Before you embark on making any meal, you have to ask yourself one question: how long will it take to cook? This is especially true when it comes to cooking large pieces of meat like a ham. If you choose to make smoked ham then it could take even longer, so it's important to know what you're in for before you get started.
Before You Start
Smoked ham has long been a staple at Easter brunch — and it's also an alternative to turkey at Thanksgiving, particularly in the South. You can buy ham already smoked or you can smoke your own — starting with either a fresh ham or a fully cured and cooked ham. When you wonder how long to smoke a ham, remember that this is an all day process. Smoking a ham will take you a good eight hours.
Starting from Scratch
Smoked ham purists insist the only way to go is to start with a fresh ham, generally in the 12- to 15-pound range. It will taste different from traditional smoked ham because it hasn't been cured.
Put water, with a splash of red wine or vinegar, in the pan at the bottom of your smoker to make sure the ham doesn't dry out. Heat the smoker to about 170 degrees Fahrenheit and when it reaches that temperature, stick in the ham (either au naturel or treated with a rub) and cook it until the inside temperature reaches 165 degrees. The longer you cook the ham, the hotter the inside gets and the more tender it becomes — but don't go much past 175 degrees or your ham could fall apart.
Figure on smoking the ham for about a half-hour per pound, maybe a little more if you want it to be especially tender. So it's clearly an all-day affair.
Smoking a Pre-Cooked Ham
The easier and faster way to smoke a ham is to buy one already cured and fully cooked. The goal here is not to cook the ham again, but rather, to give it a smoky flavor by essentially infusing it with smoke.
Again, heat the smoker before you put the ham in, this time shooting for a higher temperature of about 210 degrees. Treat the ham with a rub or leave it alone, but let it sit outside the refrigerator for at least an hour before you stick it in the smoker. Then place the ham in the smoker (don't forget the water in the pan). For the full treatment, figure on about an hour for every pound of ham. But don't feel obligated to go all the way — a few hours in the smoker and your ham will have a new flavor all its own, depending on which type of wood you use.
Some Do's and Don'ts
A few points to remember:
Don't wrap the ham in aluminum foil before you place it in the smoker. You'd be surprised at how many people do this, even though it keeps the smoke flavor from penetrating the ham.
The smoky flavor will come mostly from the wood chips you use in your smoker. Mesquite and hickory are the two traditional favorites, but try mixing them up with some fruit wood chips for a more distinctive flavor. Many retailers offer a great selection of wood chips to experiment, including apricot and apple.
Before you place your wood chips in the smoker, soak a few of them in cold water and mix them in with the dry ones. This way some of your chips will smolder while others will burn up immediately, giving you a smokier fire.