Can You Eat Country Ham Raw? A Simple Guide

Country ham is a beloved Southern delicacy that has been enjoyed for generations.

But with its intense saltiness and unique curing process, many people wonder if it’s safe to eat raw.

In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of country ham, including its curing process, cooking methods, and whether or not it’s safe to eat uncooked.

So grab a glass of sweet tea and settle in as we delve into the delicious world of country ham.

Can You Eat Country Ham Raw?

Country ham is a type of dry-cured ham that is popular in the Southern United States. It is cured with salt, which helps prevent bacterial growth and makes it safe to eat uncooked. However, due to its intense saltiness and unique curing process, many people wonder if it’s safe to eat raw.

The answer is yes, you can eat country ham raw. In fact, it is often enjoyed this way in the South, where it is sliced thin and served as a snack or appetizer. However, it’s important to note that country ham is very salty and may not be to everyone’s taste.

If you do choose to eat country ham raw, be sure to purchase it from a reputable source and follow proper storage and handling procedures. Keep it refrigerated until ready to serve, and slice it thinly with a sharp knife.

What Is Country Ham And How Is It Cured?

Country ham is a type of dry-cured ham that is made by smoking and aging a leg of pork. It is a traditional Southern delicacy that is usually served at breakfast with biscuits. To cure hams country style, fresh hams are chilled to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit within 24 to 30 hours after slaughter. If the source of hams is a commercial packing plant, this requirement is usually met. If the source of hams is farm slaughter, it’s important to chill the carcasses as rapidly as possible. Within 48 hours after slaughter, the hams are trimmed of excess fat and beveled to the desired shape, being careful not to expose any more lean than necessary.

The curing process involves applying a mixture of salt, sugar, and seasonings to the hams. The hams are then wrapped in butcher paper and tied up to a wooden rack. They are aged for several weeks in an area with a temperature near that of an average Missouri winter. After those weeks & days, the ham is removed from its white paper and hung back up on the wooden racks. The hams are then aged in spring-like conditions before being aged in summer. Depending on the type of ham being created, it will dictate exactly how many weeks and days it’s allowed to develop its bold flavor.

After the ham has finished aging, it’s either sold whole or portioned to meet customer expectations. One can choose from a fully cooked ham, one of their smoked hams, or a ham from their Attic Aged Country Ham collection. The curing process for country ham has been around for many decades and was originally developed because people needed a way to preserve their fresh pork in the days without refrigeration. The curing process became an art that was passed down from one generation to the next, with each family safely guarding their secrets. Today, modern facilities still follow the old country curing recipes handed down through families, and they are still sharing their country hams with neighbors.

Cooking Country Ham: Methods And Tips

If you prefer your country ham cooked, there are several methods you can use to achieve the desired result. Here are some tips and techniques for cooking country ham:

1. Soak the ham: Before cooking, it’s important to soak the country ham to remove excess salt. Soak the ham in cold water for at least 6 to 12 hours, changing the water every 12 hours. This will remove the salt and make the ham more tender and flavorful.

2. Boil the ham: One popular method for cooking country ham is to boil it. Place the ham in a large pot and cover it with water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature reaches 163°F.

3. Fry the ham: Another option is to fry the country ham slices. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add a small amount of oil or butter. Fry the ham slices for about 2 minutes on each side, or until crispy and golden brown.

4. Bake the ham: You can also bake country ham in the oven. Preheat the oven to 325°F and place the ham in a roasting pan. Cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature reaches 163°F.

5. Use a slow cooker: For a hands-off approach, you can cook country ham in a slow cooker. Place the ham in the slow cooker with some liquid (such as water or apple cider) and cook on low for about 8 hours, or until tender.

No matter which method you choose, be sure to let the country ham rest for a few minutes before slicing and serving. This will allow the juices to redistribute and make for a more flavorful and tender meat.

The Risks Of Eating Raw Country Ham

While it is safe to eat country ham raw, there are still some risks involved. The curing process of country ham involves the use of nitrates and nitrites, which can form harmful compounds called nitrosamines when exposed to high heat. Nitrosamines have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Additionally, improper handling or storage of country ham can lead to bacterial growth and foodborne illness. If the ham is not stored at the correct temperature or is left out for too long, harmful bacteria like Salmonella and Listeria can grow on the surface of the meat.

To reduce the risk of foodborne illness, it’s important to purchase country ham from a reputable source and follow proper storage and handling procedures. Keep it refrigerated at all times and do not leave it out at room temperature for more than two hours. When slicing the ham, use a clean, sharp knife to avoid cross-contamination with other foods.

How To Safely Enjoy Country Ham: Cooking And Storage Tips

While country ham can be enjoyed raw, many people prefer to cook it before eating. If you choose to cook your country ham, here are some tips to ensure it is safe and delicious:

1. Soak the ham: Before cooking, soak the ham in a cooler with ice, apple juice, and water for at least 12 hours. This will help remove excess salt and rehydrate the meat.

2. Cook to the right temperature: Cook the ham until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F. This will ensure that any harmful bacteria are killed and the meat is safe to eat.

3. Store leftovers properly: If you have leftover cooked ham, store it in the refrigerator within 2 hours of cooking. Leftovers will last for up to 4 days in the fridge or up to 4 months in the freezer.

4. Be mindful of overcooking: Since country ham is already cooked, be careful not to overcook it when reheating or baking. Use a thermometer to check for doneness and aim for a serving temperature of around 120°F.

5. Purchase from a reputable source: When buying country ham, make sure to purchase it from a reputable source that follows proper curing and storage procedures.

By following these tips, you can safely enjoy delicious country ham in all its forms – raw or cooked!

Delicious Recipes Featuring Cooked Country Ham

If you prefer your country ham cooked, there are many delicious recipes that feature this Southern staple. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. Slow Cooker Ham and Potato Cheese Soup – This easy-to-make soup is perfect for a cozy night in. Simply combine diced potatoes, cooked country ham, chicken broth, and seasonings in a slow cooker and let it cook on low for 6-8 hours. Before serving, stir in shredded cheddar cheese for a creamy and comforting meal.

2. Ham Cakes with Garlic Dill Aioli – These savory cakes are a great way to use up leftover ham. Simply mix together diced ham, mashed potatoes, breadcrumbs, and seasonings, form into patties, and fry until golden brown. Serve with a homemade garlic dill aioli for an extra burst of flavor.

3. Ham Casserole – This classic casserole is a family favorite for a reason. Layer sliced potatoes and cooked country ham in a baking dish, then pour over a rich and creamy sauce made with milk, flour, and seasonings. Bake until bubbly and golden brown for a comforting and satisfying meal.

4. Country Ham Hash – This hearty breakfast dish is perfect for feeding a crowd. Start by cooking diced potatoes in a skillet until crispy, then add in diced onion, bell pepper, and cooked country ham. Season with garlic, salt, and pepper, and serve with a side of scrambled eggs for a delicious start to your day.

No matter how you choose to enjoy it, cooked country ham is a delicious and versatile ingredient that can add flavor to any meal.