How to Smoke Fresh Ham

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Serves​​​​​

15-20 Servings

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Prep Time

30 Min

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Cook Time

8-9 Hours

20 min/pound of meat

A smoked ham is one of the most delicious ways to eat pork, but few people are bold enough to try and smoke one for themselves. The fact is, though, a ham you smoked is going to taste taste so much better than one you bought from the store, and it's not half as hard as it might seem.

We're going to teach you everything you need to now on how to smoke fresh ham, outlining what you'll need, the process of cooking, and even what you can do with the ham once it's cooked. So if you've ever wanted to learn how to smoke a ham but never knew where to start, this might just be what you've been looking for.

Let's get started.

Where is Ham Located?

Ham is actually a type of pork, which can come as fresh, smoked or cured ham. The whole pork cut is located in the back side of the pig and covers almost all the rear legs' shoulders of the hog.

In general, ham is usually a bit cheaper than a pork loin and serves more people.

What is the Best Ham for Smoking?

While you can find already smoked hams in every market near you, when you smoke it by yourself, it is more delicious and tasty.

The ham comes as smoked, cured or both. You need to pick the best ham type for smoking in order to get the most our of it.

Fresh Ham vs Cured Ham

Fresh vs Cured Ham

Image Credits: UNL Food

When learning how to smoke a ham, you learn quickly that deciding to smoke a fresh ham as opposed to a cured ham is going to greatly impact the flavor of your meat. While cured ham is preserved and made safe to eat through the application of salt, fresh ham is more akin to a roasted or baked piece of pork. As a result, it does not have the distinctively salty flavor most associate with ham.

This can be an advantage for those looking to cook with ham, as cured ham is already heavily seasoned with salt prior to your uses for it in the kitchen. Fresh ham allows you to more easily season the meat to your taste and adjust the flavor as needed, something that is much harder to do with cured ham.

Tips to Have in Mind When Picking Your Ham Cut

  • It is recommended to get a half ham cut. We have found that a half ham cut works best because it has more surface area and the smoking and seasoning are more effective. If you are holding a huge party and need more than one half, you can buy a whole ham and have it sliced in two half by a butcher.
  • Don't buy a super-salty ham. There are some hams in sale while are super-salty. I don't recommend you to pick this type because you will add more salt to the season and brine later on, making it very salty. Read the label carefully before purchasing your cut. 
  • Don't buy a already fully cooked ham. This type of ham is already cooked/smoked and you cannot smoke it anymore. Again, read the label carefully before picking.

What is The Best Way to Cook a Ham?

There are a couple of ways/methods to cook ham, based on its shape/form:

  • Thin Slices - If the ham is sliced thin, then you can fry it in a skillet.
  • Thick Steaks - Ham that comes as thick steaks can be cooked by baking it in the oven and are usually served accompanied with some sort of glaze or sauce of choice.
  • Whole/Half Ham - Whole hams are very rare to find. Usually hams are sold in two halves; the butt portion and the shank portion. The butt portion has more meat and usually cost slightly more while the shank is cheaper and includes the large back leg bone. You can buy both halves if you are planing to host a large party. These types of ham can be cooked in the oven or smoked in a smoker.

After you created an idea about what is the best way to cook ham based on its shape/cut, now let's jump into the seasoning and smoking process of it.

How to Season Ham

Smoked meat is only as good as what it's flavored with. To do the job right, you'll need to start with a spice rub. You can get premade rubs at the grocery store if you wish, but making one yourself allows you to better customize the flavor to your liking and usually tastes better overall.

For a good spice rub recipe, you can try this:

Spicy Ham Rub Ingredients


  • 1 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons Sweet Paprika
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
  • 2 Teaspoons of Garlic Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
  • 2 Teaspoons of Onion Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 2 Teaspoons Freshly Ground Black Pepper (Medium Grind)
  • 2 Teaspoons Dried Oregano
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Dry Mustard Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Chili Powder

Note: Additionally, when using this rub, make sure to apply a coating of yellow mustard to the outside of the ham. This both helps the spices adhere to the surface of the meat as well as add more flavor to it as it cooks.

Required Supplies to Make Smoked Ham

Once you've decided to smoke, you'll have to assemble a short list of ingredients and tools. These are all fairly standard and easy to find, including the ham, so it shouldn't be much of an issue to get everything together. These supplies are:

Required Supplies & Tools


  • Charcoal Smoker (Large enough to fit your ham) with Chunk Charcoal
  • Wood Chunks or Chips
  • Large Fresh Ham (I used a 12-15 lb cut as a reference in this article) 
  • Spice Rub (Ingredients listed above)
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Apple Juice or Apple Cider
  • Spray Bottle
  • Meat Thermometer
  • Yellow Mustard

Smoking the Ham

When you've gotten your dry rub together and set up your smoker, you can start cooking.

What Kind of Wood Can I Smoke Ham With?

Well, different woods will taste different. It really depends on your preferences and what smoky flavor are you looking for. 

I personally have tried pecan and hickory. Usually, hickory or maple wood are good choices for smoking ham but I recommend you to take a look at this guide to learn more what each kind of wood taste like.

Step 1: Light the Smoker

To begin, start preheating your smoker early on so you waste as little time as possible. Smoking takes quite a while to finish, so the better you use your time, the quicker you get to eat.

Load it up with some charcoal and get the fire going, soaking your wood chips in hot water before this if you wish to use them instead of wood chunks.

Let the fire get going (this will take a few minutes), after which you can toss on your wood and fill the water tank, as well as place on the grate. Close the lid to let the steam and smoke build up inside the barbecue.

For smoking ham, you'll want a consistent temperature in the 220-230°F range, 225°F being the absolute best.

Step 2: How to Prepare the Ham

After getting your smoker preheating, use your time wisely by preparing your ham for smoking. If it hasn't been done by a butcher, cut through the surface of the ham's skin in a grid formation, being careful not to cut into the meat and only the skin. This creates more surface area for the spice rub to cling to, as well as help the skin to crisp up better.

Prepare Ham for Smoking

Apply a coat of yellow mustard, being sure to get it into the cuts you just made. After that, rub in your spices using as much of the mixture as needed, rubbing it all over the ham to insure total coverage. Press them in for good measure, then head outside to start cooking.

Step 3: Smoke the Ham

With your ham fully seasoned, place it on the grates and close the lid of the smoker. Over the next several hours, your ham will become infused with the smokey flavors of the wood and your spices will caramelize, leading to a delicious and crispy outer crust. Make sure to monitor the amount of wood, charcoal, and water during the smoke, adding more as needed and adjusting air intake to keep the flames at a consistent temper.

Smoking a 12-15 lb ham will take somewhere between five and seven hours before it is finally ready to eat. Or, in general it, takes 15-20 minutes per pound of meat to be smoked.

Every hour or so during the cooking process, open up the smoker and spray the ham down with apple juice or apple cider. This helps to keep the ham moist, prevents the outside from charring too heavily, and adds a little extra flavor.

Smoking Ham

Image Credits: SmokinPeteBBQ

When your ham hits an internal temperature of 145°F, briefly remove it from the smoker and wrap it loosely in aluminum foil.

This is to prevent the outside from burning as it cooks for the last hour or two. Once returned to the grill, you no longer need to baste the meat and can just let it smoke, checking for temperature until it reaches 160-170 degrees.

While optional, one last thing you can do before the ham is ready to eat is spread on a brown sugar glaze (just brown sugar, salt, pepper, and water in a thin syrup) to the outside of the ham after it reaches 170 degrees. Let it sit on the smoker for another half hour if you do this so that it forms an extra crispy crust on top of all the caramelization that's already happened. After that, you can take it off.

Step 4: Rest the Ham

Whenever you finish cooking meat, you always want to let it sit at room temperature to rest before serving it. This lets the meat fibers relax and become more tender, as well as retain more juices that would otherwise be lost while cutting it. It also lets meat stop cooking as the residual heat within it distributes evenly, though hams are fully cooked even before smoking, so this is less of an issue here. For a large ham like this, you'll want to rest it for half an hour to a full hour before digging in.

Final Thoughts

Serving Smoked Ham

Now you have all the information you need on how to smoke fresh ham, giving you the skill to make a delicious barbecue dinner for friends and family.

Plate up a slice or two (or three or four) next to some macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, or fresh roasted vegetables and you'll have one of the most amazing meals of your life, all made with your very own hands.

FAQ

Can you smoke a ham that is already fully cooked?

Yes, you can. But, it is not recommended because there is a very high possibility of ruining your ham by destroying the flavor and drying out completely.

How long should I smoke a ham?

The recommended smoking time for ham is about 5-7 hours at a smoking temperature of 220-230°F for a 12-15 lb cut. In general, it is needed 15-20 minutes per 1 pound of meat. You need to check the ham every couple of hours and spray some apple juice or cider on it.

What is the recommended internal temperature for smoked ham?

Your smoked ham should be ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 160-170°F.

It is okay if the temp is actually slightly below that as the meat will continue to cook by itself for a few minutes after you turn off the smoker.

Should I brine ham before smoking it?

Brining is actually optional. Some people like to brine the ham before smoking, some other don't. Brining your cut will make it even juicer and tastier as brine plays an important role in retaining moisture as the meat cooks.

Should I use aluminum foil to smoke a ham?

You don't need to use aluminum foil to smoke a ham. Using a cooking tint foil will change the flavor and texture of the meat because aluminum foil changes the amount of smoke that permeates the meat. Using tint foil, will result in a less smoked flavor ham but actually a bit more moist. As I mentioned in the smoking part of this article, you can use tint foil to wrap the ham during the last hour of cooking for it to become a bit more juicer and retain the moisture better.

About Kendrick

Just a passionate man about cooking, living in Kansas who loves to share his knowledge about cooking and grilling with everyone.

27 thoughts on “How to Smoke Fresh Ham”

  1. Sir Kendrick,
    You have provided so very much great information, thank you. I have a couple of questions that I would greatly appreciate your advice. There is not much detail what the water is or how it is used. Is it water in a bowl with a cover with holes placed on the grill? How much water? is there anything added to the water?
    Next, if I am smoking to preserve the ham or Venison ham, do i salt it down prior to pasting it and how long and at what tempature do I smoke it to achieve the longest lasting preserved meat possible?
    Sincerely David the Old woodsman, i mean Old for sure.

    • Hello David,
      Thanks for passing by. What I personally do is put water in a simple aluminum container without adding anything. The smoking wood/chip is enough for my taste to give the meat a nice flavor. Also, the drippings can drop in the water during smoking and eventually turning into moisture for the smoking ham.
      As for preserving the meat, I recommend a 160°F for Fresh Ham if you are planning to preserve it. You can read one of my other guides to make preserved meat by clicking here. I explain in detail all the process you should follow.
      I hope you enjoy it,
      Cheers, Kendrick.

  2. Hi Kendrick, Just got into smoking as I smoked a turkey( ON WEBER GAS GRILL) this past Thanksgiving . Don’t know if it was beginners luck but the turkey really came out good . I cooked the turkey indirectly in a pan .Can I cook the ham the same way ? Thanks Ron

    • Hello Ron,
      Thanks for visiting my site. As for the cooking ham in indirect heat, I think is totally fine. Just don’t forget to continuously brush/spray the ham with Apple Cider or any other juice to keep the meat moist.
      Good luck and let me know how it goes 🙂

  3. Hi Kendrick,
    You state a smoking time but don’t say for what size/weight of ham(unless I missed it and if so I apologise). I’m planning on using a 5-6 lb fresh ham, how long should that take? Thanks

    • Hello Tom,
      Actually, I have forgotten to mention the exact size for the ham and only have taken as a reference as a whole or half ham, which is about 12-15 lb. I will add the size in the article shortly.
      As a rule of thumb, it will take about 15-20 minutes per pound of meat, so your 6 lb fresh ham should be cooked in about 2-3 hours. You need to check the internal temperature regularly, so you will know when your ham will be ready.
      Good Luck and Thanks for visiting my site 🙂

  4. What do you recommend for a brine solution, and how long do you brine it? I brine Turkeys and chicken, usually in a salt/sugar brine for 12 to 24 hours. Thanks Also, have you ever injected with an apple juice injection?

    • Hello Andy,
      I think that the salt/sugar brine you use for turkeys and chicken can also be used for brining the ham. If you want to add a little bit more flavor, you can add 1 tablespoon of Pink curing salt, 4 cloves of garlic and 4 bay leaves. It depends on what you like and what are you trying to archive.
      As for the duration, I recommend leaving the ham more than 24 hours into the brine mixture. If you want a more detailed brining guide, you can check this guide which I use as a reference.
      Good Luck 🙂

  5. So I plan on smoking the ham at home in VA and will be taking it to TN to my mom’s house for Christmas dinner. Do you have recommendations on the reheating process? Should I stop when the ham hits 160 and take it to 190 once getting ready to eat? Thanks.

    • Hello Jeremy,
      I recommend to first fully cook it and then reheat it when you need it. You may end up cooking it one day before Christmas dinner.
      As for reheating it using the Oven or Grill on indirect heat method. You have to be careful as there is a high possibility of drying out the meat. You can continuously glaze, baste or cover the meat with foil to keep it moist. As for the temperatures, in the oven, you should reheat it on 300-325° until it reaches an internal temperature of 140°F (it may take about 10 minutes per pound or about 1h & 20 mins for an 8-pound ham). If you want to use the grill, which by the way has a higher possibility of drying out the meat, I recommend you to first slice the ham to prevent drying out and only use an indirect heat until the ham reaches 140° internal temperature.
      You can check this, this & this guide for more detailed instructions and other things to have in mind.
      Good Luck 🙂

  6. Hello Kendrick:

    Thank you for your great guide. We are planning to smoke a 13 lb RAW ham on Christmas Day. Can you please confirm the above article is meant for an uncooked/raw ham. Our meat has not been cooked and came directly from the butcher. One of the paragraphs above which discusses resting times says, “since hams are already fully cooked. We’re confused by this statement and want to make sure we do not have to cook the meat at all before placing it on the smoker on Christmas morning. Thank you.

    • Hello Sarah,
      I can confirm that this guide is for fresh, raw ham.
      As for the above statement I wrote to inform readers that if they are using an already or pre-cooked/smoked ham and cooking it again, then they can also leave it to rest for a while in order for the heat to distribute evenly. There are people who smoke a pre-cooked ham, that’s why I included that sentence.
      I hope this helps,
      Thanks, Kendrick

  7. Hi Kendrick. Thank you for all this wonderful information. We got an electric smoker for Christmas and want to smoke a fresh ham for Mee Year’s Day. Is there anything I need to change from your suggestions? Like preheating the smoker? Thank you!

    • Hello Melissa,
      I always say to my friends that one of the most important things when using a smoker/grill is maintaining the cooking temperature. Just make sure your smoker stays at the range of 220-230°F. Also, if you live in a cold country, you will need to light up the smoker a bit forward as the weather may impact the temperature. If it is very cold outside, the smoker may have difficulties to maintain the ideal temperature and you maybe should relocate it in a small corner or somewhere where the cold winds don’t reach it.
      Good Luck and Hopefully these tips help you

  8. I plan to smoke a fresh ham for Easter. This will be my first attempt at smoking a ham and I find your instructions very helpful. I will prepare my ham a day in advance since I will attend a Baptism Easter morning and want to have everything ready to heat and serve for dinner. How should I best store and reheat my ham to preserve as much juiciness as possible?

    • Hello Marilyn,
      What I can suggest for reheating the ham and keeping its juiciness, is to preserve the dripping juices after you finish cooking it. So, after you finish smoking, preserve the pan drippings so you can use them when it is time to reheat the meat.
      I haven’t yet written an article on reheat smoked ham but you can read my articles for reheating pulled pork, steak, and brisket. The process and methods are almost the same for the smoked ham. You can read them for reference.
      I hope this helps,
      Cheers, Kendrick 🙂

  9. Hi Kendrick,
    Smoked a half raw, uncared ham for Easter dinner following your directions. You state IT of 190F for finished temp. That’s a bit high. As we found our ham dry and a little over done. Food safety guidelines state a final IT of 160F is plenty for pork. Otherwise, it turned out well.

    • Hey Mike,
      I just read the article now and actually I hadn’t noticed the temperature was incorrect. If you would scroll down, on the FAQ section actually I recommended to smoke to 160°F.
      Anyway, I corrected the text now. Thanks for the heads-up.
      Cheers, Kendrick

    • Hello Sarah,
      It depends on your taste. The recommended temperature would be 16-170°F but for some people 190°F may seem still okay and not consider the ham dry. I wouldn’t consider dry when cooked at 190°F, especially if you have basted during the cooking session.
      Cheers,

  10. Thanks! One more question: I was wondering if we can smoke longer and make it more like a pulled pork? It’s a giant piece of fresh ham, and that way I could freeze some of the shredded meat to make meals off of later.

    • Yes, you can try and do that. I have actually written a full guide on how to make pulled pork at home. Maybe by reading it, you can get some tips and tricks. You can find it here.
      Hope it helps and Good Luck,

  11. Hey, would you suggest cold smoking it the night before? I have read that it adds more smoke flavour. Have you ever tried that?

    • Hello Ben,
      Actually, I have never tried cold smoking it the night before. Let me know how it goes if you give it a try,
      Cheers, Kendrick

    • Hello Dennis,
      Actually, it depends on what level of brining you prefer. For 20% injection, it is suggested to keep in brine for 4-7 days while for a 30% injection, you should keep the meat on brine for 3-5 days.
      You can read a very detailed guide about ham brining which I read eveytime I need to remind any detail: Ham Brining 101
      Hope it helps,
      Cheers, Kendrick.

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