Ham hocks are the shank portion of the pig leg that sits above the foot or trotter. This is a dense meat on the bone surrounded by some fat and skin. The hock benefits from low and slow cooking to get it really tender. While hocks are not generally eaten as stand-alone cuts, they are excellent in soups, stews, and braised greens.
Smoking ham hocks gives them a unique flavor that is used in many bean dishes. We’ll explore smoking ham hocks on a Masterbuilt Electric Smoker and using the finished product to make a classic black bean soup. You can also do this with lentils, split peas, or navy beans.
Most recipes call for brining ham hocks before smoking to help tenderize them. You don’t have to, but we are going to do that here.
While most pork brine recipes call for the addition of a curing salt, I am not adding it. Curing salt, or pink salt, has sodium nitrite and a red dye in it. The nitrite preserves the meat for long periods. The dye is what gives the ham its pink color. You can preserve your cooked ham by removing it from the bone and freezing it. Keep in mind that this smoked hock meat will be a gray, not pink, color. That is fine for use in a black bean soup. My preference is not to add chemicals and dyes, but feel free to add the pink salt if you want. Just use 1/2 kosher salt and 1/2 pink curing salt and brine for at least 3 days.
This recipe has some serious prep time. Rest assured that most of the prep is not labor intensive, as the meat is just sitting in the refrigerator.
Total time: 53 hour – Prep time: 48 hour – Cook time: 5 hour
Smoked Ham Hocks Recipe
Prep time: 45 minutes to prepare and cool brine; 48 hours to brine and dry
Cook time: 3 hours +/- to smoke
- 1 gallon of filtered water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 2 to 4 large fresh ham hocks
- Hickory wood chips
1. In a large stainless steel or enameled pot, bring the water to a boil. Add the salt, sugar, herbs, and spices. Turn off the heat. Stir to dissolve. Allow the water to come to room temperature.
2. Place the ham hocks into 2 (or more) gallon size resealable plastic baggies inside a baking dish to catch any spills. Pour the cooled water mixture evenly over the hocks to cover and seal the bags tightly, releasing any air. Place the dish with bags in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
3. Rinse the hocks under cool water and dry off with paper towels. Place on a wire rack inside of a sheet pan. Feel free to improvise with makeshift tin foil rolls inside any sheet pan to raise up the hocks for better air circulation. Place the pan of uncovered hocks back in the refrigerator to air chill/dry for another 24 hours. This helps the ham to dry smoke and not steam. We are going to cook these at a higher temperature than a slow smoke that is called for when using curing salt.
4. Preheat the smoker to 250°F. Add hickory wood chips to the side tray and water to the bowl. Smoke the hocks on the upper rack for 2 hours with the vent open, replenishing the wood chips and liquid every 60 minutes. At 2 hours, check the internal temperature of the hocks with a reliable meat thermometer. You are looking for at least 160°F. Continue to smoke until the temperature is achieved. Depending on your smoker, this could take up to 5 hours.
Black Bean Soup Recipe
Prep time: 25 minutes + soaking of beans overnight
Cook time: approximately 2.5 hours, including blending and shredding of ham
Serves: 4 people
- 1 pound dried black beans
- 2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 4 whole garlic cloves, minced
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 1-1/2 TBS ground cumin
- 2 tsps dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp cayenne flakes
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 smoked ham hocks (1 if adding broth)
- 12 cups water or low sodium chicken broth
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Plain yogurt or sour cream
- fresh chopped cilantro leaves
1. check the beans for dirt and stones. Rinse in a colander under cold running water. Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with filtered water. Set the bowl aside overnight to soften the beans.
2. In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, onion, bell pepper, cumin, oregano, and cayenne. Sauté until just wilted and fragrant, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Add the water or broth, beans, bay leaves, and ham hocks. Bring to a slow simmer and cook partially covered for 1 to 2 hours or until the beans are tender. Add more liquid and cook longer if needed. Older beans take longer to soften.
4. Turn off the heat. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Remove the ham hocks to a cutting board and allow to cool enough to handle.
5. When the soup is a bit cooler, place up to 1/2 of it in a blender and purée until smooth. Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender to smooth 50% of the soup inside the pot. Add the puréed soup back to the pot and turn the heat to low to warm it up.
6. While the soup is warming up, remove the fatty outer layer of the hocks, unless you want the fat – lots of flavor. Cut or shred the meat from the bone into bite size pieces. Add the ham back into the warm soup.
7. Serve the soup with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, a tsp of chopped cilantro, a lime wedge, and a nice piece of crusty bread or some crispy tortilla chips.