I haven’t fired up the smoker in a while and decided today would be the day. I had a ham in the fridge I have been wanting to put in the smoker for a bit but haven’t had any wood for smoking until I finally went to Walmart and picked up some hickory wood chunks. Tip #1: If you need to go to Walmart on a Sunday, do it so you’re out of there before Noon. It was kind of quiet when I got there but by the time I got all of my goods and headed for the checkout it was a cluster.
When I got home I put some of the hickory chunks in a bucket and filled it with water then started cleaning the grill and getting it ready for a fire. I then started a fire under the chimney containing the charcoal briquettes and went inside to prep the ham while the briquettes started heating up. I removed the wrapping from a simple shoulder ham and began piercing the flesh with some cloves, and old trait of my mother’s. I was beginning to feel a bit peckish so I opened up a pack of Nettles Country Sausage while I was at it. I could cook those fairly quickly and let the ham cook at the same time.
Now if you have never used a smoker before it takes practice to learn how to keep your smoker at the right temperature. Too hot and you’ll over cook the outer part of the meat. And too cold and you risk bacteria getting into the food that you are cooking because you’re taking too long. And every style of smoker has its own way of controlling the temperature, though in general it usually involves controlling how much air you let into the fire and how much smoke you let out. If you don’t have a smoker and only have a gas or charcoal grill you can still use them for smoking you just have to use the right accessories to do so. Tip #2: Don’t try smoking indoors in your oven. The smoke smell will permeate every part of your house and you’ll be forever getting that smell out of the oven. It will make everything you cook after that tastes like smoke and unless you smoke cigarettes that is probably not a good thing. Even using the artificial smoke flavoring can let the smoke smell permeate the oven.
You read earlier that I was using hickory for my smoking wood. There are several different types out there; Cherry, Pecan, Oak, Applewood and Mesquite are a few. I prefer hickory myself. Though I may try others down the road as they all have different characteristics. But I just really like the flavor that hickory leaves in the meat.
The charcoal coals were glowing red then so I knew it was time to put the meat on the grill. I arranged the ham on tin foil shaped to catch any drippings like a bowl and placed it on the grill furthest from the flame box. Then I laid out the sausages on the half closest to the flame. This would allow them to take the brunt of the heat so they could cook faster. With the lid closed the ham would also get heated and begin cooking. After I closed the lid I opened the door of the fire box and added a few chunks of hickory that had been soaking in water. The red hot coals began converting any water trapped in the wood to steam and the wood itself slowly began to burn releasing the smoky flavor I was looking for.
After about 15-20 minutes I rolled the sausages 180 degrees and let the other side get some of the heat from the fire. Then after 15-20 minutes I flipped the sausages end to end so that the end furthest from the firebox got some equal treatment. I also moved the sausages around on the griddle so those in the middle were swapped with those on the outside. And about 15 minutes later I rolled the sausages 180 degrees again. Each time after I opened the lid I added a couple chunks of wet hickory to the firebox.
After the sausages were cooked I removed them from the grill and slid the ham onto the side of the grill closer to the firebox. I put a couple more chunks of wood into the firebox then went inside and had a sausage for my lunch. If you have never had a Nettles sausage then I recommend them. They’re very tasty and if you like heat then the hot ones are for you. I like mine in a roll or sausage bun with a slice of cheddar and some mustard. I decided to drink a Shotgun Betty Witbier with my lunch which went with the sausage very well. Tip #3 Nettles sausages go very well with a witbier.
I spent the rest of the afternoon adding a couple of Hunks of wet wood to the firebox every 20 minutes or so, and supping down a nice saison while doing so. About 3 hours into cooking the ham I knew I needed to make my glaze. Now normally I make a pineapple-brown sugar glaze. But I didn’t have any pineapple juice or pineapples in either the whole or canned form to get juice from. So I decided to make a glaze with a craft beer base instead. Tip #4 When you run out of ingredients improvise with Craft Beer.
Now I know some folks have talking up Craft Beer marinades and I have used a couple myself but I have not heard of anyone making a glaze yet. Glazes are different from a marinade. First of all the marinade soaks into the meat helping to tenderize it. A Glaze is an outer coating that only imparts flavor to that portion of the meat. After cooking the juices from the meat combined with the glaze make a nice little topping for the meat.
My normal pineapple-brown sugar glaze is pretty much just that: pineapple juice, brown sugar and some mustard to balance out the sweetness. I lso place the pineapple rings around the ham with toothpicks. A good glaze compliments the meat so for a ham which is normally saltier a sweet glaze is desirable. But adding a craft beer base to the glaze instead of pineapple juice would change the flavor aspects depending on the style of beer used. A strong hop flavor with it’s bitterness would probably amplify the saltiness of the ham which isn’t what I wanted so that filtered out IPAs, APAs, etc. I also had to take into account the hickory smoke flavor I have been adding all afternoon. I still wanted to taste that flavor so I decided against a wheat beer or a gose as those would probably dampen the smoke flavor.
I was leaning toward either a porter or a stout when I realized I had the perfect accompaniment already selected… a scotch style ale. And to be more specific, Founder’s Dirty Bastard scotch style ale. I can hear some folks out there now, “What on Earth are you thinking?! Why waste such a great beer on something like a glaze?!”
To you I will reply, any great recipe is only as good as the ingredients you put into it. And anything that deserves to be done well should be done right from the beginning. Besides, whether it’s in a glass or a glaze I’m still going to be consuming that beer.
I’ll tell you the ingredients now:
- 4 Tbsp brown sugar
- 4 oz. scotch ale
- 2 Tbsp yellow mustard
Now I will add the disclaimer that these measurements are ballpark and not exact. I’ve been making the normal glaze for so long than I kind of eyeballed the ingredients. The best practice though is to taste the glaze as you’re making it and adjust the ingredients accordingly.
First I put the brown sugar into a large enough bowl for mixing then I added the beer and using a whisk mixed them thoroughly. This combination became expectedly frothy and foamy once the sugar began dissolving. On top of the foam I added the yellow mustard. You can use ground mustard in place of the paste I used but then you may want to add a dash of vinegar to get the same flavor. Then I mixed this in thoroughly with the beer-sugar combo.
By the time this was done mixing it was time to start the last half hour of smoking. So I took the glaze and began applying it with a silicone brush trying to cover as much of the ham with the glaze as I could. Once I had that applied I loaded the last of the wet wood chunks into the firebox and let the smoker do its thing. I took any unused glaze back inside the kitchen and set it aside for later.
When the smoking was done I placed the smoked ham in a dish for carving and poured any of the glaze that in the bottom of the tin foil I had cooked the ham in on top of the ham in the dish. The ham carved fairly easily, even through the caramelizing on the skin section where the glaze has made it chewy. Once I got done carving I placed a couple of pieces on a plate and served it with the remainder of the Founder’s Dirty Bastard in a mug. If I have to say so myself, it was delicious!
The hickory flavoring came through in each bite of the ham and the glaze complemented it well. I could taste the sweetness of the sugar, the spice of the mustard and the dark malty flavor of the scotch ale. None of the flavors over-powered another. Well worth the effort and the wait.
Good results like this can only lead to more experimentation. Try some yourself and…