What kind of ham, and what to do with it?
November 13, 2008 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Just sent my pigs to the slaughterhouse and I have to decide on cuts. I have never cooked a ham in my life. Do I get smoked, fresh, whole, steaks, some of each? Your best ham ideas, please.
posted by Framer to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
just out of curiousity, how did you end up with pigs if you've never cooked a ham
posted by alkupe at 2:22 PM on November 13, 2008

Response by poster: I've cooked plenty of pork roasts, chops, bacon, and sausage, alkupe. Just never a ham. Ended up with the pigs because they're easy to raise, great at turning over the garden at the end of the season, and there's a decent market for fresh pork.
posted by Framer at 2:28 PM on November 13, 2008

"Fresh" is pork, not ham. If you want ham you need to order "smoked".
posted by Class Goat at 2:29 PM on November 13, 2008

Ham just refers to the cut - it's the top part of the haunch. There are two on every pig. So you can indeed have fresh ham and cured ham.

Bear in mind that a whole ham is REALLY BIG - if you have a big event coming up with a lot of people to feed, it might make sense, but otherwise it will be a big pain to have these giant hams laying around that are a big hassle to deal with (not to mention the storage issue, if you don't have a giant cellar or freezer). Steaks will be a lot easier to cook for non-feast meals.

I like smoked ham, myself, but would probably be a nerd and do it myself - I'd order one ham whole, and then brine it and smoke it at home. If you like the way they smoke their ham, though, go for it - again, I'd have it cut into thick steaks that you can cook as is or break down further for sandwiches and cooking.

If they offer several processing options, I'd be tempted to go for a variety - dry-cured country ham, or proscuitto-style, if they have it.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:40 PM on November 13, 2008

I thought your butcher would have sent you a cut sheet to get your order done correctly.

Mu butcher does the following for me:

fresh pork roasts including loin;

fresh pork chops with both rib in (you need an idea of how thick the cuts should be);

sausages (variety including breakfast and bratwurst -- your butcher may have specialties)

disposition of the sweetbreads (sausage? pates?)

fresh leg ham

smoked ham

fresh pork belly (with and without rind)

smoked pork belly (bacon -- with or without rind)

cottage bacon

ground pork

pork shoulder roasts

arm picnic roasts with rind

hocks (smoked or unsmoked)

Special parts such as, cheeck or jowl (some prefer these to be smoked)

trotters (yes/no)

head (yes/no)

ribs (style?)

lard (do you want the leaf lard or do you want to render yourself from the other parts)

There are multiple ways to part a pig and depending on how many you have and what region you come from will determine which cuts suit best. The best book I have found on cooking pork is the _Complete Meat Book_ by Aidells. I like it better than his book on pork though that is a nice one as well.

In the end, ask your butcher for his cut sheet. A full service butcher usually has one to handle issues just like these.
posted by jadepearl at 2:41 PM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I have a cut sheet -- that's not the issue. What I'm trying to decide is whether to get smoked or fresh cuts for the hams. It's really a taste question, rather than a technical question.
posted by Framer at 2:43 PM on November 13, 2008

Personally I would get one of each. Smoked is great, but there's nothing like a non-smoked roast ham. Unless you are planning on feeding legions, don't get full hams - they are HUGE.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:02 PM on November 13, 2008

Smoked and cured ham steaks would probably be the most versatile since you can freeze them separately. Fresh ham is good for a roast or carnitas, but as others have said a whole one will be HUGE. Better to let the butcher cut it up with his meat saw than try to wrestle with it yourself.
posted by TungstenChef at 6:01 PM on November 13, 2008

Ah, my apologies. Fresh ham is GREAT. Nothing beats a beautiful fresh ham with cracklings. I am a smoked ham fan as well, but more the sweet City style. Fresh ham takes well to standard roasting techniques and you need a lot of company to put away a fresh ham, but having guests for that is not difficult.

I actually found smoked ham a little more difficult to learn because with a southern style ham I had to learn to scrub, leach out the salt, remove the rind and then braising techniques and a sweet glaze. Fresh ham, similar to a roast, is more straight forward.

I agree with other folks that if you can, split between the hams for some smoked and fresh. You do not need a whole leg ham, you can go smaller.

Also, definitely do ham steaks as well so you can ham goodness for breakfast without the whole leg being involved. Smoked ham steaks cannot be beat for that. I was able to get smoked ham steaks and still get fresh ham as part of my cuts.

Also, if you are moved, you can smoke your own ham. Oh yeah, did that with a fresh ham in weber smoky mountain. So, a fresh ham can give you a great roast/braise or can be smoked by you for a more custom flavor.
posted by jadepearl at 7:18 PM on November 13, 2008

not a ham answer - but ask if he has some beef he can put into patties for you, but to add 10-20% bacon.

i've never had them -b ut my father swears by them.
posted by nadawi at 8:29 PM on November 13, 2008

I lurv ham so I will chime in further with the thought that there maybe ham hobbyists in your area who are into making air dried hams like prosciutto or serrano style. I am trying to convince a friend that we should risk making a American Revolutionary era Maryland style ham but you may have better luck than I am on that one.

Fresh ham is the best roast you can possibly have from the pig.
posted by jadepearl at 7:12 AM on November 14, 2008

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