How Is Deli Ham Made? A Simple Guide

Have you ever wondered how that delicious deli ham you love so much is made?

The process is more involved than you might think. From separating the loin from the ham to heavily brining and smoking it, making American-style deli ham is a long and intricate process.

But that’s not all – there are also different types of deli ham, each with its own unique flavor and texture.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how deli ham is made, the different types available, and what makes them so tasty.

So sit back, relax, and get ready to learn about the mouth-watering world of deli ham.

How Is Deli Ham Made?

The process of making deli ham starts with a half pig, which is then separated into the loin and ham (a leg cut). The ham is then deboned, skinned, trimmed, and tied before being heavily brined. The ham is left to sit in the brine for 10 days before being smoked for about eight hours.

But how exactly is the ham brined? The meat is soaked in a mixture of water, salt, and other seasonings to infuse it with flavor and help preserve it. This process can take several days, depending on the size of the ham.

After the brining process, the ham is smoked to give it that classic smoky flavor. The smoking process can take several hours, during which the ham is exposed to smoke from burning wood chips or sawdust.

Once the smoking process is complete, the ham is ready to be sliced and served. But what makes deli ham so delicious?

The Different Types Of Deli Ham

There are several different types of deli ham, each with its own unique flavor and preparation process.

Cured ham is the most common type of ham found in grocery stores and delis. This ham has been pre-cooked and is safe to consume. The curing process can either be dry or wet. Dry-cured hams are covered in salt and various herbs and spices before being hung up to dry for months or even years. Wet-cured hams are brined in a mixture of water, salt, sugar, and other seasonings before being fully cooked in an oven or smoker.

Uncured ham, on the other hand, has not been treated with nitrates or nitrites, which are commonly used in the curing process. This type of ham is typically less salty and has a milder flavor compared to cured ham.

Bayonne ham is a type of cured ham that comes from a specific region in southwest France. The pigs used for Bayonne ham must be raised without steroids, antibiotics, or fish oils. The ham is then dry-cured for several months before being sliced very thin and maintaining a chewy texture. Bayonne ham has a delicate and sweet flavor with less pronounced saltiness.

Flavored hams, such as black forest, honey roasted, honey maple, and capocollo, are also popular options at delis. These hams are typically cured and then flavored with various ingredients to give them their unique taste.

Regardless of the type of deli ham, they all go through a process of curing, brining or smoking to infuse them with flavor and preserve them for consumption.

The Preparation Process: Separating The Loin From The Ham

Before the ham can be brined and smoked, it must first be separated from the loin. This process involves cutting through the pig’s body between the 12th and 13th ribs. The hindquarter of the pig is then separated into four primal cuts: the flank, long loin, hip, and sirloin tip.

The ham is a large cut that accounts for approximately 24% of the pig’s carcass weight. It contains the aitch and hind shank bones, and is a rather muscular cut with relatively small amounts of connective tissue. To prepare the ham for brining and smoking, it must first be deboned, skinned, trimmed, and tied.

Deboning involves removing the bone from the center of the ham to make it easier to slice once it’s cooked. Skinning involves removing the outer layer of skin from the ham, which can be tough and unappetizing. Trimming involves removing any excess fat or connective tissue from the ham to ensure that it cooks evenly. Finally, tying involves wrapping string around the ham to help it retain its shape during cooking.

Once the ham has been prepared in this way, it is ready to be heavily brined for about 10 days. The brine is typically made up of water, salt, sugar, and other seasonings like cloves, allspice, and bay leaves. The ham is soaked in this mixture to infuse it with flavor and help preserve it.

After 10 days in the brine, the ham is ready to be smoked for about eight hours. During this time, it is exposed to smoke from burning wood chips or sawdust to give it that classic smoky flavor. Once the smoking process is complete, the ham can be sliced and served as delicious deli ham.

Brining: The Key To Flavorful Deli Ham

Brining is the key to achieving the rich and savory flavor of deli ham. During the brining process, the ham is immersed in a mixture of water, salt, and other seasonings, such as sugar, herbs, and spices. The salt helps to break down the proteins in the meat, allowing it to absorb more moisture and flavor from the brine.

The other seasonings used in the brine can vary depending on the recipe and desired flavor profile. Some common additions include garlic, onion, bay leaves, thyme, and black pepper. These ingredients work together to create a complex and delicious flavor that is unique to each type of deli ham.

The length of time that the ham is left in the brine can also affect its flavor. Some hams are brined for as little as a few hours, while others are left to soak for several days. This allows the flavors to penetrate deep into the meat, resulting in a more intense and complex flavor.

Smoking: Adding Depth And Complexity To The Flavor

Smoking is a crucial step in the process of making deli ham. It not only adds depth and complexity to the flavor, but also helps to preserve the meat for longer periods of time. During the smoking process, the ham is exposed to smoke from burning wood chips or sawdust. The type of wood used can greatly impact the flavor of the ham. For example, smoking with hickory wood can give the ham a sweet and smoky flavor, while using mesquite wood can result in a more intense and bold flavor.

As the smoke permeates the meat, it undergoes a series of chemical reactions that contribute to its unique flavor. Proteins and trace sugars in the meat fuse and explode, creating a crusty bark on the surface. Chemicals in the smoke react with the iron in the meat, causing the formation of a pink smoke ring. The fat and water in the meat also absorb the smoky flavor, adding richness and complexity to its taste.

To ensure that the ham is evenly smoked, it is important to carefully control the temperature and airflow in the smoker. This can be achieved by using a combination of vents and dampers to regulate the heat and smoke levels.

Slicing And Packaging: The Final Steps In Deli Ham Production

After the smoking process, the ham is cooled and then sliced using a machine called a deli slicer. This machine slices the ham into thin, uniform pieces that are perfect for sandwiches or charcuterie boards.

The sliced ham is then packaged for distribution to delis and grocery stores. Some brands offer pre-packaged slices in vacuum-sealed packs, while others have their deli counters slice the ham to order.

Packaging is an important step in ensuring the freshness and safety of deli ham. The packaging must be able to protect the ham from contamination while also allowing it to breathe to prevent spoilage. Some brands use resealable packaging to keep the ham fresh after it has been opened.

What Makes Deli Ham So Delicious? A Look At The Ingredients And Techniques Used.

Deli ham is made with a combination of ingredients and techniques that give it its distinct flavor and texture. One of the key ingredients used in the brining process is salt, which not only infuses the ham with flavor but also helps to preserve it. Other seasonings, such as sugar, spices, and herbs, may also be added to the brine to enhance the flavor of the ham.

The smoking process is another important factor in the creation of deli ham. During smoking, the ham is exposed to smoke from burning wood chips or sawdust, which gives it a rich, smoky flavor. The type of wood used for smoking can also affect the flavor of the ham. Popular woods used for smoking include hickory, applewood, and mesquite.

In addition to the brining and smoking processes, other techniques are used to create deli ham’s signature texture. The ham is heavily trimmed and tied before being brined, which helps to ensure that it cooks evenly and has a uniform shape. Once cooked, the ham is sliced thinly, making it easy to stack on sandwiches or serve as a cold cut.