One of the most diplomatic efforts sportsmen and women can undertake to recruit, retain and reactivate people to hunting is through the preparation of good wild food. Visually pleasing and familiar foods have an impact that can quickly break down preconceived barriers and warm folks to the idea of securing game. A smoked ham, harvested from game taken afield, then carefully prepared, is an impressive meal that will feed the eyes, satisfy the palate and inspire conversation. Ham is communal food. It’s ideal as the centerpiece for a meal amongst friends and is easily packaged to share with others.
While ham is commonly made from the smoked hindquarter of a pig, beautiful tender ham can be prepared from deer, antelope, bear or just about any game animal with a large hindquarter. The steps required to produce a great ham are pretty simple but require a little patience while the ham cures. Ham can be prepared boneless or made from a visually impressive ‘bone in’ hindquarter. The only special equipment needed is about two weeks’ worth of space in a refrigerator, a few hours of access to a smoker and a meat thermometer. While your ham is curing, use the time to prepare a guest list of folks with varied outdoor experience and plan a great evening of conversation.
What you'll need:
For the cure:
- 2 gallons of water
- 2 ½ cups course sea salt
- 1 tbsp of pink salt #1 (sodium nitrite)
- 2 cups brown sugar (packed)
- 2 tsp whole mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
- 8-10 juniper berries
- 5 allspice berries
- 2 cloves
- 6 bay leaves
- 8 garlic cloves (crushed)
For the smoke:
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- ½ tsp granulated garlic
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 package unflavored gelatin (for boneless ham only)
- Size 18 meat netting (for boneless ham only)
How to make it happen:
After carefully removing the skin and any hair, dry age the quarter in a refrigerator for at least three days or up to a week. If using a deboned quarter, roll the quarter into a roast to keep the air exposure limited to the outside. While there’s no need to trim the outer ‘rind’ resulting from aging, remove any meat that appears unsightly.
Using a large pot over high heat, combine the water, salts, sugar and spices and bring to a boil, stirring until the salts and sugar dissolve. Once dissolved, allow the cure to cool back to room temperature. Note: If using a boneless quarter, less liquid is needed; cut the water to one gallon.
Use a filet knife to pierce the quarter in several places, then place the quarter in a nonreactive bowl or cooler just large enough to allow the quarter to lay flat. Cover with the cure. Note: If using a boneless quarter, place it in a larger zip lock bag then cover with cure.
Gently drop a weight into a heavy glass and place it on the top to keep the quarter entirely submerged. Allow the quarter to cure in the refrigerator for a week. If you have a marinade injector, inject the quarter once or twice during the week to assure the cure gets to the center.
After a week, remove the quarter from the cure, rinse well with fresh water and pat dry with towels.
If using a boneless quarter sprinkle the gelatin inside the ham, roll the quarter together and insert the ham into a meat netting.
Season the outside of the ham by sprinkling with black pepper, granulated garlic and cayenne pepper, and allow to rest on a drying rack in your refrigerator for one day.
Truss the quarter with butcher’s twine and allow it to hang in the smoker at 175°F for five hours. Check the internal temperature, it should be a little over 100°
After five hours, increase the temperature to 200°F and smoke for two more hours, bringing the internal temperature up to roughly 120°F, then wrap it in foil and increase the smoker temperature to 225°F for one hour.
When the internal temperature hits 135°F, re-wrap the ham in fresh foil and bath towels, then place the ham in a cooler with the lid on for several hours to rest.
A note about cooking temperatures: If using wild pig, bear or cat, continue to smoke until the internal temperature reaches at least 145°F The Center for Disease Control recommends all wild game be cooked to 160°F.
If, after sharing, you still have a little ham left over, it will last for about a week in the refrigerator or can be vacuum sealed and frozen for use in future soups and gumbos, or be used as an accent in other dishes.