How to Brine a Ham


That ham is from an uncut boar and a delicious Easter Ham he was. The first bite was mouth watering ecstasy. A true soothing of the pallet and soul as my taste buds gave thanks for this pig I had grown. His life enriched my family’s life, both in his living and his eating. He is a truly appropriate feast with which to celebrate this day as he rose again after brining to bake.

These hams and two sides of bacon have been brining for the two weeks. We are fortunate to live inside a giant cooler, and for many months a year, a giant freezer. In the shed at the far end of the house the temperature stays a nice 40F for much of the year. This is where we hang the sides of meat we slaughter for our own consumption and then store the pails of brining hams and bacons. These temperatures mean that I can let meat hang and brine for long periods which brings out its greatest flavor.

About this time of year the cooler starts to warm as the world warms into spring. This is a time when having a modern electric cooler walk-in would make a big difference in how we do things. But I don’t have one.

I do have an alternative in my plans. We get our water from a spring up the mountain from the house. That spring is an almost constant 45°F or so year round. In the summer it is deliciously cool. In the winter it warms the ground and melts the snows around it for a long distance in all but the harshest weather. This is the spring that fed the ice sculpture all winter. It also watered the pigs, sheep & chickens and provides us with our household water as well as water for all of our gardens. Later it flows to the upper and lower ponds where it nourishes frogs and many other denizens as well as cooling pigs and little boys in the summer. Ultimately if flows down to the marshes and then down the valley to join the Waites River, the Conneticut River and finally the Atlantic Ocean. Someday I hope to give this water flow another job, keeping an earth sheltered spring house cool through the warm months. Until then I’m only makin’ bacon during the colder months of the year.

The modern way of doing hams and bacon is to send it out to a smoke house where they’ll cure it for you in their massive electric cooler and then smoke it, preferably with maple syrup. That is rather expensive. I have sent meat there for customers but for our own needs I use a bit simpler method. We brine the hams and bacon in clean five gallon plastic pails. Perhaps someday I’ll experiment with smoking but that is for another year.

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In brining, plastic pails are important. They are easy to sterilize with a bleach wash, have snap on lids with gaskets that make a good seal and the plastic does not corrode with the lengthy contact with the salts in the brining solution. You can get good food grade plastic five to seven gallon pails at many restaurants and bakeries. Be sure to do a good job of cleaning the buckets and their lids. I scrub with hot water and soap until they look spotless, then triple rinse. I then wash the lids with a bleach solution. Lastly I put about half a gallon of hot water in them with a strong bleach solution (1/4 cup) and snap the clean lid on tight. I tumble this around a little and let it sit until I’m ready to use it. This keeps it clean and sterile enough.

The brine I use is a variation of one I found on an excellent web site that has vanished. I make a few changes, the most important being that he uses Prague #1 Cure in his brine and I skip that. It contains Sodium Nitrate and Red Dye #3 which I would rather not have in my family’s food and can skip for home cooking since we’re not doing long term storage. The purpose of the nitrate is the long term storage. The purpose of the red dye is simply to make it look different from regular table salt which it could otherwise be easily confused with.

Let me be more specific: Sodium Nitrate is a poison. It is supposed to poison things. This is not a judgement – it is just what it does. That is how it cures the meat and kills bacteria to prevent botulism. The amount used in curing hams and other things is very, very tiny – way below the lab rat threshold that causes cancer. Some studies link some nitrate/nitrite to preventing stomach cancer.

I would rather not use either in our meats more than necessary.[1] I grew up in the era when nitrates and nitrites were labeled as cancer causing. Research shows that many vegetables like spinach, celery and such have far higher levels of nitrates than were ever used in meats.[2, 3] Recent studies show that some levels are actually good for us and prevent stomach cancer and possibly other cancers.[4] I expect that we’ll learn more in the coming years about the relationships between these things. for thousands of years we have used nitrates/nitrites to prevent botulism and other food poisoning. The jury in my mind is still out. I prefer not having them in my food or to at least minimize them. See this article about How to Brine a Ham for how we brine at home without nitrates or nitrites. See this page for more interesting discussion on this topic. With our hot dogs, kielbasa and other sausages we have no nitrates or nitrites. The smokehouse who does our bacon and hams does use a minimal amount of sodium nitrate in them. There is also a ‘natural’ celery juice cure that some smokehouses use which I may look into but that is in truth nitrates so don’t be fooled by labels that claim no nitrates but then list celery powder or celery juice. Truth is, celery, spinach and other vegetables have far, far higher levels of nitrites/nitrates than hot dogs, ham or bacon.

This is a topic that can be quite confusing. It seems prudent not to use it in our meat if we’re not aiming for the long term unrefrigerated storage given that we are trying to produce healthy food for our families. Thousands of years ago it was developed because people didn’t have refrigeration. I’ll continue to read the research and until it gets more resolved I’ll just skip the Prague Cures.

Another ingredient of the Prague #1 Cure is Red Dye #3 which has been linked to breast cancer. Again, something I would rather not have in our food. The dye is there to warn you that the pink salt is not regular salt because if you used it in the same manner as regular salt it could kill you. Too much of a possibly good thing. Thus the red color.

In my personal opinion, if you are going to eat the hams soon, possibly refrigerating, or will freeze them, then you do not need the ‘cure’ part of the recipe. I have been brining without that ingredient and am very pleased with the results. It will be a grey color rather than the rosy pink of commercial hams.

Another change is I don’t have Pickling Spice per say. Rather I spice to taste. For lamb I use thyme. For ham and bacon I use cloves and black pepper. Spice to suite your tastes. Experiment. If you have it I would suggest adding one cup of maple syrup for bacon. If not I would recommend adding an extra cup of brown sugar.

Brine Recipe

  • 3 gallon Water
  • 3 cup Pickling Salt (I have also used table salt)
  • 1 cup Sugar / maple syrup / brown sugar (to taste)
  • 2 tsp Spice to taste (thyme for lamb, black pepper & cloves for ham)
  • Prague #1 Cure –optional!

    On the Prague, see the instructions that comes with it. From the web site:
    Use 1 oz. of cure for 25 lbs. of meat or 1 level teaspoon of cure for 5 lbs. of meat. Mix cure with cold water.

This does about 30 lbs of meat.

I boil the water to sterilize it as much as possible and to make it better dissolve the sugars. Empty the clean buckets of their sterilizing bleach solution and carefully pour in the hot water. Add the ingredients and stir. Once the ingredients are mixed, cool the brine to 40°F before you add the meat the to the brine.

When you add the meat, make sure it is completely covered by the solution. If you have a large piece of meat, like a ham, you may want to either debone it or inject the solution into the depths of the meat in order to get better penetration. You can get special syringes for doing this and they are worth having. Mine cost only $5 at a local store.

Finally snap the lid on and place the bucket in a cool place (38F to 44F is good) for four days to a week depending on how salty you like your meat. Higher temperatures risk bacteria growth – not good. Lower temperatures cause the brine to stop working. I keep a calibrated thermometer on one of the buckets.

Realize that I am telling you what I do. I’m not advising you on what you should do. I’m not an expert, licensed, certified or anything like that. Making your own cured meat carries a risk of food poisoning and all those nasty sorts of things. You are living life and taking risks. Be careful. Don’t drive on the wrong side of the road. Maintain good sterility and proper temperatures. Wash your hands and surfaces to keep your meat from getting contaminated. If the meat spoils, don’t eat it. If you are unwilling to take these risks for yourself and your family, don’t do it.

All that said, our Easter Ham was most delicious!

“We must become the change we want to see.” -Gandhi

44°F/21°F, Snow in the morning, Sunny.

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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125 Responses to How to Brine a Ham

  1. pablo says:

    Somebody really understands what a camera does. What a cutie. I wish you sold that pork by the cut. I’d order some.

  2. Podchef says:

    I am just reading this a few weeks after Easter. I just put a ham in a molasses and beer “cure” for 21 days. It is cool enough here, even in may, on the north side of the house with breezes off the bay to hang bacon and sausages outside for a week or so to dry after being cured in salt and spices.

    I agree with you about the prauge cure. It is evil stuff. Botulism which it is supposed to help prevent dies if you cook the meat above 160 for several minutes, which most of us do anyway. I do agree with its use in smoked sausages or some dry cured meats that are exposed to anerobic and low acid conditions if they are to be eaten “raw”.

    One way to be sure that your home cured meats are safe is to err on the salty side and then soak the meat for a day in clear water before you use it. It worked for our ancestors and if we work hard and sweat than the extra salt won’t do any harm to us.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you soooooooooo much for your website! It is better than any material I’ve found on the web! You should write a book….

    We’re here in N.C., just pasture raised our first two pigs. They’ll be ready for slaughter in two weeks or so. I’m going to try your brine recipe and see how it goes.

    Thanks again!
    Connecticut yankee turned N.C. farmgirl

  4. Anonymous says:

    What color does your ham end up? We’re doing our first ham and bacon and I’d rather not use the Prague but I don’t want an ugly gray ham.

    Thanks!

  5. To get the brilliant false pink you need to dye the ham. The Prague has a color to it that makes the ham pink. The color is required so people using the Prague know it isn’t regular salt since it is toxic.

    Hams done without the Prague, as we do it, end up a lighter pink and grey when cooked just like normal meat. Close your eyes and savor the taste! :)

  6. Pablo, your wish is now granted. This year we started selling by the cut as well as by the pig. We’ve also started selling at local stores and restaurants. Unfortunately, we still don’t ship so you would have to drive all the way here to Vermont. Such travail! :)

  7. I love your blog! It’s part of my surfing routine to read it every day.

    I was reading a past post about curing pork today and you mentioned that you don’t use nitrates.

    Concerning curing pigs with nitrates. There is a fascinating article from Scientific American magazine http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=bad-rap-for-nitrate that says that the idea that nitrates cause cancer is wrong and that they are good for you!

    I thought you might find it interesting.

    Second, what is the function of the sugar? I like to keep my carbohydrates to an absolute minimum and was wondering if you have to use it.

    Thanks for taking the time to write such an excellent blog.

    Lellie

    The sugar helps with the curing process and it adds flavor. But most importantly it makes for a complete diet – a proper balance of protein, fat, salt and sugar. Ice cream is another example, says my wife Holly. (I’m joking about the diet… :) :) )

    Very interesting about the Sci-Amer article. I will go read it. Here is another link to the article incase the above doesn’t work for people.

    The reason we don’t use nitrates in our family ham recipie is it isn’t something we have on the shelf and there is/was some question on health.

    Since then I’ve done a lot of reading about them and concluded that they are not an issue in the small amount used although I still have some discomfort with them, possibly just left over from all the scare stories back in the, what, late ’70s??? “3,000 times the normal dose kills rats!” sort of headline.

    For our hot dogs we don’t use nitrates or nitrites because that was what customers asked for and it gave us the widest market. The limitation is the hot dogs should be kept frozen until it is time to thaw them for use unlike some hot dogs that can simply be left out on the counter… (Sit! Stay!)

  8. Anonymous says:

    We are going to bred some pigs for our own consumption. Your brine recipe sounds good. Do you bake the ham and at what temp? or do you boil them? if so do you add anything to the water when boiling?
    Your blog is great.Pauline from Australia

  9. Pauline, To cook the ham preheat the oven to its high temp. We slash the surface lightly in a cross pattern, rub it with brown sugar or maple syrup and pierce the junctions of the grooves with cloves. We then bake it at 325°F which is about 160°C until the internal temperature of the meat reaches about 145°F (65°C). That’s about 15 to 20 minutes a pound – use a meat thermometer, the best way, or cut a core to check color if you think it is done but aren’t sure.

    While cooking the fat side should be on top so that the fat drips down over the meat. We use a pan that can collect the juices and holds the meat up above the drippings. After the first hour I baste the ham with the drippings time to time, maybe every 45 minutes or so depending on what else I’m doing.

    We then take it out and let it rest for about 15 minutes – it continues to cook internally. While the ham rests we use drippings to make gravy for potatoes.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

    The USDA used to recommend 165°F but reduced that to 145°F. See Rare Pork.

  10. Will says:

    Hi Walter,

    When your hams are finished brining, do you rinse them before cooking? We are going to use your brine recipe and then try smoking. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  11. Yes, just rinse briefly. If the salt taste is too strong for you, boil the ham in water before cooking.

  12. Sandi says:

    Walter-

    I’d like to brine a ham but have a couple questions:

    – after it is brined, can it be frozen?

    – if I can’t get all the meat in the brine after the hog is butchered, can it be frozen until I’m ready to brine it?

    Thanks… your site has been so helpful!

    -Ryan Miller

  13. Yes to both. You can brine a previously frozen ham and you can freeze a brined ham. Just be aware that the salt in the ham may further lower the freeze point of the meat. Normally meat freezes solid at 25째F. After brining it may be a lower temp so keep your freezer extra cold if you want it to stay truly frozen.

    Have fun!

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  14. Sandi says:

    Thank you very much Walter … you are starting a revolution! My folks and I are splitting a pig and we are going to do the brining. Thanks for all the teaching you do. – Ryan Miller

  15. maya says:

    We made our first ham following your advice last Christmas. It was by far the very best anyone at the party had ever eaten. After brining, we then smoked th ham lightly in our smoker with cherry and alder chips. Then baked, then glazed with orange juice and brown sugar. A lot of work, but so very worth it for a special occasion. We’ll be doing it again this year- for both Thanksgiving and Christmas this time. Thank you for your wonderful site!

  16. Amy says:

    Great site, thanks. A few years ago, I brined and cooked a fresh ham using this recipe:

    http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Grilled-Molasses-and-Rum-Glazed-Fresh-Ham-103961

    The rub and glaze were great, but the meat was a little bland. If I do a 4 day brine to enhance the flavor of the meat, do you think I should leave the salt out of the rub? I’d hate for the meat to end up too salty. If I inject the brine, do I still need to let the meat soak for 4 days?

    I was thinking of using one of the hypodermic needles that I use to give my horse injections. I figure if it’s clean enough to inject into my horse, it’s clean enough to inject into my ham. Or maybe I’ll just spring for $9.99 “injector baster” at the local cookware store.

  17. Get the injector and use it in addition to the brining time. They work together. The injectors are very handy. Inject along the bone in particular. Even better, debone before brining.

    At just three days of brining I would still rub with the salt, but then I like things salty. It is all a matter of personal taste since you’re not worried about preservation.

  18. Becca says:

    Hello Walter,
    Thank you for your website! You have provided so much good information.
    I am currently in day two of curing a fresh ham in the manner you have described here. However, I would like to let it cure longer then you advised. This is partly based on what I have read elsewhere and partly based on what would be convenient for me. What are your thoughts on what a maximum length of time in brine would be? Would three weeks be too long?

  19. Becca, you can certainly brine longer. I’ve done up to 21 days. The meat gets saltier. You may want to change the brine after a week. Make sure the meat stays covered. Cheers, -Walter

  20. Anonymous says:

    I have to say Thanks! I have never cooked a Fresh Ham before and was very nervous because I was ask from someone at work to cook it for our Work Christmas Party. The part was today and that was the first thing gone. It was almost gone before we were suppose to eat. Thanks again and Have A Very Merry Christmas.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Walter: Would you have any reservations using your cure recipe for venison? I have a couple of boneless sirloin tip roasts that would taste much better as cured meat rather than roasting them. Thanks.

  22. Hesitation? No, but then 1) I am rather experimental and 2) I don’t have any venison. :) Go for it and let us know how it came out. I expect it can be used on any meat. I’ve done similar things on chicken, turkey and rabbit.

  23. Anonymous says:

    this cure in prague# 1 makes me scared
    when we eat ham or bacon from the super market it must be full of it

  24. I am using your recipe again for Christmas with moose this time around.
    Last year we did bear hams.

    I do not use the cure though, and, I use a bit of beet juice for color.
    Posting about it over at our blog.

    When I smoke the hams, I actually slow cook and smoke them at the same time, thus ensuring no trouble from botulism.
    Paula in Alaska

  25. Thank-you so much for sharing how you brine without using "chemicals". I was determined to use only salt to make my own ham (I raised a pig)but was tough to find a recipe without it. I both injected and brined for 13 days. Tastes great. I added mapple flavor, apples, honey,…etc for my own twist.

  26. Brian says:

    I appreciate this blog as well. Last year I used a brine recipe from the River Cottage(Hugh Wittingstall) which calls for 2 kg salt for 6 liters of water! Nitrates optional. Very salty end product. Your brine calls for much less salt, but it seems you're freezing/cooking immediately post brine, while I'm putting mine in a smoke house for another 5-7 days. I worry about Botulism under those conditions.

  27. Brian,

    Some good books on smoking that I've found are:

    Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design
    Mastering the Craft of Smoking Food

    They talk about the cures for various smoking situations.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  28. Anonymous says:

    Thanks so much for your information!! I have been searching for a long time for an easy, understandable way to cure my own ham and bacon because I am allergic to the cures the meat lockers use and did not want to use the sodium nitrate either!!! Everyone tells me I HAVE to and I HAVE to smoke it as well!!! Thanks so much!!

  29. Anonymous says:

    What are you thoughts on trimming the fat off before brining? Have read several sights that suggest this, and others that don't. I'm thinking that they trim the fat to get more brine to saturate the meat, however it would seem that when smoking it the fat would be beneficial for moisture and flavor.

    GatorPa

  30. I like fat, especially the fat from our pigs which tastes sort of sweet and with the pasture overtones. Also our pigs don't run to much fat, having only about 0.75" to 1" of back fat. If they were very fatty then I might rethink the issue but it hasn't come up for us.

  31. James says:

    Hi enjoy your site .Questions:
    What is the Brine mix for? Does it keep the meat from Spoiling for long periods
    ? after you bring the meat/ham out of the Brine mix for 4 days-week where to you place it ? If freezing or Smoking then why Brine it ?
    Or do you do this just to cook it after the Brine mix soak /
    Confused & ignorant ,
    James

  32. Very good question. The historical pre-refrigeration purpose of the brine was to preserve the meat. This also prepped the meat for smoking. The brine also adds salt and spices to flavor the meat.

  33. Ginger says:

    We are going to try your method for brining our own ham. Do you have any suggestions for curing/ brining own own bacon. Can we use the same method or would you suggest dry curing for bacon?

  34. Brining is a form of wet curing. We've done the same recipe above for wet brining bacon and liked it. Even better would be if we then smoked it but I have not yet learned to smoke… I'm reading about it and someday I will take up smoking…

  35. Anonymous says:

    After my first attempt, I find the my bacon far too salty, I did brine it for 8 days I think, would it be better to brine for a shorter period of time ? or perhaps soak it in water for a day ? Or maybe less salt in the brine ? Thanks for any help

  36. Hayden says:

    I bookmarked this a couple of years ago and am FINALLY ready to use it. I have a small ham, a couple of BIG pork chops and a couple pounds of bacon all going in the brine. Bought a half pig months ago and had quite a ehrm… “discussion” about the fact that NO, I honestly, really DON’T want my bacon and ham cured, thank you very much! They’re good growers, I’ve visited their farm and chatted at length, but the notion that I wanted to cure my own seemed like heresy to them. ;-) Thanks for the post, everything goes into the brine tomorrow, very excited.

  37. Jennifer says:

    Thank you sooo much for puting this process into plain english! We bought our first raw ham yesterday and I have been reading everything I could find on handling a ham, with not a single understandable answer. I am now understanding that this is not just a little one or two day project. (lol) No Christmas ham this year. . . . . .but looking like it will be worth the wait. Thank you again

  38. Yudi Nunez says:

    Can a pre-cooked ham be brined? like the kind you buy at costco (spiraled)?

    • If it is pre-cooked then it has probably already been brined. Looking at the label will probably tell based on the the word “cured” which means brining typically or the salt content. If it has sodium nitrate or such then it is definitely already brined and additional brining isn’t really necessary.

  39. Dave says:

    I use 1/4 teaspoon of ascorbic acid (vitamin c) per five lbs of meat for both brining and dry rub recipes for all meats. This helps to retain that nice pink colour and is also an anti-oxident and vitamin c is good for you. I believe in staying away from the nitrites/nitrates. I buy powdered ascorbic acid at a bulk food store or you can crush some vitamin c pills. I will be trying your brine recipe in the near future. Excellent site.

  40. Jeff says:

    I bought my first hog this past summer. I just threw one of the hams in a bucket with your brine recipe 2 days ago and I am acting like a kid before Christmas – I keep checking on in and shaking the bucket with great anticipation! I didn’t have an injector when I started the brine so do you think it will be fine at this point to leave the ham in the brine longer in hopes of better penetration? Thanks.

    • If you bone out the ham there is less need for the injector. You can still bone it out at this point although I doubt it is necessary. If you’ve been keeping it cold and it is a good salty brine then it should be fine. In the old days they were trying for preservation where as what you’re doing for is really taste. Brining too long will make it taste too salty for most people’s tongues.

  41. Kevin Britting says:

    Thanks for the great ideas with traditional and sustainable foods. I am a caterer and love reading about new ideas for brined and cured meats. The simple fact is: We all love to get together and eat as groups, families, religons, old buddies or whatever reason we can concoct to eat well. I strive my bussiness on making scratch cooked food and using traditional methods of cooking……….fresh-homegrown-scratch is the entire base of my cooking. I agree entirely with the removeal of any additional preservatives.

    As far as the color goes. I inject my meats with a maple syurp or honey and brown sugar combo. Due to proper food handling and regulations with PHF (potentally hazardous foods) I bake my hams so i can strictly handle cooking temps (275). to an extent you can color a ham a little brown (dark brown sugar with water injection) right before cooking a little rosey (striaght honey) right before cooking. Sugars will carmel if, AND ALWAYS should be, cooked at a maintaining internal temp(155 ferinheight) then turn the oven to 170 for a period of time. I use 2 hours at 170 after reaching deep internal temps of 155. This IS an all day affair with whole ham 27 lbs.+ with a convection oven i’m cooking for a total of 5 and a half to 7 hours total. when at home using a regular oven I’m around 8 to 9 hours.

    I don’t mention my biz name because I’m not posting for that reason. I felt compeled to post because of the authentic tone from Walter and the great many contributors here. This is the type of foods and people that make me excited about cooking for others as I learned this passion from my grandmother. Hopefully, my cooking temps and natural colorong sugestions help.

  42. Theresa says:

    We’re about to slaughter our first attempt at organically raised pigs and I’m interested in trying to make our own hams and bacon without nitrate curing. I live in southern California, though, so it’s not cold enough here to leave the brining meat outside. Can I brine them in my refrigerator, then freeze the ham/bacon for later use or /fry it right away?

  43. Bud says:

    Hello,
    I used your brine for my bacon. I smoked it it came out great. I left the hams in another 4 days and smoked them for 36 hours at 125 to 155 degrees . I made ham stakes and fried them but they were not pink like a store bought ham? I did not you that prague is that why possibly., Thanks Bud

    • Glad they came out well for you. Yes, the pink is from the nitrates and since we don’t use them we don’t get that pinking. I have heard of people using beet juice(!) to make their meat pink and other things too. I close my eyes and love the flavor.

  44. huski says:

    HI, boy I sure got hooked when I built my barrel smoke shanty, for some reason it is very addictive,wanting to try other curing methods. But this is something you must do on your own, almost all situations are different,you have to match yours with the problem at hand. The list goes on and on,cures,brine ,seasoning and temperature. But you will never know till you try, knowing exactly how and what you doing. My problem was seasoning, although curing,smoking was fine, I lacked the glazing honey flavor.

  45. mark says:

    Just bought a texas style smoker and did a whole chicken and a pork butt on it was amazing.. Iwant to do a fresh ham but everything i’ve reaad so far said its pretty much like a pork butt, will this brine help change the flavor of it , i want a ham not pulled pork . Let me know thanks

    • I don’t smoke so you’re way ahead of me on this. Someday I would like to learn to smoke and my son wants to learn to smoke too. My guess is that the brining and spicing are very important to the process. Please do let us know how it turns out.

      • jim says:

        I really recommend learning how to use a smoker. I learned from my grandfather at a very early age how to smoke fish and various other meats. I’ve been curing and smoking my own bacon and hams for 40 yrs and it is so worth the time and effort. There are many varieties of smokers out there but I have settled with a pellet smoker and that choice was made because of the state that I live in doesn’t have readily available fruit woods to smoke with

        • Yes, I would like to learn to smoke. I have built two places in the butcher shop to put smokers. The first will be my initial trial cabinet sized smoker and then eventually the final smoker will be room size. I will likely keep both, with the smaller cabinet version being for test batches and small runs while the larger room size smoker will let me smoke whole pigs and larger volumes. I have gotten many requests for whole roaster pig smoking. I’m not interested in doing the event catering but that would come close, providing what people are mostly looking for – the product – without having to do the entertainment part of it.

  46. nielson says:

    Hi sir! what is a good brining solution for a 1 1/4 kg bone-in ham? thanks!

  47. Aidan Harvey says:

    We’ve just had our first organic pigs slaughtered and used your method for brining a couple of hams. I’ve spiced the brine with cinammon sticks and juniper berries because I intend to cook it for the Christmas holidays. I’d rather not cook the meat until we intend to eat it. Is it okay to freeze after brining and then cook when defrosted?
    On the issue of using a cure I have to admit that I did add two teaspoons to the 3 gallon brine mix but this is my first attempt and for the sake of the children erred on the side of caution – Having raised the pigs organically it feels like a bit of a cop out to add ‘crap’ at such a late stage.
    Great balanced article. Thanks Aidan (UK)

    • Yes, you can freeze it but it takes a colder temperature to properly freeze it. Water freezes at 32°F. Meat freezes at about 25°F. Brined means more salt so you want a lower temperature. I would suggest no warmer than 10°F but I’m not sure what you’ll need – it will vary somewhat with how much salt went into the meat and I’m not sure how the cure will change that. Or you can age it from here in the fridge. That’s what the cure is for. I have not done that since I haven’t used the cure. Our hams and bacon that come back from the smokehouse do have the cure in them and they freeze fine in our chest freezer which is about 8°F. Note that a home upright freezer is generally warmer.
      Good luck and enjoy!

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  49. Alex M. says:

    A very nice web site. I lived in north central NH in the 90’s when we still had real winters. I’ve recently have taken up cooking as a hobbie and found your web site very informative and fun to read. Nice job and thank you.

    • The mid-1990’s is why I’m a fan of Global Warming. We had two years where we had snow in the summer, one year when it snowed every single month and even on my birthday. Virtually total crop failure. Not fun. The “Real Winters” drove the frost right through our old farmhouse walls along the nails and rimed all of the windows. Winter’s okay. Those sorts of winters I can do without. In fact, back in the mid-1800’s they had a set of those real winters back to back which drove people westward and southward searching for more temperate climates. Brrr…

  50. Denise Schaaf says:

    Hi Walter,

    This summer we raised two boars in pasture and were very excited to get them back and taste it! I have been reading your blog as well as comments and you helped me to feel better about our little boars and calmed my nerves about boar taint. Needless to say I will always raise pigs on pasture from now on, the pork chops were so good.

    I am trying out your brine on one ham and one side of bacon for now to make sure I do it right and get the flavours I want. Up here in Saskatchewan, Canada I’ve been lucky and instead of a frigid winter of -13F, it’s been hovering (and supposed to stay that way) around 20F which makes our front porch a perfect 40F to keep the meat. I put the ham and the bacon in the brine on the 17th and don’t have plans to cook the ham until the 31st. Christmas is too crazy and the parents seem to already have plans for turkey.

    Is this too long for the ham to sit in the brine? I don’t feel like freezing the ham after a week just to thaw it out the next week.
    You mentioned changing the brine solution. I’m worried it might get to salty. Do you think I could make a new brine but reduce the salt so this doesn’t happen?

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

    • The longer it is in the brine the saltier it will be. Prior to baking the ham you may want to boil it to bring out some of the salt. That will produce a broth you can use for soup too. The purpose of the brine is to make the ham and the solution inhospitable to bacteria. The purpose of sodium nitrate, salt peter and all of those cures is to take this one step further in preserving the meat since people didn’t used to have refrigeration. No many hams are only lightly salted since we don’t have to use as much salt because we can refrigerate or freeze.

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