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7 Trusted Pitmaster Tips in Smoking Holiday Ham

Trusted Pitmaster Tips in Smoking Holiday Ham

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It’s the most beautiful time of the year. The holidays give us not only the holiday cheer, but also the unforgettable moments with family and friends; savoring the meals we prepared, catching up with family about their year.

Holiday dinners are usually a festive feast, and one of its main highlights is the holiday ham, especially when it’s smoked. Whether fresh or cured, smoked holiday hams will surely delight people when they see it served at the dinner table.

In general, smoked ham is a delicious way to eat pork, but a few people are bold enough to actually try it for themselves. It’s not surprising, since at first glance, you can be intimidated by its size, especially when it’s homemade.

But, smoked ham tastes so much better than the one you could usually buy at stores and it’s not as overwhelming as you think it is. Smoked holiday ham brings savory flavors that makes it a star during holiday dinners.

Where is ham located?

You may find ham at the hind part of a pig, at the lower back side which covers almost the whole of its hind legs. Generally, pork ham is easier to get and usually cheaper than pork loin. It also serves more people in terms of ratio.

best ham for smoking

What is the best ham for smoking?

You may find fresh hams, smoked, and cured hams in the market near you, which can drastically make holiday dinner preparations easier. But, nothing beats your own created ham at home because you can add flavors and spices however you like.

Pitmasters note when it comes to smoked hams, you need to remember that smoking a fresh ham as opposed to cured ham greatly impacts the meat flavor.

Cured ham is preserved and made safe for later consumption through salt curing. Since it has undergone curing, it is heavily seasoned with salt even before it reaches the kitchen.

Meanwhile, fresh ham is more akin to roasted pork or baked pork which is something like a blank canvas you could paint with your own mixture of herbs and spices. It allows you to easily season the meat adjacent to your taste, something that is harder to do when you’re using cured ham.

Pitmaster tips in smoking holiday ham

Pitmaster tips in smoking holiday ham

Pitmasters know how to extract meat flavors, combine them with herbs and spices, and highlight smoky (not charred) taste.

Whether you’re smoking holiday ham for the first time or you’re a veteran in cooking for holiday dinners, here are some trusted pitmaster tips in smoking holiday ham that can level up your smoking skills and dinner experience.

1. Know the best meat

Any expert smoker will say that the best meat for smoked holiday ham is a fresh one, and getting the best fresh ham is an important part of the process. At your local grocery or meat shop, carefully select the best meat and go for their newest available pork ham. In choosing the part, you also need to keep in mind if the ham can feed enough people and if it fits your smoker at home.

2. Prep the meat beforehand

There are various ways you can prepare the ham which heavily relies on your own recipe and concoction of flavors. You can prepare your ham just as you are preheating your smoker, you can slice through the ham’s skin like a grid to help the meat have a better surface area for your dry rub spices. This also helps the ham to have a crispier skin containing the flavors.

Some recipes also include brining and curing the ham at home. If you are planning to brine or cure the meat, you will need more time to let the solution seep inside the meat fibers. This brings a little extra flavor and moisture to the smoked ham. Remember that you should only brine or cure the ham if it’s fresh, not partly cooked or previously brined. If you do, you will overwhelm it, making your ham salty and it could end up inedible.

3. Monitor the internal temperature of the ham

Knowing the right internal temperature of the ham is crucial, since you want it to be cooked all the way through inside, and you wouldn’t want to serve it raw at dinner.

Read more: Here’s How You Ensure Your Food is Cooked to Safety

Have a handy meat thermometer in your kitchen so you will know if the meat is cooking right. You may use meat thermometers with long probes so you won’t burn your hand when measuring the internal temperature of the holiday ham.

Check the temperature every 30 minutes after you’ve applied the aluminum foil, it should be around 145°F and you would need to watch out until it reaches 160-170°F so you know it’s cooked all the way through.

4. Use wood chips on your smoker

Pitmasters always say that the flavor of the smoked meat is always just as good as how you smoked them. There’s a big difference when you’re using a griller-turned-smoker, smokers, industrial type of smokers, and etc.

One notable scent and added flavor to smoked holiday hams is the smoky flavor it brings. Add wood chips to your smoker to let that homey smoky flavor seep.

5. Let it rest

Knowing when to take it out of the smoker on time is also a skill. Pitmasters shared that letting the meat sit is also still part of the cooking process. This lets the meat fibers relax and become more tender and retain more juices inside.

Give the ham a rest after smoking and let the residual heat distribute evenly to cook the insides better. For fresh ham, you could rest it for 30 minutes to an hour before serving.


Holiday dinners are not complete without smoked holiday hams. Choosing the right type of meat, along with the right combination of herbs and spices and expert techniques in smoking can bring out the best savory flavors ham has to offer. These trusted pitmaster tips in smoking holiday ham elevates how you cook ham on holiday dinners.

Looking for more? Check out our guide: Ultimate Bone-in Ham Grilling Tips

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*Featured photo by: Tinamolina

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