Preparation / Directions:
As long as we are talking ULTIMATE, my vote goes for the Virginia cured country ham which I cooked last weekend. We had about 60 friends over for our annual Silver-Queen and steamed crab Fest. I selected a moldy thirty-five pound ham from the smokehouse, washed it and soaked it about 18 hrs. I started the fire in our masonry cooker about 10:00 Fri. night and put in the ham skin side up. The intention was to slow cook with apple and oak for 14 hrs to an internal temp of 160F as I had done with a cured shoulder last month, but I woke at 3:00 and the fire had gotten too hot. I had forgotten to activate the alarm on The Sunbeam thermometer in the firebox and the temp was over 400F. Luckily, the ham fat had not caught fire. After knocking down the fire with water, it cooked the rest of the night at about 275F so that the internal temp was up to 170F by 8:00 in the morning. I allowed it to cool slowly in the cooker so that at noon the internal temp was still 160F.
We served the ham about 7 p.m. and it was fantastic. The size and ample covering of skin and fat had protected the meat from the excessive temperature. It was crusty on the outside and moist (for cured ham) on the inside. It was pullable but firm enough to slice and though only seven months old had a good depth of aged flavor and just the right amount of smoke. After the pickers finished, we only had a few scraps left for ourselves.