How to cook and serve a dry cured country ham

The real deal

A country ham can be hung up in your basement indefinitely before it is
re-hydrated.  Pay no attention to any signs of mold, etc.

To cook a dry-cured country ham from God’s own
Commonwealth, you first take it out of the net bag, then soak it in a
big cauldron in which the ham will be covered with cold water.  You soak
it for a long time, depending on how much salt you want
to get out of it.  I would recommend about 15 or 16 hours, changing the
water 2 or 3 times.

Throw the water away, fill with new water to cover the ham.  In the
water put a medium sized quartered onion studded with six or eight
cloves, a dozen black pepper corns, half a dozen Allspice berries, a bay
leaf, a quartered apple, and some cider.  I would put in a cup of
Bourbon whiskey, but maybe you won’t.  Incidentally, the alcohol will
all cook away, so all that will be left is the taste.  Bring the water
to a boil, and then reduce the heat so that the ham simmers in all this
wonderful stuff.  Simmer 20 minutes a pound plus another twenty minutes
to be sure.  Take it out of the pot and let cool until “just warm.”
Skin it with something like a really sharp “boning” knife.  Work the
blade parallel to the surface of the ham to take off the skin and then
the thick layer of fat underneath.  Take the fat off in thinnish
layers.  You will be surprised at how much fat there is.  Be careful you
don’t get into the meat underneath.  The fat is translucent.  The meat
is, well, not translucent.  Once you get all the fat off, score the ham
lightly and stud with cloves.  Coat this marvelous object with a glaze.
We use one made of real maple syrup, brown sugar, dry mustard, and a cup of Bourbon whiskey.  Remember.  The alcohol will be gone after cooking.
Put the ham in a preheated 350 degree oven for an hour.  Let it cool
completely and you are ready to carve.  Leave it in the refrigerator overnight.

The ham has two flat sides and two curved sides.  Using a very sharp ham
slicer with a long, narrow blade, slice some very thin slices off the
less curved of the two curved sides to make it flat.  Then stand the ham
on that side and start carving off the more curved side.  Start down
near the hock by making a vertical cut to the bone, then slice paper
thin slices, working your way toward the big end of the ham and
gradually inclining the knife so that after a while you are cutting
long, very thin slices that are six or eight inches long.

This ham will keep in the refrigerator two or three months, wrapped in
aluminum, and is an endless source of sandwiches (turkey and country ham is one great possibility), snacks, etc. Make sure you slice it as near to paper thin as you can manage.  Otherwise, the full flavor of the ham
will overwhelm you.”

W. Patrick Lang

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20 Responses to How to cook and serve a dry cured country ham

  1. Leith says:

    Thanks for this. I recall my grandma used to use a glaze with mustard & maple syrup. Don’t know what else so I’ll have to check with some cousins to see if anyone has her recipe.

  2. TTG says:

    I’ve only eaten some of this authentic Virginia ham once many years ago at the Fredericksburg SPCA. It was thin sliced as you recommended and on home cooked biscuits… noting else, just ham and biscuits. It was delicious and I ate my fill.

    Are those Smithfield hams in cloth bags dry cured this way? I’ve never had one and I’ve never read the bag to see for myself. I’ve had proscuitto quite often and imagine it’s similar.

    • Pat Lang says:

      Yankees instinctively want to put mustard on it. Ugh! You have read what it says on the bag.

      • TTG says:

        Mustard on a normal smoked ham sandwich, guilty as charged. It’s more likely I’d put a little brown sugar or maple syrup on that smoked ham when I reheat slices in the oven. I would no more put mustard on this Virginia dry cured ham than I would use it on crispy bacon or proscuitto. But I do love mustard and horseradish on some corned beef and apple cider vinegar on the cabbage. I’m sure many would think that a culinary abomination.

  3. tedrichard says:

    many thanks for this recipe mr lang.
    merry christmas and good health in the new year to you and yours

  4. Leith says:

    For myself, I’m going to try your recipe for New Year’s Dinner. Not sure where I can get a good ham here in the sicks of Washington State. Any mailorder Virginia hams you would recommend?

    I doubt my Grandma she used any bourbon in hers. Whether or not she knew it cooked away, she was a hard core teetotaler always preaching against the devil’s drink. Maybe because her baby brother, my great uncle Dinty, died of cirrhosis.

    She was a great lady though. By herself she raised three daughters and a fourth, a foster child, during the great depression. At Christmas she used to throw ladlefuls of hot maple syrup into the snow to make candy for us grandkids.

    • Pat Lang says:

      See my reply to Degringolade above concerning Edwards Virginia Smokehouse. Allow a couple of days for the soaking, cooking, glazing, overnight in the fridge, etc. It will worth it. You need a big stockpot for the simmering stage.

  5. Degringolade says:

    Do you have any suggestions where to buy one of these things? For a while in the past I would buy Pagan Valley hams and treat them as you did, Can’t find any now.

    My mouth is watering.

    You and SWMBO have a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


  6. Fred says:

    Sliced paper thin is definitely the way to go. A great recipe, thanks again.

  7. Babeltuap says:

    Save the ham bone. Put it in a crock pot with 1 lb of dry red beans, couple onions and water. 8 hrs later insanely delicious over rice.

    Old Cajun favorite.

  8. A. Pols says:

    I did one of these a few years back and it was awesome, but, oh my God, it was a messy process and the cleanup was a chore.

  9. Lefty665 says:

    I wholly agree, there is nothing that can compare to a long cure Virginia ham.
    A slightly simpler recipe came to me from my mother long ago along with a horror story. One Christmas she sent a Smithfield ham to a friend in New Jersey who threw it out after she unwrapped it because it was moldy.
    Mom’s recipe is:
    Soak overnight, makes for a somewhat saltier ham.
    Plain water to simmer, as you instructed, 20 minutes per pound + 20 for the pot.
    Trim as you instructed while leaving a very thin layer of fat.
    A simple glaze of frozen orange juice (undiluted, straight from the can) mixed with brown sugar. I have occasionally been known to get a buzz from nibbling on cloves while studding a ham with unnibbled cloves.
    Bake and slice as you instructed.
    If you can see through the slices it is thin enough.

    In any variation, a delight, and one I have enjoyed for what is becoming a disconcerting number of decades. Thanks for your recipe.

    Merry Christmas, and thank you for another year of all you do.

    • Pat Lang says:


      Yes. People do all manner of stupid things with these hams. I gave one to a workman once along with my instructions. The dummy put the uncooked ham in the refrigerator instead of hanging it from a beam in the basement. It was completely ruined.

  10. Shako says:

    This is very important. Thank y0u for posting this. Now I know that my last great misadventure with the ham was not soaking it long enough to draw out the salt.

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