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Home-Cured Holiday Ham – First You Brine, Then You Brag

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Home-Cured Holiday Ham – First You Brine, Then You Brag

There are many reasons for making your own holiday ham, but the best one of all, may be the most superficial. After the holidays, as people are standing around the water cooler, bragging how great their glazed carrots were, or how amazing the cranberry sauce came out, you can say, “That sounds great, but did anyone else cure their own ham? I didn’t think so.”

Above and beyond establishing your culinary dominance with friends, the other reasons are pretty good too. You can flavor your ham any way you want; you can somewhat control the salt content; and depending on how many people you need to feed, can cure any size cut of pork you want, from a whole leg to a small loin roast.

There are thousands of different brine and spice combinations, but the procedure is pretty much the same no matter which way you go. However, there is one thing all these recipes have in common, pink salt. To make a true ham, you’re going to need a curing salt that contains sodium nitrite, which is what gives the meat its pink color, and signature “ham” taste, verses something that just tastes like roast pork.

This magical ingredient goes by several names, including Pink Curing Salt #, Insta Cure #1, or the one I used, Prague Powder #1. Yes, you can theoretically use things like celery juice, but long story short, nitrites are nitrites, and it doesn’t matter where they come from. For more info on that, and potential health issues, this article by Michael Ruhlman is a good read.

Once the ham is cured, you’ll want to give it a soak to rinse off the brine, and how long you do this can effect how salty your meat is. I prefer just a quick dunk, but you can leave it for as long as 24 hours, which will produce what I’ll call a low-sodium ham. It’s still pink, and flavorful, but barely salty. Experimentation is the only way to figure out how long to you should go, but I wanted to give you the range.

If you do want a home-cured ham gracing your Christmas table, I’ve given you just enough time to get it done. A local butcher should be happy to give you a few tablespoons of pink salt, otherwise it’s quite easy to find online. Whether it’s for a holiday dinner or not, I really hope you give this a try. Enjoy!


Ingredients:
7 to 10 pound fresh, bone-in pork shoulder “picnic” arm roast (or any large hunk of pork)
For the brine (adapted from Ruhlman’s basic ham brine recipe):
6 quarts water
18 ounces kosher salt (this is about 2 1/4 cups Morton's Kosher Salt, or 3 2/3 cups Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, as they have difference size grains)
2 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon pink salt #1
1 rounded tbsp pickling spice, or any spices you want

For the optional glaze:
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup maple syrup
pinch of cayenne
pinch of salt  

- Once cured, you should smoke and/or roast your ham until it reaches an internal temp of at least 145-150 F. 

- For a more detailed video on how I prep a ham for the oven, check out this Crispy Honey-Glazed Ham video.


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