Saunders’s City-Cured Country Ham

Preparation info

    • Difficulty


Appears in

Cold-Smoking & Salt-Curing Meat, Fish, & Game

Cold-Smoking & Salt-Curing Meat, Fish, & Game

By A D Livingston

Published 2010

  • About

A culinary sport by the name of Madison Ames Saunders Jr. Has formed some firm opinions about country hams, and his comments are in line with my experience and conclusions. The following excerpt is from A Man’s Taste, published by The Junior League of Memphis.


You might think that it is difficult to cure a country ham while living in the city. Not So. When I became interested in curing a country ham, I read everything I could find including a Department of agriculture pamphlet on the subject. This last was a mistake. True to form, the pamphlet only served to confuse. By this time, though, I realized that hams had been cured for hundreds of years, often by illiterate people, as a method of preserving pork. If illiterate people can do it, I thought, why can’t I? armed with all of my new-found knowledge, I then sought out my good and great friend, George F. Jackson. George spent a great deal of his youth following a pair of mules on small farms in northern Mississippi, northern Shelby County, Tennessee, and on one located on Centennial Island in the Mississippi river. He is incredibly wise in all things pertaining to the country, and I was to fill in the missing portions of information by questioning him.

By this time it was the middle of November, the traditional time to cure meat in this part of the country. First I built a plywood salt box. Size doesn’t make too much difference, but mine is roughly 4 feet by 5 feet and is 1½ feet deep. I also drilled 8 or 10½-inch holes in the bottom and built a rather snug-fitting plywood top.

You must use non-iodized salt in the curing process, and this may require a trip out in the country. Any store that caters to the farm trade will have it, and at a very reasonable price. It comes in 25-, 50-, and 100-pound bags so don’t stint. While you are there, also buy a quart of Liquid Smoke. It will save you a trip later on.

Now you are about to get into business. Go to a packing house or your friendly butcher and buy 4 20-pound fresh pork hams. I like 20-pound hams because they will lose 5 to 6 pounds in the curing process, and a 14-pound ham is about the best size. . . .

Put your salt box on the 4 concrete blocks in your garage or carport and cover the bottom of the box with 2½ to 3 inches of salt. Nestle the hams, skin side down, in the salt and then cover with salt so that no piece of ham is not in contact with it. Put the cover on the top and put 2 concrete blocks on the cover. This is to discourage city varmints such as cats, rats, dogs, raccoons, etc., that might, in the silence of the night, want to become silent partners. At least once a week remove the cover to the box and peer at the mounds of white salt. Don’t disturb the salt or poke around. This weekly observation doesn’t help the ham, but it increases your pride in accomplishment and anticipation.

In about 4 weeks the hams are ready to be removed from the salt. If the weather has been extremely cold, 15 degrees or below, cover the box with a blanket or an old rug to keep from freezing. If the weather remains extremely cold, leave the hams in the salt for 5 to 6 weeks, instead of the recommended 4. Remove the hams, brush the salt off, and paint with liquid smoke. Do this 3 nights in a row, returning the hams to the salt box for safe keeping but no longer covering them with salt.

Now they are ready to hang. Wrap each ham with about 3 layers of cotton cloth, old bed sheets, old undershirts, or anything that you think will keep insects from getting to the ham. I hang mine in my debugged basement. It’s not a bad idea to hang a Shell No-Pest Strip close by.

Now we play the waiting game. The hams will be ready to eat in 6 months, but I believe that they really reach their peak when they have been hanging for 2 years. In the meantime, pinch, feel, fondle, and smell at regular intervals. Like other things I know of, anticipation is sometimes as good as realization.

At last comes the great day. When the hams have been hanging for 6 months, cook one using my recipe. After you have tasted it, invite your neighbors in for a drink. Put the whole ham out, with a very sharp knife for their enjoyment. Now comes the difficult part. You must be modest. As they rave about this culinary delight extraordinary, don’t tell them that you both cooked and cured it. Let your wife tell them. When they stare at you in amazed disbelief that a mere mortal can do this, and start a barrage of questions, shyly admit that you have more aging in the basement, claiming all the while that it really wasn’t so much.