Before we get started on how to smoke a fresh ham, I want to quickly highlight the difference between a fresh ham and a cured ham. Because there is a big difference!
A cured ham has been pre treated to kill off bacteria through either a wet curing or a brine curing process. Cured ham has a pink or deep rose color. These are the types of ham that you’d generally find at the grocery store.
A fresh ham is a ham that has not been cured. They are typically more beige or pale pink in appearance, kind of like a fresh pork roast. Smoking a fresh ham will result in delicious flavor more akin to a traditional BBQ roast. In this post, we’ll go over everything you need to know for how to smoke a fresh ham!
Things You’ll Need to Smoke a Fresh Ham
Here’s a list of everything you’ll need for how to smoke a fresh ham:
- A Smoker. However you usually smoke meat, use that! This can be done with a traditional charcoal smoker, kamado grill, pellet grill – whatever your preference is.
- Fresh Ham. You will typically be able to choose between a shank cut and a butt cut. I generally recommend choosing a cut out of the butt portion of the pig’s rear leg because it has proportionately more meat and I just think it tastes slightly better. The shank is cheaper on a per pound basis though so it’s completely up to you which you choose. Choose a size that you’re comfortable with and that will also fit on your smoker.
- Charcoal and Wood Chips. Or if you have a pellet grill, pellets. For wood chips and flavored pellet grill pellets, the flavors that go well with fresh ham are hickory, cherry, and apple, but feel free to use whichever flavor blends you want.
- Dry Rub. Use your favorite dry rub or if you need a little guidance on a DIY rub, use a mixture of black pepper, kosher salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, and dried thyme.
- Yellow Mustard.
- Pineapple Juice.
- Brown Sugar.
- Aluminum Foil.
- Silicone Basting Brush
- Probe Thermometer.
- Injector (Optional but recommended).
Optional Fresh Ham Injection Recipe:
- 3/4 cup apple juice
- 1/4 cup pineapple juice
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
Preheat Your Smoker
How to smoke a fresh ham is quite the process, so I always like to maximize efficiency with my time. With that in mind, I think it’s best to get the fire going so that you can prepare the fresh ham while your smoker gets up to desired temperature.
Light your charcoal (using a chimney starter is easiest) then add it to the smoker’s coal rack. After a few minutes, that familiar glowing red center will signal that the fire is heating up. It’s safe to add your wood chips at this point. Next, let the heat rise and smoke curate. When smoking a ham, you want the temperature of your smoker to run at 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to check in often to make sure your temperature is right.
Prep the Ham
While your smoker heats up, it’s time to prepare the ham. The first thing you should do is take a knife and cut long slits, creating a diamond pattern across the entire ham skin. You want the cuts to only go about a quarter of an inch deep, and take care to not cut into the meat.
We do this for a couple of reasons. First, it the slits will make it easier for the outside of the ham to crisp up when it smokes. The second reason is that it creates more surface area for the rub and seasoning to absorb in.
Speaking of seasoning, our next step is to take the yellow mustard and coat the entire ham in a light layer. The mustard is primarily in place to make sure that the dry rub will stick well to the fresh ham while it smokes. So don’t worry about it if you don’t like the flavor of yellow mustard.
Next, apply a generous coat of your dry rub and/or spices. You should coat the entire ham evenly, and don’t forget to season the insides of the diamond pattern we cut earlier.
Optional: This is the point where you should inject the ham if you choose to do so. It’s entirely up to your preference. Some people prefer the flavor without. If you choose to inject, the ham will have more moisture and a lighter flavor. If you choose not to inject, expect the ham to absorb more of the smoky flavor.
To inject the ham, mix the injection recipe ingredients we listed above in a saucepan. Use low heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Inject evenly throughout the ham, including spots close to the skin and near the center. After injection, let the ham rest for a moment to cool.
Fresh Ham On the Smoker
Put the ham on the smoker after it’s been seasoned and the smoker is at 225 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s ok if the temperature is higher or lower by a few degrees, but 225 is where we want to be. Add coals or adjust your air ducts as necessary to get the temperature right and consistent. Also add wood chips as necessary to keep a steady flow of smoke.
The rule of thumb for ham is 20 minutes per pound, but we’re really just cooking to an internal temperature of 190 degrees.
Every 2 hours, mix pineapple juice with a pinch of brown sugar (I like to do 1 Tbsp brown sugar per cup of pineapple juice) and baste the mixture over the outside of the ham with your silicone basting brush. This will caramelize the crust and add to the delectability of the ham.
Once the center of your ham reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees, remove the ham from the smoker and wrap it loosely in aluminum foil. You should leave openings on the ends so that the ham will continue to get exposure to the smoke.
Pro Tip: Don’t open the lid unless you absolutely have to. Each time you open it, valuable heat escapes and it takes time to get the temperature right again. You should really only open the lid to baste the ham a few times and wrap it in foil during the entire cook.
Place the ham back on the grill and continue to smoke until it reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees at the center.
Rest, Then Prepare, Then Feast
The last part that comes in the process of how to smoke a fresh ham is to let it rest. After the internal temp reaches 190 degrees F, take it off the grill to rest, but leave the foil on. We want to let the ham rest for about 30 minutes before cutting into it.
Similar to a steak, allowing the ham to rest lets the juices redistribute away from the center of the meat. This will in turn make the entire fresh ham much more tender and juicy when it’s time to eat.
Once the ham has rested, carve into it, serve, and enjoy! I recommend carving quarter inch slices, but feel free to slice to the width of your preference.
How to Smoke a Fresh Ham
- Flavored Wood Chips (Hickory, Apple, or Cherry)
- Silicone Basting Brush
- Aluminum Foil
- Probe Thermometer
- Meat Injector (Optional)
- 10 lbs fresh ham
- 2 cups dry rub
- 1 cup yellow mustard
- 1 cup pineapple juice
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
Optional Fresh Ham Injection Ingredients
- 3/4 cups apple juice
- 1/4 cups pineapple juice
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
- Preheat your smoker to 225 degrees. Add charcoal first then add wood chips for smoke after charcoals have achieved a glowing red center.
- Prepare the ham. Cut a diamond shaped pattern of slits into the skin of the ham, going 1/4 inch deep. Be sure to not penetrate the skin enough to cut into the meat. Coat the outside of the fresh ham with a light layer of yellow mustard.
- Coat the outside of the fresh ham with your dry rub evenly and generously. Be sure to get the rub inside of the slits just cut into the skin.
- Optional: Bring injection ingredients to a boil over low heat in a sacuepan and mix. Inject evenly throughout the ham. After injection, allow the ham to rest and cool down.
- After the smoker has reached 225 degrees Fahrenheit, place the fresh ham on the smoker's grate. Close the lid.
- Mix 1 cup of pineapple juice with a tablespoon of brown sugar. Every 2 hours, use a silicone basting brush to coat mixture over the entire outside of the ham.
- Add charcoals and wood chips as necessary to the fire to maintain temperature and smoke levels.
- When the fresh ham's internal temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit, loosely wrap the ham in aluminum foil. Leave openings at each end so that the ham will still have exposure to the smoke.
- Place the foil wrapped ham back on the cooking grate and continue smoking.
- As soon as the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees, remove the ham from the smoker and allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Carve, serve, and enjoy!
How Long to Smoke a Fresh Ham Per Pound?
The rule of thumb for how long to smoke a fresh ham per pound is 15-20 minutes per pound. That being said, we always recommend to cook to an internal temperature of 190 degrees, no matter how long that takes.
Now you’ve got the knowledge for how to smoke a fresh ham – that’s it! If the process seems overwhelming, just take it step by step and you’ll get the hang of it. Smoked fresh ham is a wonderful shareable main dish for any holiday or family gathering.
If you used this recipe, I’d love to hear how it turned out! Get in touch in the comments section below or email us to let us know how your smoked ham adventure went.
Check out our guide on the best meat slicers next if you want to turn your smoked fresh ham into lunch meat slices!