I want to brine and smoke a whole ham with a simple recipe that does not use the injection method.

It is a very simple recipe.. salt, sugar and curing salt. Would it be a good idea to inject some of the brine around the bone before immersing it in the brine for the specified period of time?

  • Posted by: Phillip
  • July 22, 2019


Lori T. July 23, 2019
The point of injecting a ham prior to immersion in brine is to help shorten the time required for curing. It lets the curing happen from within the depths of the meat at the same time it is curing from the outside. So injection is most effective if done in the thickest parts of the cut, rather than just worrying about getting around the bone itself. The hock end bone is closer to the surface, so injecting there isn't going to be very useful. Injecting into the thicker area just before the butt end would be. The time for curing in your recipe is most likely not based on having done any injection, so if you do inject, that timing will change. It is possible you will end up with areas of your ham which are incredibly salty, while others are not. Commercial ham producers have special injection machines which do a better job of evenly distributing the brine than can be achieved at home, which is how they avoid having the problem. If you want to inject your ham, I'd only do the portion of really thick muscle, and inject small amounts at multiple points. That way you can hopefully avoid creating large pockets of cure in some spots, and next to none in others. Otherwise, you could end up with pockets of very salty ham, and areas which are not. I don't think injecting is strictly needed, to be honest. The old timers like my grandfather certainly didn't inject, they didn't have the injectors to do it. They stuck to immersion in the brine, and the hams turned out wonderful.
Phillip July 23, 2019
Thank you for the reply Lori. I have only cured one ham before considering using the brine method. I agree that the old ways are usually the best ways and that's the way that I would prefer but my last attempt resulted in an area near the bone that was more like baked pork than ham. My search for an injection brine resulted in recipes that required a level of computative mathematics and conversions that was more difficult to grasp than quantum physics. I just thought that it may be possible to use a simple brine and inject some of it into the pork to aid distribution of the brine. You pointed out some good reasons to go with the submersion only method that I had not thought about so I may ditch the injection idea and just adjust the time that the ham is in the brine. One more question if you don't mind... do you know of a reliable method of determining brine time according to ham weight? Thank You.. Phillip
Lori T. July 23, 2019
Most experienced ham producing folks generally recommend you brine for a day per every 2 pounds of meat. That's generally what I do, plus add an extra day. Ordinarily when you are brining meat, you worry about leaving it too long in the brine because it can leave you with meat that is too salty to eat and mushy to boot. That's not really a major problem with making ham as a rule- although I wouldn't want to test it by leaving a piece of meat to cure for more than a few extra days at most. I weigh my pork before it goes in the brine, and round it out for timing. So if I have a 7 pound piece, I'll leave it for 5 full days in the brine. I do have one of the injectors which I use for making a full size proper ham, because those just need the help. In that case, I will inject in multiple places around the larger butt cut end, injecting maybe a couple cc's in that deep meat as I slowly withdraw the needle and change position slightly. Once that's done, I sort of roll the cut around and massage it to help distribute the cure as well as I possibly can. I also prefer to let it spend the night in a bag in the refrigerator before I place it in the brine bath. This also lets the injected brine get a little better diffusion in the meat. A strip of uncured meat near the bone just means it needed a little more time in the brine. The easiest way around this is to simply bone your cut, and tie it back into shape. Then it's easy to distribute the brine by injection if you like, and you are less likely to end up with a stripe of uncured meat. During the curing soak, it's also helpful if you turn the piece over daily and make sure it's completely submerged in the brine. The only other help I can offer is to not be afraid to trim a thick fat cap and be sure you remove the skin. Brine has a tough time getting through a thick layer of fat, and won't penetrate the skin much at all.
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