Smoked Ham: Why Traditional Methods Are Best

Smoked ham is a versatile and delicious product that is easy to enjoy any time of the year. Many families choose ham as their main dish for Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving because nothing makes a holiday meal more amazing than an old-fashioned smoked ham. The process of smoking adds flavor and acts as a preservative for the meat. Meat that has been smoked is safe to eat cold, but warming it increases the intensity of the flavors. 

Why is meat smoked?

Smoking was a preservation method used before refrigeration was available. It has remained popular because of the flavor it adds and because it extends the life of the meat. Smoked ham has a very long shelf life and is even believed by many people to taste better when it is given the opportunity to age.

How does smoking preserve meat?

Curing and smoking help to remove water in the meat that allows bacteria growth. Curing is when the meat is soaked briefly in brine. This is a saltwater solution that will often include other flavorful spices. The salt in the brine solution removes excess water from the meat to reduce bacteria growth. The chemicals in the wood used during the smoking process add another layer of protection because they also reduce the growth of microorganisms.

What is the old-fashioned method of smoking ham?

Traditional methods of smoking use a wood fire that is carefully tended to allow the meat to cook slowly and consistently. The temperature is kept low to prevent the meat from burning. Only non-resinous woods are used because the resin will cause a bitter flavor. Herbs may be added to the fire to help flavor the meat and add an appealing scent. It is important to pay attention to labels when purchasing ham to make certain it is genuinely fire-smoked. A label that only says "smoked" could mean liquid smoke was added to the meat instead, and the ham make not have the same flavor throughout. Injected smoke adds more flavor, but it is also an artificial means of achieving it. This method cannot be labeled as smoked and will only say it has smoke flavor added. Neither optional method helps to preserve the meat.

Smoked ham is fully cooked, so it is important to be cautious about how it is prepared to prevent it from becoming too dry. Heat it to an internal temperature of only 140-160 degrees when baking. Add it last when dicing and adding it to other dishes in order to keep it from becoming too dry.