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How to Prepare Dry Cured Country Ham: It’s All About Soaking!

Baked Country Ham studded with Cloves

Baked Country Ham studded with Cloves

Beverly C. lost  her instructions from me about preparing a salt cured ham. Here’s how I do it – I follow Smithfield’s instructions for any salt cured ham, and here they are, with my notes added in parentheses and italics:

When preparing an uncooked country ham, it must be washed and soaked before cooking, since these hams are dry salt cured. (The hams are usually wrapped and sometimes hanging. No refrigeration needed.)
Country Hams should be soaked 12-24 hours. Soak a Genuine Smithfield Ham for 24-36 hours. The length of soaking time is important and should be influenced by your taste for salt. Longer soaking results in less saltiness. Change your soaking water often (we recommend every 4 hours).

After soaking, wash your ham thoroughly in warm water, using a stiff brush to remove any remaining pepper or surface mold, if present. Mold is a common and natural occurrence on aged hams (just like fine aged cheeses), denotes proper curing, and does not affect the taste or quality.  (I usually clean my laundry tub and use that to soak the ham. Or use a large cooler. I buy a brush from the dollar store and use it just for this.)

Cooking Your (Uncooked) Country Ham:

Water Cooking – (Smithfield prefers this method, but I have done it both ways: water cooked or oven roasted.)

After you have prepared your country ham, place it skin-side down in vessel and cover with cool water. Bring water to 190°F (simmering, not boiling). Cook about 25 minutes per lb. or until 163°F internal temperature. Add water as needed to keep ham covered.

Oven Roasted: After washing and soaking is complete:
(A) place ham (skin-side up) in a shallow roaster, add 4-5 cups water and cover with foil. Or (B) wrap ham in heavy-duty aluminum foil joining edges carefully to form a vessel around the bottom of the ham. Add 4-5 cups water in the foil before sealing. Place foil-wrapped ham on a shallow tray or pan for support. After completing method (A) or (B), your ham is now ready for the oven. Pre-heat to 300°F and bake 20 minutes per lb. or until 163°F internal temperature.

When done, remove ham from vessel to cool, and (while still warm) remove skin or fat as desired. ( I usually remove some of the skin and a bit of the fat, but not too much. I sometimes score the ham then and stud with cloves.)

Glazing If a sweet coating is desired, use the enclosed glaze packet or your favorite ham glaze recipe. (Check out my ham glazes on this site – there’s several that are yummy!) . You may also sprinkle the fat side with brown sugar and bread crumbs, then bake at 400°F until brown (about 15 minutes). No further seasoning is required.

Storing Your Country Ham

Uncooked hams may be safely stored hanging in a cool dry area at room temperature. Uncooked slices (if kept in a cool dry area) do not require refrigeration until they are opened, at which point they should be consumed promptly. Genuine Smithfield Hams will keep for up to 2 years and Country Hams will keep for up to 6 months without deterioration or loss of quality.

Cooked hams and unopened cooked slices will keep for at least 6 weeks under refrigeration. Cooked slices should be consumed promptly once opened. Boneless country ham may be frozen in freezer paper or plastic, do not use foil. All Genuine Smithfield Hams, Country Hams, and slices are packed for shipment to arrive safely at your destination without refrigeration during travel time. Please refrigerate your cooked ham after receipt, for maximum enjoyment.

Carving Your Country Ham

To enhance the delicate flavor of your cooked ham, you must slice it “almost paper thin” using a long, sharp knife. Country Hams are easier to slice at room temperature.

Bone-In: Prepare the ham for cutting by placing it securely on a flat surface, dressed side up. Secure the ham safely by holding the hock end with your left hand. Begin about 2 inches from the hock (small end) and make the first cut straight through to the bone. Slant the knife slightly for each successive cut. Slice down and partially around the bone, increasing slant as the slices become larger. Eventually the bone formation will cause you to cut smaller slices at different angles.

Boneless: Secure ham and begin slicing at the small end, with slight increases in your slant to portion as desired.

CAUTION: Please secure country hams properly and carefully to avoid personal injury while slicing.


Country Hams are most flavorful when served at room temperature. Be sure to slice “paper thin”. Delicious on biscuits, sandwiches, hors d’oeuvres, or as an accompaniment to seafood or poultry. Chopped ham is the perfect flavor enhancer for omelettes, salads, or seasoning for soups, beans or vegetables.  (I always save the ham bone –  makes THE best ham & bean soup ever.)

Ham Serving Tip:

Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy – Sauté country ham slices in a hot skillet. Remove from pan and add about 1/2 cup water or black coffee. (At the Heritage Restaurant, now closed, here in Cincinnati, the chef always used black coffee).  Simmer about 3 minutes, while stirring to collect drippings. Serve over ham slices with hot biscuits and grits.

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  1. Martha Lunken

    Rita, I so vividly remember your husband, Frank, at the Heritage. Howard and Jan Melvin were friends – I taught Howard to fly! And my husband, Ebby Lunken, and I loved the restaurant.

    Your recipes are great – I never worry about trying them. And I love “real” country ham and have tried specimens from Georgia, Kentucky and, of course Smithfield. The Broadbent Farms hams (Kentucky) are wonderful.

    I scrub the heck out of and then soak the ham m for 4-5 days in a stationery tub in the basement (with some ice if it’s too warm), changing the water each day. And for the last 24-hours, I dump in a gallon or so of milk.

    Then into my BIG roaster to cook at a simmer about 15-20 minutes/lb. in water to cover with 1 lb. light brown sugar, 3 cups apple cider vinegar, 1 TBS each cinnamon and cloves and 3 tsp whole peppercorns. The ham is done when you can pull out the little bone and the big one is loose (about 150 degrees internal temp).

    I let it cool in the liquid with the roaster cover removed (boy, does the house smell good). Then transfer it onto a board, skin side up while still warm, and remove the skin…trimming the fat partially. I dust the ham with a mixture of finely ground black pepper, cornmeal and brown sugar. It goes into a 425 degree oven just long enough to glaze…15 or 20 minutes.

    Thin slicing it is an art (I have a “crooked” fingertip from one encounter where the tendon was injured). But I found a local butcher who slices it for me…a real blessing.

    I’m originally a “west-sider” and, unfortunately, my family aren’t “real” country ham aficionados. But whenever I can justify it with a party I buy and prepare one at Christmas. Tried “beaten biscuits” one year – pounding the dough with a mallet until I was blue in the face. Too much like “hardtack so I stick to regular biscuits (another art).

    1. Rita Heikenfeld

      Hi, Martha,
      Oh I remember you and your husband. Frank does too and said to send his regards and to tell you how much he enjoyed seeing both of you at the Heritage Restaurant. I love the way you fix your country ham and all the tips – I’m sharing that on the site today. We are all well and yes, I still enjoy living out here in the sticks, gardening, cooking, teaching, writing, etc. Frank just went outside to gather more wood for the stove. Always an adventure.
      Thanks for sharing your recipe. Next time I fix a country ham, I’ll make yours.


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