it for several days, then smoke for 4 hours and finish in the oven… or cut into 2 manageable pieces.
    Thanks!

    • In my research, I’ve known people who use recipes without the pink salt (if they are cooking the ham right away), just know that the ham will not have the “color” you’re used to without the pink salt. I’ve not used this recipe without the pink salt, so I’m unsure of what the results would be.

  • Is the brown sugar what we buy at the grocers or something special?
    Is the curing salt different yo the kushner salt?
    Thanks for your response.

    • Brown sugar – just the regular brown sugar you buy at the store, otherwise you can make your own with white sugar and molasses.
      The curing salt we use is also known as Prague powder or Instacure. It’s “pink curing salt”, which is *not* the same as pink Himalayan salt.

  • I am bringing a 9 lb pork shoulder (one big lump) using your recipe. Question for you – do I leave in the bring for 4.5 days because it is one lump? Or do I leave it longer? I am confused at how you refer to the time the leave the pork in the brine. Any help is appreciated! I’m excited to try your recipe. Thank you!

    • I brine for the weight of the individual chunk(s) of meat. For a 9 pound chunk of meat I would brine for 4.5 days because it will take that long for the brine to go all the way through that big chunk of meat. If you want to decrease the brine time, cut the chunk of meat in half. 🙂 It doesn’t take as much time for the brine to soak through two 4.5 pound chunks of meat as it does for it to go through one big 9 pound chunk of meat. Hope this helps!

      • Thank you! One more question – does the chunk of meat having bone impact brining time? I have another lump of pork I want to bribe using this recipe that is a bone-in pork. Is it okay to bribe longer than the 4.5 days?

        • I don’t know that the bone affects the brining, I’ve never done a bone in chunk of meat. Longer brining just makes things a bit more salty in my experience. 🙂

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