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My family's conversion from turkey to ham this past Thanksgiving was a giant win for me—I'd been floating the idea of ditching the bird for a few years to no avail. I'm a ham fiend, but this sweet swine is usually relegated to a once-a-year occasion, when it takes center stage at my in-laws Christmas party. In that one night, I bask in the ecstasy of the cured and smoked meat, stuffing myself well beyond reason.
But while I'm pretty well versed in ham consumption, when I was plotting to prepare one myself this fall, I realized that my experience cooking it was limited to a single prior attempt. Although it's a seemingly simple prospect—hell, the thing is already cooked—I learned that the devil is in the details and decided to do a test run, which led to this amazing Coke- and pineapple-glazed ham.
There's already an extensive ham primer on Serious Eats, so I'll keep this part to a bare minimum. The hunks of hindquarters that I equate with the holidays are referred to as city hams. They're wet-cured and often smoked, and usually come fully cooked, both in non-sliced and spiral-sliced versions.
When selecting a city ham, you want to look for one that's labeled just "Ham" or "Ham with Natural Juices." These contain the most ham protein and the least amount of added water, yielding a more flavorful end product. Hams labeled as "Ham, water added" or "Ham and water product" are further diluted with liquid, and while they'll likely deliver a juicy product, they will, unsurprisingly, taste watered down.
For my Thanksgiving ham I went with a higher quality product ordered from Burger's Smokehouse, but for my test run I just picked up the best looking ham that met my selection criteria in the grocery store, which was about one-third of the price.
To say you're cooking a ham is a bit of a lie. While there are city hams that are only partially cooked and require you to complete the process at home, the vast majority come fully pre-cooked, meaning that you can technically pop open the package, slice, and serve. Call me crazy, but for a holiday meal I wanted something a little more special than a slab of cold ham.
Since the ham has already been taken upwards of 150°F once before, reheating is actually a tricky prospect because you want to get the meat to hit a nice, servable temperature without it drying out. Low and slow is one good way to go—the gentle heat is forgiving, and it also helps ensure it won't overcook. Whenever I hear low and slow, I can't help but turn to my smoker.
There's no real advantage to the smoker here in terms of flavor—being pre-cooked, the ham won't pick up any additional smoke flavor—but there were two bonuses to using my Weber Smokey Mountain that made it more attractive than the oven. First, it freed up oven space for other items; second, the large water pan in the smoker creates a moist cooking environment, which is another small aid in the battle against dryness.
I started my ham wrapped in foil, to further help it retain moisture, and placed it in the smoker, cut-side down. I let it cook at 250°F until it reached 100°F on an instant read thermometer, at which point it was glazin' time.
As much as the ham itself is the main attraction, the best part is always the ends, which get a concentrated sugary-sweet glaze. Since I associate ham with my Filipino in-laws, the glaze I made here was influenced by the sweet Filipino barbecue that I've become adept at making.
I started with the requisite soda—Coke in this instance—paired with an equal amount of brown sugar. I swapped out the orange I usually use in favor of pineapple, and scaled back or eliminated some of the more savory components of my Filipino barbecue marinade (namely onion, garlic, and oyster sauce). I kept in soy sauce for saltiness and apple cider vinegar for tang and let the mixture boil down until it was thick and syrupy.
Once I unwrapped the ham, I brushed it liberally with the glaze and let it set for 15 minutes. Then I gave it a second brushing and let the ham continue to cook until it reached its final temperature of 120°F—about another twenty minutes in the smoker.
After a short rest, it was time to see if I was able to pull off a ham with the same skill I've developed with turkey. Unfortunately, even with all the precautions I took—low heat, foil, temperature checks—the first few slices of the ham were on the dry side. Once we plowed through those, though, that meat was as moist as can be, with the sweet-and-savory ham flavor that I find so intoxicating. The glaze paired beautifully, adding a crust that had a depth far beyond its sugary base and packing a ton of flavor into each small bite. The whole experience left me riding a ham high unlike any I've experienced and I got more than my fair share of that pork before, during, and after Thanksgiving, while still having even more to look forward to come Christmas day.
About the author: Joshua Bousel brings you new, tasty condiment every other Wednesday and a recipe for weekend grilling every other Friday. He also writes about grilling and barbecue on his blog The Meatwave whenever he can be pulled away from his grill.