Holiday Ham

Ham finished

Since I have smoked a total of four turkeys for Thanksgiving and a Christmas party with my church congregation in the span of nine days, I decided that I was turkey’d out. Since ham is a common main dish on Christmas Day, I opted for that. I found an awesome smoked ham recipe from the folks at howtobbqright.com with simple ingredients and easy step-by-step instructions to ensure I wouldn’t screw this up. The recipe is in the hyperlink to their website, but here’s the summary for you in case you’re too lazy mesmerized by this post thus far:

Meat: Ham (8.8 lbs)

Ingredients: 2 C brown sugar,  4 oz. pineapple juice, 6 oz. spicy brown mustard, 2 T pork rub

Wood: Cherry

Smoke:  225° F (about 107° C)

Finish Temperature: 145° F (about 62° C)

The ingredients for the ham glaze.
The ingredients for the ham glaze.

When you go to the store, you will find that just about every ham is already smoked and/or cured. To find one that has not been smoked or cured would be considered a “green ham” but since Malcolm Reed said you can use one of the aforementioned hams from the store, that is exactly what I did.

Smoking a ham like this will be just fine.
Smoking a ham like this will be just fine.

To get the ham ready, this is what I done did:

  • Open the package, toss out the glaze packet
  • Place the base (widest part) down on heavy duty foil (I used a foil pan)
  • Pat the ham with a paper towel to dry away some of the moisture wetness
Pat it dry to help make it a fresh canvas for your recipe.
Pat it dry to help make it a fresh canvas for your recipe.

1. Now that these three simple steps have been done, it’s time to apply the ingredients. For my base, I start with spicy brown mustard (which really isn’t that spicy). The original recipe called for honey Dijon mustard, but I improvised with the spicy brown because that’s the taste I prefer. When applying ingredients to meats, I prefer to put on a silicon (or whatever latex free) glove so I don’t have to get my hands messy and wash them multiple times during the preparation. Wiping the mustard around the ham with your hand will help you get an even application of the mustard, even in the harder-to-apply areas.

Applying mustard is messy, so I prefer to wear a glove.
Applying mustard is messy, so I prefer to wear a glove.

Now that the mustard is on, let’s sprinkle some brown sugar on here. At this point, we don’t want to apply too much; we will need the majority of this for later. If you want to use some of your preferred rub, now is the time to apply it. In this case, I’m using Plowboys BBQ Yardbird Rub because I love how it tastes on pulled pork and it couldn’t hurt to try it on another pork product.

Putting the brown sugar (and rub) on your hand will help you apply evenly.
Putting the brown sugar (and rub) on your hand will help you apply evenly.

Now that the mustard, brown sugar, and rub have been applied, I let the ham rest while I get the charcoal going. While most of the United States has been experiencing unusually warm weather, we’ve been hit with some much-needed snow, which means I need to shovel my way out to the smoker.

Everyday I'm shovelin', shovelin'.
Everyday I’m shovelin’, shovelin’.
Look what I uncovered!
Look what I uncovered!

2. The smoker is up to 225° F with the cherry wood and now I’m ready to put the ham in and let it smoke for two hours. One thing I’m discovering is that it is much harder to regulate heat when it is cold outside. The high was about 20ish degrees and that meant the heat in the smoker kept dropping quicker than usual. Make sure to have some extra coals ready so you are prepared for BBQ in the winter.

3. After two hours on the smoker, it is time to pull the ham off, apply some pineapple juice, wrap it in foil, and then back in the chamber for another hour. I use a spray bottle to get the pineapple juice on there as even as I can.

That doesn't look like water...
That doesn’t look like water…

4. By this point, the ham is supposed to be around 140° F. However, mine was not. I used my Thermopop to make sure the temperature was where I needed. When using a food thermometer, make sure you stick the needle in deep and away from the bone. Otherwise, you will get a reading like this…

120° near the surface
120° F near the surface

…when it is really this…

94° F deep down
94° F deep down

This is where I’m supposed to apply the final glaze, but I’m waiting until I get closer to 140°F. Now that I’m about 45 degrees behind where I need to be, I decide to put it in the oven on higher heat to make sure it climbs steady and I don’t lose heat like I have been out in the winter cold. But when I got the temp up to 140, I pulled the ham out to glaze. Since I wrapped the ham in a way that I put a foil cap on top to cover it completely, I was able to pull off the foil cap and pull open the base part of the foil to the point it makes a boat, yet keeps the juices trapped.

5. Now the time has come to glaze. 

Apply the rest of the brown sugar and completely cover the ham. Once that is done, then spray more pineapple juice on it. Doing this, combined with the heat from the smoker, will create the glaze that makes the ham awesome.

6. Put it back in the chamber for one more hour.

Since I was having issues, I put it back in my oven around 275°F and had it in for about 45 minutes until I was at an internal meat temp of 145°F. I wish I had a little more smoke flavor to this, which is likely why you put back on the smoker for another hour instead of in the oven. But dinner time was quickly approaching and I needed to make sure the ham would be done in time. I share this because I want you to know that even though the process didn’t turn out the way I hoped (as per the usual for me), you can still get the desired results.

7. Let it rest.

Resting is a key part of the BBQ process. The meat has been slowly cooking and contracts a bit in the process. Letting it rest is how the meat relaxes and the juices absorb. After 20-30 minutes, you’re done resting and it’s time to eat!

Looks like Jabba the Ham.
Looks like Jabba the Ham.

The family loved it and I sent them with a good amount of leftovers, which they devoured. If you are looking to make a ham (holidays or otherwise) I recommend this.

Smoked Turkey

Note: this smoke originally took place on 11/26/2015 

Smoked Turkeys.
Smoked Turkeys.

I’ve only been smoking for a few months, but foolishly decided to tell my mother-in-law that I will take on making the turkey for Thanksgiving this year. No pressure, just smoke something you’ve never tried for the main dish of the biggest meal of the year. A lot of people have turkey for Christmas as well, so this recipe isn’t just for one day a year. Here’s the recipe I used:

Meat: Two Turkeys  (8.5 lbs. and 14 lbs., respectively)

Brine: 3.5 gallons of water, 2 C kosher salt, 2 C sugar, 2 C apple juice, 1 Jonagold apple (sliced), 2 T rub, 1 T lemon juice; brined in cooler for 24 hours

Wood: Pecan, with a little apple mixed in

Smoke: 260° F for five hours, then had to put in oven at 325° F for 60-90 minutes to reach right internal temp of 165° F.

Since I had never made a turkey before, I learned some things in the prep that you all who are also new to this should know:

1: When shopping for a turkey, look for one with a label that says, “minimally processed” and/or “low solution added”. When talking about low solution, the rule of thumb that experts look for is 8% or less. You get a better quality turkey this way, which means better meat to flavor. If you can’t obtain one of these types of turkeys, it’s not the end of the world. I used one without these labels and it still tasted pretty dang good.

2: The turkey will come frozen from the store, unless you found a fresh one somehow. These things can take a couple of days to thaw out in the fridge (24 hours for each 4-5 lbs.) so be prepared. If you are impatient pressed for time like me, put it in a bucket or sink full of cold water breast side down. Average thawing time is 30 min. per lb. Note: make sure turkey is still in the package while doing this.

3: When opening the package, you may want to do so over a kitchen sink. That way, all the juices/solution/blood don’t end up all over your counter/floor/self.

4: There’s more to the turkey than meets the eye. It’s what’s on the inside. They shoved the turkey neck and a gravy packet up its butt, so you’ll need to get up in there and pull it out. Also, you will want to get into the north end and find the skin flap that opens to a cavity. Dig your hand in there and you’ll find a hidden packet full of giblets, which is a fancy way of saying liver, heart, and other “edible” innards. Don’t worry, you don’t need these and can throw the packet away. That is, unless, you desire these things. We don’t judge here on this website, so do your thing.

5: Brine the turkey, for goodness sake. I’m not fully sure why, but everywhere I’ve read online and folks I’ve talked to with experience say to do it.

A simple, effective brine is made up of 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of kosher salt, and 1 cup of sugar. In hopes to give it more of an apple flavor, I decided to improvise a little and added apple juice, a sliced Jonagold apple, some lemon juice, and some rub I planned on putting on the turkey afterward.

Brine ingredients (sans lemon juice)
Brine ingredients (sans lemon juice)

 Since I didn’t have room in my fridge, nor do I own a second one with extra space, I went the cooler route for the brining. This meant that I needed to add more water to make sure the birds were fully submerged, which also meant that I needed to add more of the ingredients. To keep the water temp cool, I threw in a bunch of ice cubes and put it outside in the cooler weather (which varied from low 40s to upper 20s over the course of 24 hours). The ice cubes stayed frozen and the water didn’t freeze, which I was happy about.

Time to brine.
Time to brine.

After taking the birds out of the brine, I patted them dry with a paper towel. I poured some olive oil on the turkeys and then generously applied Loot N’ Booty BBQ brand Gold Star Chicken Rub. I let them rest for around 30-45 minutes before putting them in the smoker.

Resting birds about 30-45 minutes before smoking.
Resting birds for 30-45 minutes before smoking.

You can tell it’s cold outside when the temperature gauge on the smoker has a little ice on it, even though it was under a tarp the night before.

Frosty smoker.
Frosty smoker.

After adding a bunch of coals, pecan wood, and apple wood, the smoker reached my desired temperature of 260° F and I placed the turkeys inside, breast side up, and left them untouched for the first two hours. Turkey, like most meats, can dry out during the smoking process. You will want to put a bowl of water inside the smoker to help retain the moisture inside the chamber (you will want to find a small, metal bowl that can withstand the higher temperatures). Since white meat can especially get dry, I put a mixture of apple juice and apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle and spray the birds about once an hour for the next three hours. Otherwise, you will want to keep the lid closed as much as possible.

After five hours, my turkeys hadn’t reached the desired internal temp of  165° F. In fact, they were down around 120° F. Most recipes I’ve seen show it to be almost done by this time. Maybe my temperature gauge on the smoker is lying to me, maybe it’s the 5,000 ft. elevation I’m at, or maybe a little of both. To get the turkeys to their necessary temperature quicker, I took them off the smoker, placed them in a foil pan, double wrapped with heavy duty aluminum foil, and put them in my oven at 325° F. This isn’t what I had originally planned, but desperate times call for desperate temperatures measures.

In the process of wrapping the poultry, I cut up a couple of pounds of butter and distributed one pound over each of the turkeys. I witnessed Aaron Franklin do this in a YouTube video and he explained that since turkey can be bland, adding butter helps keep it juicy and flavorful.

Butter, baby!
Butter, baby!
Now THAT is what I call a butter ball turkey!
Now THAT is what I call a butter ball turkey!
In baseball terms, my oven is "the closer" when it comes to finishing smoking some of the bigger meats. A Mariano Rivera, if you will.
In baseball terms, my oven is “the closer” when it comes to finishing smoking some of the bigger meats. A Mariano Rivera, if you will.

After spending just over an hour in the oven at 325° F, the birds finally reach the internal temperature of 165° F. I unwrapped it, let it rest for about 30 minutes, and then start carving away! I have come to learn that I love cutting the white meat way more than the dark meat. Dark meat has is very sinuous and full of bones and can be difficult to cut and pull the meat off of. Whereas the white meat cuts very well and you don’t have to worry about those extra surprises inside. I think I’d much rather eat the turkey legs and wings off the bone itself instead of having to carve them.

The turkeys were a huge hit and I received tons of compliments from the family members who showed up to devour it! Keep the leftovers (if any remain), because it also makes for a very good chicken noodle soup, substituting smoked turkey for the chicken, of course.

I am welcome to any questions or feedback you may have on this, so feel free to post something in the comments!