Country ham is a regional delicacy common in Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky and Tennessee. Outside those areas it seems rare to find country ham. We like to bring back a country ham when we visit Virginia. This is our guide to how we prepare our Virginia country ham.
You are watching: How To Cook A Virginia Country Ham
Go To Recipe Overview
My experience with country ham comes from living in Tennessee and North Carolina. Country ham and biscuits was a favorite dish. Unfortunately, country ham is virtually unknown in San Diego, and much of the country.
Country ham is completely different from traditional ham. It is salty and has an intense flavor. It is not designed to be eaten in large slices. Instead you enjoy it in small portions like a fine wine or cheese.
Country ham is rubbed with salt and spices, smoked and then aged for months, or even years. Fancy gourmet restaurants are now having country ham tastings.
Many people simply do not like country ham. It can be very salty, but when buying an uncooked ham you have the option to soak the ham to remove salt.
Where to Find Country Ham
Country hams can be ordered online, but I like to bring one home when we visit family on the east coast. Our two favorite places for country ham are Smithfield and Edwards Virginia Smokehouse. In recent years our hams have come from Edwards which is near where my parents live in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Edwards was becoming famous among top chefs such as David Chang at New York’s legendary Momofuku. Bon Appetit magazine did an article on taste testing Edwards ham. However, in 2016 the Edwards 50,000 square foot complex of smokehouses in the country outside Williamsburg completely burned to the ground.
The top end ham from Edwards is the Surryano home, named for Edwards’ hometown of Surry, Virginia. The Surryano ham is smoked for a week and then aged for 400 days. The fire was problematic because the Surryano hams depend on the combination of yeast and bacteria in the air at the specific smokehouse.
Personally, I have never tried Surryano which is a premium product. There is a wide price range for country ham based on how it is cured and how it is prepared. The most inexpensive ham will be a whole uncooked bone-in ham
On our list visit to the Edwards store in Williamsburg we bought an 11-pound regular country ham at $5.29 a pound. It had been aged 90 days. Other hams had been aged for 210 days. The most expensive Surryano ham was aged for 400 days.
You can also buy country ham not only cooked, but cut into slices. This option is significantly more expensive as you are paying for the convenience. We always cook the ham ourselves but have bought slices on occasion. Slicing a country ham is difficult without high-end equipment
Cooking a Country Ham
To cook our country ham we followed the method online at Edwards and Smithfield. This is a simple procedure but you need to start a day in advance.
The main consideration is how salty you want your country ham. Soaking the ham in water removes the salt. The longer you smoke, the more salt is removed. Most guides suggest soaking for at least 12 hours but up to 36 hours. We did 16 hours changing the water every 4-6 hours.
After soaking you need to scrub the ham. There will be mold and pepper on the outside. The mold used to freak me out, but it is normal and on every ham I have bought. This definitely needs to be scrubbed off.
There are two methods of cooking. The preferred method is cooking in a large pot with water. The water needs to be about 190 degrees. This means you need to keep the temperature below boiling which can be tricky and will depend on carefully adjusting your stove.
The other method is simply cooking the ham in the oven. This is easy but we have always done the water method. You can see a video from Edwards on the oven method.
With the water method it takes about a half hour per pound. You want the internal temperature of the ham to be 163 degrees. Our 11-pound ham took 5 hours.
The final step is removing the skin and adding a coating if desired. For our country ham I remove the skin, score the ham in a diamond-shaped pattern and rub with mustard and brown sugar. It then goes in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.
Slicing a Country Ham
I am the first to admit that I am not good at slicing a bone-in country ham. I have watched videos and know the general technique, but it never comes out right. Edwards has a good video on slicing a country ham, but I have trouble in this area.
The goal is to get paper thin slices. Without high-end equipment this proves difficult. The good news is that country ham is best served in small portions. I am able to cut off large chunks, but my small slices are never pretty.
For us this is not a problem. We eat country ham in small portions and add it soups, casseroles and other dishes.
If you have some high-end cutting equipment here is a guide to slicing a ham like a pro.
Serving a Country Ham
Our 11-pound country ham will last us for many meals. For the first night we served ham biscuits and I made a potato and ham soup. The rest of the ham was frozen in large slices (actually more like chunks). Over the course of several months we will use the ham in various recipes.
For our family, country ham is more of a side dish. We rarely eat more than 2 ounces at a time. It makes a great addition to soups, vegetables and I even added some along with bacon to our German Instant Pot rouladen.
When cooking my Instant Pot Black Bean Soup or Cuban Black Beans I use country ham. I simply pull a portion of the ham from the freezer and let it defrost for half an hour.
Country Ham Recipe