Most Southerners grew up enjoying the deep, rich and intensely salty flavor of a country ham that is dry-cured over a long period.
Ways to cook a country ham are as varied as the families that serve them. You can fry it, slice it, bake it, boil it in a bottle of Coca-Cola … surprised? So were we.
You’re going to need the following:
- A year-old country ham with the hock cut off
- A 5-gallon pot
- A 24-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola (or any cola will do)
- A large cardboard box, big enough to fit the 5-gallon pot
- A stack of magazines
- A large quilt or blanket, big enough to cover that large cardboard box
- Whole cloves
- A roasting pan
- A box or bag of brown sugar
- A bottle of spicy mustard
Keep in mind, this process is going to take some time, so give yourself a few days. And remember, opinions, tastes and terminology vary from region to region and house to house.
Here’s an old-time procedure that works for us.
- First, clean up your ham. Take any excess salt off the surface and any mold – mold is okay, just scrub it off – and trim off any hard, dark spots.
- Next, place the ham in a large bucket or in the sink and cover it with cold water and let it soak for 24 hours.
- The next day, pour off the water and transfer the ham to a large, heavy-duty cooking pot – you can also use a turkey fryer.
- Fill the pot with new water and add the 24-ounce bottle of cola.
- Turn up the heat and bring the pot to a rolling boil. Expect this to take 45 minutes to an hour.
- Opinions vary over what to do next. The goal is to cook the meat to 160 degrees. Most experts say once you get it to boiling, one minute per pound will suffice – about 15 to 20 minutes in most cases. More boiling will insure against undercooking and remove more salt, but it also may make the meat a little crumbly when you slice it. If that happens, it makes excellent ham salad.
- Line the bottom of the large cardboard box about an inch or two deep with magazines. This is insulation against cold floors.
- For this next part, you’re going to need a set of strong arms. A 5-gallon can of country ham and boiling water is going to weigh more than 50 pounds. Get extra help and be very careful during this step.
- Place the pot on the magazines in the box.
- Place the lid on the pot and stuff wadded-up newspapers around the sides of the pot and pile them over the top of the can. Close the top of the box and slide it out of the way.
- Cover the box with a quilt or a blanket. You are doing this to insulate the pot so the meat will slow-cook overnight.
- Twenty-four hours later, remove the quilts and blankets, open the box and remove the lid from the pot. You can dip some of the water off the top of the ham to make the pot easier to lift if you need to. (You probably shouldn’t pour this water down the sink because it will contain fat, salt and other materials that aren’t good for the pipes.)
- Place the ham in a sink or pan and trim away the excess fat, leaving about a quarter of an inch. Transfer into a roasting pan.
- Score the ham in a diamond pattern at about one- to two-inch intervals. Place whole cloves like thumbtacks where the scores cross.
- Stir up a glaze. You can use your own recipe or try ours. Our glaze is sweet-and-sour: a box of brown sugar mixed with enough spicy mustard to make it ooze down the sides of the ham.
- Pour the glaze thickly on the ham and spread it around to even it out. Spread a little on both ends as well as the top and sides.
- Now you’re ready to finish the ham. Place the roasting pan in a moderate oven (250 to 300 degrees). This will take just long enough to melt the glaze, so keep an eye on it so you don’t scorch your ham. When it looks done, it’s done.