Monday, March 18, 2013

How I Cook Ham on the Grill

"...then hang them in the house and neither bats nor worms will touch them."

I was going to be all "Hey guys, Easter is just around the corner, time to break out the ham recipes" and stuff but I found that opening quote much more shocking.  

That quote is from Marcus Porcius Cato in 50 BC writing about how the Romans cured hams in his treatises on Roman farm management.  From the old days until relatively recently, hams were made basically the same way.  They were cured in huge clay jars or containers for days and weeks, then smoked and aged.  Now most are injected with a witch's brew of nitrites and tumbled to expedite the process to just a few hours.

I did a test run on a ham this weekend and thought I would write up how I prepare hams on the grill.

Preparing the Grill (I use a Big Green Egg)
  • As with any cook longer than an hour, I make sure to clean out the grill, removing ashes and unused coal.  I make sure that the vent intakes are all clear.
  • For a ceramic grill, I load it with coal and 5 or 6 chunks of wood or 2 cups of wood chips (I don't soak either).   I prefer straight hickory for hams.  Why do I like a blend of hickory and fruit woods for ribs and shoulder but not ham?  I dunno.  I just do. 
  • Once my fire approaches 200f, I slowly start closing the vents and try to let the temp coast up to 250f.  Then I put the plate setter in, legs up, with a drip pan on it and the grill grate*** on top of that.  
  • For a kettle grill or offset smoker (Brinkmann, Charbroil, etc), I'd set it up indirect for a "fuse style" burn (aka Minion method).   See this link at for how to do indirect set ups. 

I do a layer of coal, a layer of wood chips and repeat several times until the grill is full.

Meat Prep
  • Selection - There are a ton of hams out there.  
    • Fresh - this is just the upper part of the back leg of a pig, no curing, smoking or aging.  
    • City hams - most popular style in American, cured and boiled or smoked, partially or fully cooked
    • Country hams - Cured, smoked and aged, required to be cooked before eating.  
    • Picnic ham - from the front leg (picnic) instead of the back, it is less tender and has more fat
    • Boneless hams - Some are deboned pieces of ham, they are okay.  But most are chunks of ham formed together, I consider them the McRib of hams and try to avoid them.  
    • Specialty hams - Black forest ham, prosciutto, tasso, various European hams
  • I like to get a semi-boneless, fully cooked half ham about 7-8 pounds.  I prefer the butt half instead of the shank half because it is meatier and gives nice big contiguous slices of ham.   I avoid spiral sliced hams, only because I like the control of slicing them myself.  
  • Brine - None.  They have already been cured/brined by the supplier.
  • Injection - Can NOT do this this a spiral sliced ham.  I took Chris Lilly's pork shoulder injection and modified it for ham as follows:  3/4 c water, 1/2 c pineapple juice, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce.   I place the ham cut side down and inject all over the ham every 2 inches or so.  I do this an hour before it goes on the smoker/grill.
  • Rub - I take a basic BBQ rub that is high in sugar and low in salt (I modified Melissa Cookston's Quick and Easy rub) and then add a pinch or two of ground allspice and cloves.  It takes 3 - 4 Tbsp. I don't use a binder, I just slather any of the leaked injection around the ham before rubbing it.
Notice the plastic still on ham.  It helps minimize wayward squirts.

Season heavily on all sides except the cut end.

  • Once the smoker/grill is stable at 250f, I put the ham, cut side down, on the grill cooking grate (on the side without coals if you are using a kettle style grill) and cook with the lid closed.
  • I monitor the internal temperature of the ham using a remote probe thermometer.  
  • Glaze - Once the ham reaches an internal temp of 135f (about 3 1/2 hours), I place it in a stoneware pie pan (just to keep my grill clean) and glaze the ham with a cola glaze (4:3 ratio of brown sugar to cola) and continue cooking until the ham reaches an internal temp of 145f.  
Sure, you could just cook it in the oven but double smoked is the way to go in my opinion. 

The pie pan is just to keep the grill from being a mess with the cola glaze.

  • Not a lot is needed here.  Just slice and serve.
  • My favorite sides for ham are a genre that I call "church social".  Casseroles, macaroni salads, and rolls.  
Almost too pretty to slice.  Almost.

This isn't even 1/2 of the ham.

  • Ham might be the best food for re-working leftovers.
    • First, you can eat it cold, straight out the fridge.  Late at night.  In the dark.  Wearing only boxer shorts.  Don't judge me.
    • Thy Daily Bread.  Thinly sliced, it works in sandwiches from basic ham and cheese to fancy classics like Croque Madam and Monte Cristos.  
    • Green Eggs and Ham.  You don't have to eat it on a boat with a goat, but ham and eggs have tons of possibilities like omelets, breakfast burritos, or egg scrambles.  
    • Casserole Central.  There are more ham casserole recipes out there than stars in the sky.  As Carl Sagan would say, "Billions and billions..."  and most of them are great comfort food (maybe not great for you).
  • I made a cheesy ham pot pie with some leftovers that I will be posting later this week.

So what are your favorite ham tips or ham recipes?  

***Grill grate vs cooking grid - Yes I know that Big Green Egg refers to the grill cooking grate as "a cooking grid".  I saw someone on the forum mock someone for calling it a grill grate.  Everyone else calls it a grill grate. If a car manufacture decided to call the steering wheel for their cars a "navigation disc", I'm still calling it a steering wheel.