Mastering the Grill: A Step-by-step Guide to Smoking the Perfect Ham

Imagine the smoky, savory aroma of a grilled ham wafting through your backyard. You’ve always savored it at your favorite barbecue joint, but now it’s time to master the art yourself. This guide will walk you through the process of smoking a ham on the grill, turning you into a backyard barbecue star in no time.

Whether you’re a seasoned griller or a novice, there’s something in this guide for you. We’ll demystify the smoking process, breaking it down into simple, easy-to-follow steps. So, roll up your sleeves and get ready to impress your friends and family with a delicious, smoky ham fresh off the grill.

Key Takeaways

  • Choosing the right ham lays the foundation for a perfect smoked ham dish. Bear in mind the type you select, either bone-in or boneless, fresh, cured, or pre-cooked, influences the final texture, taste, and preparation time.
  • Detailed preparation of your chosen ham, including scoring and applying glazes, as well as brining for flavor enhancement, seriously influences the final taste, texture, and appeal of your ham.
  • Setting up your grill correctly, whether you’re using a charcoal or gas grill, is crucial for achieving the best results. Monitor and maintain the ideal smoking temperature between 225°F and 250°F (107°C and 121°C) for a perfectly smoked ham.
  • The type of wood you use for smoking, the precision in monitoring the temperature, and the cooking time are essential for achieving optimal flavor and perfect cooking.
  • After your ham is ready, let it rest before slicing to seal in its flavors and juices. Complement it with well-chosen side dishes and accompaniments to enhance the overall dining experience.
  • Adhering to food safety norms is paramount while smoking your ham. It’s crucial to thaw, handle, cook, and store your ham correctly to prevent any foodborne illnesses.

Choosing the Right Ham

Achieving the perfect smoked ham begins with choosing the right ham. As it stands, the type of ham you select influences the final flavor. The first two distinctions to consider are whether you want a bone-in or boneless ham, and whether that ham should be fresh, cured, or pre-cooked.

Bone-In vs. Boneless Ham

In the debate between bone-in or boneless, the bone-in option often fares better, especially for a BBQ. Bone-in ham provides superior flavor, given the marrow in the bone adds a layer of richness when cooked. Additionally, bone serves as a heat conductor, resulting in more evenly smoked ham. Boneless ham offers convenience in terms of slicing but lacks the flavorful punch of its bone-in counterpart.

Fresh, Cured, or Pre-Cooked Ham

Your second choice revolves around selecting a fresh, cured, or pre-cooked ham. Fresh ham resembles more traditional pork cuts and demands longer cooking times, turning it not-so-preferable for first-time grillers. Cured ham, on the other hand, soaked in a mixture of salt, nitrates, and sometimes sugar, imparts a distinctive taste highly prized on the grill. Pre-cooked ham is typically cured then cooked, requiring you to simply heat it on your grill. Hence, its advantage lies in time-saving.

Collectively evaluating these options determines the texture, taste, and preparation time for smoking your ham on the grill. Making the right choice puts you one step closer to becoming a backyard barbecue star.

Preparing the Ham for Smoking

Once you’ve chosen the perfect ham as per the factors discussed earlier, it’s time to employ meticulous preparation methods to ensure a top-notch smoked ham grilling experience. Detailed preparation steps enhance the final taste, texture, and appeal of the ham.

Scoring and Applying Glazes

First off, adopt the scoring technique. Scoring implies creating a crisscross pattern on the ham’s surface. Use a sharp knife to make shallow cuts of about 1/8 to 1/4 inches deep across the fat-cap. The pattern not only imparts a picturesque diamond shape but also facilitates the glaze’s penetration, enhancing the flavor footprint in the meat.

Now come the glazes. Glazes are sugary coatings that caramelizes under heat, delivering an exquisite sweet and crispy crust to your ham. Apply the glaze, a concoction of your choice, evenly on the scored surface. Common ingredients for glaze include brown sugar, honey, fruit juices, maple syrup, or spices, but remember, it’s your palate, and the composition of the glaze could vary based on your taste preference.

Brining for Flavor Enhancement

Next, consider brining. Dunking your ham in a brine solution before grilling may seem like an extra step, but the result is worth it. Brining moistens the meat, reducing the cooking-induced dryness, and disperses your chosen flavors thoroughly. A Basic brine can be a simple blend of water, salt, and sugar. To infuse more complex tastes, you might add aromatics like garlic, bay leaves, or even spice up your brine with peppercorns or cinnamon.

Let the ham rest in the brine in your refrigerator for a period of 24 hours to let the flavors permeate through the meat. Remember, brining requires time, not your attention. While your ham is resting, it’s soaking up all the flavor from the brine, promising you a juicy and flavorful ham.

At this point, your ham is adequately prepared for smoking. Proceed with confidence knowing your meticulous efforts in preparation stand to contribute significantly to the final result.

Setting Up Your Grill for Smoking

After understanding the nuances of selecting and preparing your ham for smoking, it’s time to set up your grill. This section provides essential details related to setting up different types of grills for smoking ham.

Charcoal vs. Gas Grill Considerations

Charcoal and gas grills both offer unique benefits for smoking ham. With a charcoal grill, you experience an authentic smoky flavor, a result of the charcoal’s slow and steady burning. Stack your charcoal in a pyramid formation within the grill, leaving space at the top for wood chips. Once the charcoal glows red, distribute them evenly across the grill.

Using a gas grill gets a bit tricky. Although gas grills lack the traditional smoky flavor, they allow for easy temperature control. For smoking ham, you’ll place your soaked wood chips in a smoker box on the grill’s burner. Once the smoker box starts producing smoke, reduce the heat to maintain an ideal temperature.

Maintaining the Perfect Temperature

Monitoring and maintaining the perfect smoking temperature forms the backbone of a successfully smoked ham. Aim for a steady temperature between 225°F and 250°F (107°C and 121°C), ideal for slow smoking ham.

Grill TypeTemperature
Charcoal Grill225°F – 250°F
Gas Grill225°F – 250°F

Consider investing in a good quality digital grill thermometer for precise temperature readings. Check the temperature every hour, adjusting the grill vents periodically to maintain this desired temperature range. Remember, an even and steady temperature ensures your ham cooks evenly without drying out, resulting in perfect smoky, juicy ham every time.

Smoking the Ham

As you venture into the world of smoking ham, selecting optimal levels of flavor and perfecting the cooking time become prime considerations. It’s in these areas you’ll gain command of the process.

Wood Chips vs. Chunks for Flavor

Smoking ham achieves the best flavor when using specific types of wood. Two common options include wood chips and chunks. Wood chips, typically a smaller size, catch fire instantly, and incinerate quickly. They introduce an intense but short-lived smoke, suited for smaller cuts of ham or shorter smoking periods.

For example, apple or maple wood chips are known for their delicate, sweet flavor profiles. They subtly infuse the ham.

On the contrary, wood chunks, generally bigger, burn slowly and release a consistent smoke. They’re ideal for larger cuts of ham or extended smoking sessions. For instance, hickory or mesquite chunks are popular choices for their robust, smoky flavors.

Monitoring the Cooking Time

A foremost aspect of achieving perfectly smoked ham is vigilance over the grill’s temperature and the cooking time. Aim to maintain a temperature between 225°F and 250°F. Use a reliable grill or meat thermometer to keep an eye on the internal temperature. You’re targeting an internal temperature of 140°F for pre-cooked hams and 160°F for fresh or cured hams.

Monitor your ham every hour, basting it with pan juices or your preferred glaze. An estimated guideline to follow is about 15 to 20 minutes of cook time per pound of ham. However, remember, the situation varies based on the type of grill, the size and type of ham, plus the environmental conditions. Therefore, it’s the internal temperature of the ham, not solely the cooking time, that’ll dictate when it’s ready.

Serving Your Smoked Ham

After the smoke clears and your grilled ham reaches the perfect temperature, it’s time to serve up your masterpiece. Let’s delve deeper into the key stages of serving your smoked ham: allowing it to rest and choosing the best accompaniments and side dishes.

Resting Before Slicing

When you remove your smoked ham from the grill, resist the urge to immediately dig in. Before you even think about slicing into that juicy ham, let it rest. Providing this resting time aids in retaining the juicy goodness inside. The optimal resting period averages around 15 minutes.

The reason lies in the science of cooking. Heat forces the flavorful, moisture-keeping juices within the ham towards the center. When you let it rest, these juices get a chance to redistribute throughout the ham, ensuring every slice is equally flavorful and juicy.

Accompaniments and Side Dishes

Deciding on what to serve alongside your smoked ham enhances the total dining experience. A well-selected side dish complements the smoky, salty flavor of the ham, providing balance and diversity to your meal.

For a traditional pairing, consider mashed potatoes or candied sweet potatoes. A simple green salad adds a refreshing contrast, especially when paired with a tangy vinaigrette dressing. For a more unique accompaniment, try a classic southern macaroni and cheese, providing a creamy counterpart to your smoked ham’s rich flavors.

But remember, your ham is the star of the feast. Side dishes and accompaniments only act in a supporting role, enhancing the overall dining experience without overshadowing the main attraction – your perfectly smoked, deliciously flavorful grilled ham.

Safety Tips for Smoking Meats

Protecting your health and ensuring the safety of your culinary exploits stays paramount when you’re all set to fire up the grill. Food safety norms are critical, especially when smoking meats like your ham. Beware of harmful bacteria that could ruin your celebration.

Never thaw frozen ham at room temperature, on the kitchen counter, or in hot water. Instead, always thaw it in the refrigerator, inside its unopened wrapper, with the raw juices dripping into a container, not onto other foods. This precaution, cited by the USDA, is certain to guard against bacterial growth. Understand that 40°F (4.44°C) to 140°F (60°C) is the ‘Danger Zone’, where harmful bacteria multiply rapidly.

Next, consider your tools and setup. Always clean your grill, utensils, and platters prior to use. Interestingly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends washing these after handling raw ham, before placing the smoked ham on them. This ensures you avoid cross-contamination.

Another crucial aspect: checking the internal temperature. USDA suggests 145°F (62.77°C) as the safe internal temperature for smoked ham. A food thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the smoked ham certifies this fact precisely. Keep in mind, uncooked or undercooked meats can cause foodborne illnesses.

Precaution comes first when using charcoal or propane grills. Be cautious about leakages or blockages. Set them up in open areas, not in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces.

Finally, remember to store leftovers correctly. Refrigerate or freeze them within two hours of cooking, as per the USDA. The ideal temperature for the refrigerator is set at or below 40°F (4.44°C) and the freezer at 0°F (-17.78°C).

By adhering to these safety guidelines, you’ll ensure your smoked ham is not only flavorful but also safe to enjoy. Keep in mind; the art of smoking meats is a delicate balance: maintain safety while perfecting taste. Stay cautious, stay safe, and relish your homemade smoked ham.


You’ve now got the lowdown on smoking a ham on the grill. By choosing the right ham, preparing it correctly, and maintaining the right smoking temperatures, you’re all set to impress with your grilling skills. Remember, the flavor enhancement with wood chips and the rest time before slicing are key to juicy, flavorful ham. Pair it with suggested accompaniments for a complete feast. Safety can’t be overlooked, so ensure you’re thawing the ham properly, cleaning your tools, checking internal temperatures, and storing any leftovers correctly. This way, you can enjoy your homemade smoked ham with peace of mind. So, fire up that grill and let the smoking begin!

Smoking the perfect ham requires mastering the right techniques and understanding the nuances of low and slow cooking. Traeger Grills advises using a combination of applewood and hickory pellets for a balanced smoky flavor that complements the ham. Additionally, Meathead Goldwyn emphasizes the importance of maintaining a steady temperature and using a meat thermometer to ensure the ham is cooked to perfection.

1. How do I select the right ham for smoking?

You should opt for a fresh, uncured ham with a thin layer of fat. This fat will help keep the meat moist during the smoking process. Avoid pre-cooked or pre-smoked hams.

2. What are some preparation techniques for smoking ham?

Preparation involves scoring the surface of the ham in a diamond pattern and applying a dry rub or marinade. This allows the smoke flavor to penetrate more deeply into the meat.

3. How can I maintain the right smoking temperature?

Maintaining a steady temperature between 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit is crucial. Use a digital thermometer to monitor the temperature and adjust your grill as needed.

4. How can I enhance the flavor of the ham when smoking?

To enhance the flavor, use a variety of wood chips such as hickory, apple wood, or mesquite. These impart a unique flavor profile to the smoked ham.

5. Why is it important to allow smoked ham to rest before slicing?

Resting the smoked ham allows the juices to reabsorb into the meat and results in a more tender and juicy slice.

6. What safety tips should I follow when smoking meats?

Ensure the ham is properly thawed, your tools are clean to avoid cross-contamination, the internal temperature is correctly checked, and leftovers are stored appropriately.

7. What sides can complement smoked ham?

Classic accompaniments include baked beans, coleslaw, cornbread, or mashed potatoes. You can also pair it with a fresh salad to balance the rich, smoky flavors.