County Ham, how to cook a

How to cook a country ham:

Glazed Country Ham 1

There are very few places left that cure country ham the way they used to when I was a child.  It was a simple process, overall.  Brown sugar and salt, hang the ham in a sack tied off with hemp twine from a rafter in a barn or a curing shed, and wait.  9 months, a year, 2 years.

Most places that do this as a business these days go to extra effort. They may use humidity controlled, temperature controlled buildings. They may add other ingredients to the cure, or other processes.

In recent years there has been an expansion of these and other techniques and there are places that turn out some fancy ham; or prosciutto, or other cured meat product.  And I order and eat these things, and generally really like them.  The Pig, for example, in Chapel Hill makes a prosciutto like country ham that has wide bands of soft gentle white fat and a hard dark red meat. It’s great.

This year when I decided to cook a country ham like I grew up with, I researched where I’d get my ham for a couple of hours on the internet, looking at all the great places, including Edward’s Country Hams (Surry, VA), Johnson County hams (guess where), Smithfield hams, Benton’s Country Hams (TN), etc.

One of my uncles has a Smithfield country ham every year at the holidays on their table, and it’s a good one. I have been personally familiar with the greatness of Edward’s pork products from Virginia for decades.

But at the end of the day I picked up the phone and called Nancy at A.B. Vannoy Hams, as I usually do. It’s a great product at a great price and you won’t be sorry.

Ham Tag


Step one: buy your ham and have it shipped to you.

When it arrives it is going to be in a bag, and it is going to be moldy and gnarly and look like ick.  Don’t worry.  Store it somewhere cool per instructions and it will be fine when you need it.

Step two: You want to wash your ham overnight, and then cook the ham on the second day, and then serve it on the 3rd day.

48 hours before you want to serve your ham, take it out of the bag and put it in a sink of fresh water.  I do this to remove all the mold and clean it thoroughly. I’m not really trying to do anything else with it; it doesn’t need brining, ha-ha, and I haven’t noticed that it changes any flavor profiles; it’s just easier to clean by soaking.

First Rinse

(after 1st rinse)

Come back in 6-8 hours and change the water.  Come back in another 8-12 hours and do it again.  I find that anywhere from 2-3 rinses over a 12-16 hr period is more than enough.  An hour before you begin the cooking process, scrub it with paper towels or a rag or a sponge, rinse it off one final time, and remove it from the water and dry it off.

Second Rinse

(after second rinse)

Step Three:  Final preparation

Most folks cut off a few inches on the hock in with a saw.  I don’t because I like the extra length of bone to hold onto as I slice the ham.

There is debate about when to remove the skin.  I prefer to cook the ham in the skin and remove after cooking. You can also cut it off now.  Just below the skin is the fat. If you decide to remove the skin now, be careful not cut too deeply into the fat.  A small curved paring knife is excellent for this.

Washed and ScrubbedTop in Rack2

But me, I don’t do it now, I just wrap the ham completely in heavy duty aluminum foil.  The only seams are near the top of the ham because you want to pour 1 cup of water and 1 cup of red wine (I use sweet Marsala) into the foil with the ham, then finish closing off the foil.

Wrapped in Foil with Water & Wine In the Oven

Step Four:  Cooking the Ham

Put into a roasting pan on an elevated cooking rack, and bake in the oven for 17-20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees.  A 15-lb ham will therefore take about 4 hours and 15 minutes to 5 hours.

Make some strong coffee and set aside, 3-4 cups.  This is for step 5.

At the end of the cooking time take it out.

Peeling off Foil & Skin

(peeling skin on left, see the skin still on the right side)

Fat on top, skin on front side peeling

(skin still on lower right side)

Skill peeled off

Bowl of skin & foil

(lots of skin and bits and foil)

Remove the foil, and now skin the ham. Score the fat.

Skill Peeled off2

Side view fat

Fat surface

Right side1

Scored fat close-up

Step Five:  Stop here for a diversion

Make Red-Eye Gravy Glaze:

While this is happened, take a iron skillet or a stainless steel one to make the Glaze.

Melt 3 cups of dark brown sugar and ½ lb of unsalted butter in the skillet.  Add some of the ham drippings (no more than 1 cup) and bring to a bubble. Thickly coat the surface of the pan with ground black pepper.  Add the coffee to deglaze and start stirring.  Stop and coat the surface of the pan again with ground black pepper. Do this one more time. Reduce the mixture in the pan until it is about the thickness of A1 sauce.  Turn off heat and let it cool off and thicken a bit.

Cooking the Glaze

This is also called red-eye gravy.  You can serve it with the sliced ham, or spread some on biscuits when you make ham biscuits.

Back to the ham!

Put it back on the rack in the roasting pan minus any foil.  Spoon the glaze over the ham.

Scored fat with glaze 2

Glazed close-up

Turn the oven up to 450 degrees and re-bake the ham uncovered for about 8 minutes.  This should be long enough to fix the glaze.

Take it out and let it rest for a few hours.  After this, you can slice and serve any time you want.  There are any number of online videos on how to cut up a ham.  I learned the most from watching butchers debone a ham rather than those tidy little 3 minute videos where they show you how to cut a wedge on a ham.  My advice is to make sure you have at least an hour of time to slice the ham, and use *sharp* knives.  You will want to slice the ham as thin as you possibly can, and against the grain.  Some people say that you want to slice country ham at about one-quarter inch thickness.  They are wrong.  1/16th is more like it, as near to shaving it and still having a coherent slice as you can cut.  As you carve the ham and get tired you will want to make thicker slices – resist this.  Pretend you have to serve 100 people with this ham, and therefore it needs to be sliced as thinly as possible.  Your guests will thank you for your labors later.

Right side end removed down to HipJoint2

(ready to slice, I trimmed a lot of the thickness of the fat off, but feel free not to)

Carving Ham turned on narrow side

Carving the Ham 1Starting Slices

Pile o' Country Ham 2


Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: