How to Smoke a Fresh Ham? (Getting the Ham, Curing, and Smoking)

I have always loved ham, sliced wafer-thin, and preferably smoked by myself ever since I was a child. My grandfather taught us the process of dry-curing with salt and preservatives. Then, we keep it for several days before smoking it slowly over low heat until it’s fully cooked.

My appreciation for it flourished when I began smoking my ham again after leaving cooking school. If you’ve ever had fresh homemade ham, you’d never want to return to supermarket hams. It pales in comparison to the rich flavor of home-smoked ham from your smoker.

In this article, I will show you how I perfect my hams. We’ll see three ways to smoke a fresh ham. I’ll also provide essential tips and answer some of your burning questions too.

Smoked Fresh Ham Recipe 

Ingredients for Making Smoked Fresh Ham

  • One whole raw ham (preferably bone-in ham) – approximately 15-20 pounds, sourced from a reputable supplier for quality assurance
  • 1 cup kosher salt (non-iodized for better curing results)
  • 1 cup light or dark brown sugar (according to your preference)
  • 2 tablespoons pink curing salt #1 (Prague Powder #1) (not to be confused with regular table salt)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional for added heat)
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder 
  • 1 tablespoon Juniper berries (optional, but they add a unique flavor to the ham)
Tasty Sliced Ham with Spices


Step 1: Prepare the Raw Ham

Rinse the raw ham under cold running water and pat-dry using paper towels.

Then trim the excess fat or skin from the surface of the ham. Make sure you leave a thin fat layer for added flavor during the smoking process.

Tie the ham securely with the butcher’s twine to help it retain its shape during the curing process.

Step 2: Mix the Cure

Take a big bowl. Combine the salt, brown sugar, pink curing salt #1, red pepper flakes, black pepper, dried thyme, garlic powder, and crushed juniper berries (if using) inside. Mix the ingredients thoroughly to ensure even distribution.

Step 3: Dry-Cure the Ham

Place the ham in a large resealable plastic bag or vacuum-seal bag. Rub the cure mix over the surface of the ham liberally. Make sure to coat the ham evenly. Don’t forget to apply the cure to any crevices or cuts.

Seal the bag securely. Ensure no air is trapped inside. Finally, place it in the refrigerator.

Step 4: Determine the Curing Time

The curing time will vary based on the weight of the ham. As a general rule of thumb, you should cure the ham for about one day per pound

If you have a 15-pound ham, that’s 15 days of dry-curing.

Step 5: Rinse and Soak the Ham 

After the period of curing is over, remove the ham from the curing bag. Now rinse it in cold water to remove any excess cure mixture.

Fill a large container or clean sink with enough cold water to submerge the ham completely.

Soak the ham in the water for at least 4-6 hours, changing the water every 2 hours to remove excess salt.

Step 6: Prepare the Smoker

Preheat your smoker to 225°F (107°C) using your choice of hardwood chips or chunks. Fruitwood like hickory, applewood, or cherry wood are popular options for smoking ham because they have a mild sweet flavor that doesn’t overpower the ham. 

Step 7: Smoke the Ham

Once the ham has soaked, remove it from the water and pat dry with some paper towels. Then let the ham rest at room temperature for about an hour.

Place the ham on the smoker rack, ensuring enough space for the smoke to circulate around it.

Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the ham, being careful not to touch the bone.

Smoke the ham at 225°F (107°C) for approximately 4-6 hours. You may also stop cooking when the internal temperature gets to 145°F as recommended by the USDA, or better still, up to 160 degrees for the perfectly smoked ham. 

Step 8: Resting and Slicing

Once the ham reaches the internal temperature mentioned earlier, take it from the smoker. Let the ham rest for around 30 minutes.

Slice the ham and serve it with your favorite sides and sauces.

Holiday Glazed Sliced Ham

Maple-Glazed Smoked Ham Recipe 

Ingredients You’ll Need 

Curing Ingredients

  • Approximately 10-15 pounds of one whole raw ham (bone-in or boneless)
  • Kosher salt – 1 cup
  • Brown sugar – 1 cup
  • Pink curing salt #1 (Prague Powder #1) – 2 tablespoons
  • Freshly ground black pepper – 1 tablespoon
  • Crushed red pepper flakes – 1 tablespoon (optional for added heat)
  • Dried thyme – 1 tablespoon
  • Garlic powder – 1 tablespoon
  • Juniper berries – 1 tablespoon (optional, but they add a unique flavor to the ham)
  • Large resealable plastic bag or vacuum-seal bag
  • Butcher’s twine

Glazing Ingredients

  • 1 cup of Maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup of Brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup of Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons of Apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of Ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Ground nutmeg
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Smoking Ingredients

  • You choose hardwood chips or chunks (e.g., hickory, applewood, cherry wood)


Dry-Curing and Smoking Steps

  1. Prepare the ham by following the dry-curing steps mentioned in the first recipe and using the curing ingredients. 
  2. Once the curing is done, rinse and pat the ham dry, then proceed with the smoking process.
  3. Preheat your smoker to 225°F (107°C)as usual and use your preferred hardwood chips or chunks, such as hickory, applewood, or cherry wood.
  4. Once the smoker is preheated and the wood is producing clean, blue smoke, place the cured ham on the smoker rack, making sure there is enough space for the smoke to circulate.
  5. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the ham, careful not to touch the bone. Smoke the ham at 225°F (107°C) for approximately 4-6 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 160°F (71°C).

Maple Glazing Steps

  1. Mix the maple syrup, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, salt, ground cloves, and black pepper in a bowl to create the glaze.
  2. During the last hour of smoking, generously brush the maple glaze over the cooked ham every 15 minutes. This will create a deliciously sweet and savory crust on the ham.
  3. Once the ham reaches the targeted internal temperature and the glaze has caramelized, remove it from the smoking chamber. Now allow it to rest for at least 15 minutes.
  4. Slice the maple-glazed ham and serve it with your favorite sides and sauces. The sweet and savory flavors of this maple-glazed smoked ham will be a hit at any gathering!
Maple Glazed Smoked Ham

Pineapple and Brown Sugar Glazed Smoked Ham


  • One whole raw ham (bone-in or boneless) – approximately 10-15 pounds
  • Canned pineapple rings – 1 can (reserve the juice)
  • Brown sugar – 1 cup
  • Dijon mustard – 1/4 cup
  • Apple cider vinegar – 2 tablespoons
  • Ground ginger – 1 teaspoon
  • Ground cloves – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Garlic powder – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Follow the dry-curing and smoking steps from the previous recipe to prepare and smoke the ham.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the reserved pineapple juice, brown sugar, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, ground ginger, ground cloves, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper. Heat the mixture over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the glaze is well combined.
  3. During the last hour of smoking, brush the pineapple and brown sugar glaze over the ham every 15 minutes.
  4. Arrange the pineapple rings on the ham during the last 30 minutes of smoking for added sweetness and presentation.
  5. Allow the ham to rest for a few minutes before slicing. The tangy and sweet flavors of this pineapple and brown sugar-glazed smoked ham will leave everyone asking for more!
Pineapple and Brown Sugar Glazed Smoked Ham

Preheating Your Smoker for Smoking a Fresh Ham

There are a couple of things you have to do on the smoker side before you start smoking that ham: 

Prepare the Smoker

Make sure you have the right charcoal. But if the goal is to make a truly green ham, stay away from charcoal briquettes because they have unnatural additives mixed in to act as a binder. Instead, go for charcoal lumps like the Kamado Joe Lump Charcoal

Once you have the charcoal, start by lighting them. To do this, arrange them in the smoker’s firebox. Then ignite it using a chimney starter or lighter fluid. 

Wait until the charcoal lumps are glowing red centers, which should take around a minute after the flames have consumed the fire. This indicates that the charcoal is ready for smoking.

Soaked Wood Pieces

While the charcoal is getting ready, prepare the soaked wood pieces. If you soaked wood chips or chunks in water earlier, take them out and drain any excess water. Soaked wood chips add a pleasant smoky flavor to the ham during the smoking process.

Ensure Clean Smoke

As the smoker heats up, wait for the smoke to become blue. Clean, blue smoke means the wood is burning cleanly and producing the best flavor for your smoked ham. 

You can only get this from clean quality wood, a clean smoker, and wood chips that are not too wet and low and slow smoking. 

Avoid cooking with thick white smoke. You’ll end up with a bitter ham taste.

Maintain Temperature

While you wait for the charcoal to be ready, keep the temperature inside the smoker high. This ensures that the smoker is at the ideal temperature for smoking the fresh ham. 

The temperature should be around 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Charcoal smokers can be finicky when it comes to maintaining their temp. This is an area where pellet and gas smokers beat charcoal models hands down. It doesn’t matter the type of grill or smoker you’re using though.

The key is making sure you maintain a stable temp. You need a temperature probe like the ThermoPro Dual Probe to keep the smoker temp in check.

Talking about maintaining temperature in a charcoal grill, you’d need to play with the air vents. Also, make sure there are just the right amount of coals.

What is the Best Ham for Smoking?

The best ham for smoking is typically fresh uncooked ham. We also call this green ham or ham roast. This type of ham has never been cured or smoked before. So you’re always free to infuse it with your preferred flavors during the smoking.

This means you have complete control over the seasoning, brining, and smoking methods. You can also add a wide range of spices, herbs, and glazes to enhance the flavor. I know you can smoke-cured hams as well. But fresh green ham offers a blank canvas for creativity and customization.

Sliced Ham with Bread and Tomatoes

Finding a Truly Fresh Ham

Finding a fresh or half-fresh ham is much more difficult than many folks realize. That’s because a majority of meat-shopping businesses usually produce pre-cooked hams. 

Don’t get me wrong. Pre-cooked ham is not necessarily bad.

The problem is a lot of pre-cooked ham from the supermarket have been mechanically formed or injected with water. Sometimes, what you’re having is half ham and more than a third of water, as a study recently found. Phosphates, sugar, and salt make up the rest of the content. This affects their texture, quality, and also your health. 

So, you have to be clear when searching for freshly prepared ham. Another thing you need to consider is how much fresh ham you want. As you can see, the whole ham contains an oval hip bone, aitchbone, and a fat layer on the side of the leg.

I’d suggest you demand your butcher to provide bone-in sliced ham legs (bone-in for maximum flavor). A half-fresh ham, the rump or shank portion, weighs around 7 pounds. An average bone-in leg weighs roughly 14 pounds. 

Where Do You Find a Nitrate-free Ham?

Start by hitting your local or online grocery store or friendly neighborhood butcher and ask for cured ham without nitrates. 

You may find some hams with “nitrate-free” labels. But keep in mind that “nitrates-free” labels used by some food brands can be misleading. The USDA found that they don’t always mean the meats are 100% devoid of nitrates. Some brands are fond of indicating that meats treated with non-synthetic nitrates have “no-nitrates added.”  These usually contain nitrates from natural ingredients like celery.

Although the USDA has asked meat brands to clarify such labeling, this is still another reason you probably should prioritize fresh hams over pre-cured ones. 

On the other hand, green ham – fresh ham that’s not cured, cooked, or smoked – can be ordered in the butcher shop. The product doesn’t usually go into your local grocery stores. 

Curing a Raw Ham

When it comes to curing, there are two methods: dry or wet. Dry curing is more common and takes longer, while wet curing is suitable for grilled or cooked meat. 

Wet curing won’t ruin it; it kills bacteria and gives the fresh ham a lovely pink color. Curing ham is no longer a must-do due to time and resource constraints. But it’s the best way to preserve that porkiness and prevent quick spoilage. 

Nitrite-curing salt removes water from the meat, making it harder and drier, inhibiting bacterial growth and extending the shelf life. 

Remember, I explained the dry-curing process in the recipe earlier. Now here’s how I do it the wet way: 

I make a marinade with 15 grams of nitrite curing salt, 5 grams of sugar, black pepper, and spices like thyme or peppermint for every pound of meat. Everyone can experiment with their favorite spice combinations. Thoroughly rub the ham with the marinade and pack it in a brine bag. 

I suggest leaving it in the fridge for about a week to work its magic. After curing, rinse off the excess salt with a water bath, changing the water from time to time. This takes around 30 minutes. Then, let the ham rest for 48 hours in a dry, cool place before getting ready for smoking.

With this curing process, your ham will be ready for some delicious smoking!

Dry Cured Ham

Choosing Your Smoking Temp: Hot, Slow, or Cold Smoking?

The three basic smoke types have their pros and cons, and I’ll give you a quick rundown. 

  • Hot Smoking: With this method, the meat gets smoked at high temperatures, around 250 to 350°F, well above the 140 degrees danger zone. This gives the smoked ham a rich, intense smoke aroma and a beautiful dark color. Although it’s logically the quickest smoking option, hot smoking is not commonly used for ham preparation these days.
  • Low and Slow Smoking: Here, temperatures range from 100 to 250°F, which means the protein hasn’t started coagulating yet. If you eat ham, you should go low and slow. This meat is comparatively sensitive and is susceptible to drying. So I recommend that your cooking temperature be at 225 F as I mentioned in the recipes. You can smoke the ham no hotter than 250, but you must closely monitor the internal temperature.
  • Cold Smoking: Cold smoking ranges from 70 to 100 degrees and is the way to go for pre-cooked ham. At this temp, the wood smoke flavor is driven deep into the meat. However, it’s not safe for consumption if what you have is a raw ham. That is not pre-cooked. No food cooked at 70 to 100 degrees is safe.

So, to answer the question in the subheading: low and slow smoking is the best method for making ham. It’s also the safest. But you still need up to six hours to smoke at this temp. So make sure you harm yourself with a thermometer and wait the time out. The results and flavors will be totally different. 

What Kind of Wood Can I Smoke Ham With?

You’ve got some great choices to smoke a ham with! I personally like maple or walnuts. Camerons sell a variety (the All Natural Maple Wood Chunks) which I like. Hickory or oak wood is also a nice choice for cooking smoked ham. 

However, when you use different types of wood, you’ll experience varying smoke intensities and aromas. This can add a delightful twist to your smoked ham. So go ahead and experiment with different woods to find your perfect smoke flavor.

Tips for Making Smoked Fresh Hams

These are some of the extra things I do to make my smoked hams worth the effort:

  • Score the Skin: To get those amazing flavors inside the meat, I like to score the skin or fat layer of the ham. It lets the smoke and flavors seep in, giving me a more flavorful and evenly smoked ham. A well-scored ham, like you must have seen, looks like a whole pineapple fruit.
  • Keep the Bones: Don’t remove those bones! They add so much flavor. Save the leftover stock and juices for cooking collard greens and kale, and you’ll have a mouthwatering side dish.
  • Brine for Moisture: Before I start smoking, I love to brine fresh ham. It keeps the meat super moist and flavorful. 
  • Get Adventurous with Seasonings: I’m all about exploring new flavors! I mix and match different seasonings and spice rubs to find my ultimate smoked ham flavor. There’s nothing wrong with applying moderate seasoning even after brining. Remember, you need to wash off the whole salt and spices after brining. 
  • Use a Water Pan: To avoid dryness, put a water pan in the smoker. It keeps the environment moist, so my ham stays tender and juicy throughout the smoking process.
  • Embrace Fruit Woods: For a fruity and sweet touch, sometimes I like using fruit woods like applewood, cherry wood, or peach wood. They give my smoked ham an irresistible aroma and enhance its overall taste.
  • Wrap in aluminum Foil: Sometimes, I want an intense smoky flavor. So, I wrap the ham in aluminum foil during the smoking process. It helps the ham soak up even more of that amazing smoky aroma.
  • Serve it Right: Smoked ham goes perfectly with homemade biscuits and Carolina mustard sauce for a scrumptious brunch treat. Don’t let the leftovers go to waste! Repurpose the resting ham into delicious pies, quiches, or soups.
Roll of Smoked Ham Placed on the Plate


1. Can You Smoke a Ham That is Already Fully Cooked?

Smoking a fully cooked ham is possible, but it’s best to use fresh ham. Fully-cooked ham is already smoked. Smoking it again is double-dosing the smoke flavor. It may contaminate the taste and cause it to dry out entirely if the internal temp exceeds 140 degrees. 

2. How Long to Brine-cure Fresh Ham?

The time required for brining ham depends on the size of the meat cuts. Typically, pork hams with an average weight of 18 pounds need nine days of curing. If your cut is larger or smaller, calculate the total time required to fully brine-cure it.

Remember, you need a day of dry-curing for each pound of ham. But brining involves the use of a wet cure and requires half the time of dry curing. 

3. How Long Should You Smoke Fresh Ham?

For a 15-pound ham, the smoking time is approximately 6 hours and 15 minutes. It generally takes around 20-30 minutes per pound to smoke a ham at 225 degrees. 

4. How Long Does It Take to Smoke a Whole Fresh Ham?

It takes 5 to 10 hours, depending on the size and smoking temperature. Note that a whole fresh ham weighs around 18 to 20 pounds. 

5. How Do You Smoke a Ham Without Drying It Out?

First, make sure you brine the ham. Then smoke at low temperatures to retain moisture. You should also use a water pan in the smoker to keep it moist. Basting or glazing with apple juice or homemade glaze can also moisturize it. Make sure you monitor the internal temperature with a meat thermometer as it smokes too.


The taste of smoked fresh ham is incomparable to that of pre-cooked variants found in stores. Why settle for pre-cooked when you can easily smoke fresh ham at home? You save on costs and avoid the unnecessary additives often found in moisture-injected options.

From brining to glazing, now you know it all. Every step adds its magic to create a delightful culinary experience. Whether I’m enjoying it with homemade biscuits and mustard sauce or using leftovers in creative recipes, the satisfaction is unmatched.