Curing Whole Meats – The 28 Pound Ham

In Curing Whole Meats on September 29, 2010 by fred

When curing and smoking whole meats, all meats follow the same basic steps:

  1. Make up your cure, either a brine (wet) or a dry rub / dry pack
  2. Put your whole meat into the cure for a long enough period of time for it to absorb the cure
  3. Rinse off the meat’s surface
  4. Dry, smoke & cook the meat

Neal Fraser and the Hog Butchering Class

From the Hog Butchering Event I ended up with a bone-in 28 pound ham, 2-3 times larger than the typical ham you would purchase in the store.  Just carrying it from the garage outside into the kitchen and then back out with an additional 25 pounds of brine was a real workout!  However, not letting the size intimidate me — I followed my 5 steps above, and have been eating and giving away loads of ham ever since.
  1. The Cure.  Because I intended to smoke and cook this ham bone-in, I used a brine to cure it.  The curing time for such a large piece of meat would be quite lengthy using a dry rub, and since this was not a piece that I planned on drying like prosciutto I believe it was the best method.

I have a 10 gallon brining bucket.  This time I was glad I have one so large, but you need whatever size will allow you to cover the meat with brine.  Taller than its width is generally the best, and a 5 gallon food grade bucket with lid is a good option.  The key to making brine is judging the amount you need to make to cover the meat.  Probably the best way to do this is to measure cold water into the bucket and put the meat in to see if it is fully covered before adding the salt, cure, sugar and spices.   Once you know how much water you’ll need, take the meat out and add the salt, cure, sugar and spices based on the recipe you are following.  In my case, I needed four gallons of water to cover the ham in a 10 gallon bucket.  If you are spray-injecting, make sure you have enough water in the bucket for complete coverage and for injecting into the meat.  I then added the following:

1400g Kosher salt
168g  (11 Tbs)  Instacure #1 [sodium nitrite]
500g  White sugar
540g   Brown sugar
360g   Dextrose
160g   Black pepper, cracked or ground
2/3C   Juniper berries, ground

This gave me a light level of salt yet still a savory ham not sweet at all.  Great juniper berry flavor and light pepper.  If I was to do it again, I would probably add 100g of white pepper and take the juniper berries up to a full cup for even more flavor and pepperiness.  I might substitute out the white sugar for more brown for even more flavor.  Feel free to change the variation on the sugars, but I would stick to the overall sugar amount (1400g) to balance out the salt.

I then added about a gallon of ice cubes to keep the brine temperature down.  The amount of ice is not critical, but you want the brine water as cold as possible so when the meat goes into it the temperature of the meat doesn’t rise above 40 degrees.

Once your brine is ice cold, the next step is to inject the meat with the brine.  Injecting the brine using a meat brine pump cuts the curing time in half.  This cut my cure time down to seven days.   The rule of thumb is to inject 10% of the green weight of the ham with brine.  Here I have a 28 pound ham, so it is calculated thus:

28 lbs x 16 oz = 448 oz                This gives me the ham’s green weight in ounces
448 oz x 10% = 44.8 oz                 This is how much brine I need to inject into the ham
44.8 oz / 4 oz = 11 full injections                      I have a 4 ounce injector, so I divide the total brine amount by the amount it will hold to get the number of injections

Don’t make the same mistake I did the first time — don’t weigh the ham and then try to increase the weight by 10% by injecting brine!  It gets messy and you’ll have a lot of holes in your ham.  The injection amount is meant to be a guide to injecting enough into the ham to give the meat inside enough contact with the cure.  Some will invariably leak out while you are injecting it — that’s to be expected.  Just try to get it evenly distributed through the meat and make sure you get a few up against the bone.

Once you’ve pumped the required amount of brine into the meat, submerge it in the brine.  You may need something heavy on top of the meat such as a plate or heavy pan to force the meat under the surface.  Cover the brine bucket, and stick the whole thing in the refrigerator.

Seven days later I took the ham out of the brine and scrubbed the surface with a nylon scrub brush.   Once scrubbed, the ham was ready for the next stage — wrapping it in cheese cloth to dry, smoke and cook it.

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