Brine made with salt and sugar keeps hams moist as they cook and adds flavor to penetrate the meat. This treatment should only be used for fresh hams that were not previously cured with salt or sugar. The ham must soak in the sugar brine for at least 12 hours for maximum effectiveness, so prepare and brine the ham a day before cooking. Try cooking a sugar-brined ham with a sweet glaze, such as honey or brown sugar, so the ham is sweet on the inside and outside.
Wash a container that is large enough to hold the ham completely submerged in brine. A nonreactive pot with lid works well for smaller hams, but a food-grade bucket might be needed for large, whole hams.
Fill the container about one-half to three-quarters full with distilled water. Leave enough room that you can add the ham without it overflowing. If you use tap water, boil it for several minutes to remove any minerals or chlorine, then allow to cool.
Stir salt and sugar into the water until completely dissolved. The amount of each ingredient depends on your taste, but brine commonly includes 1/2 to 1 cup each of salt and sugar for every gallon of water. You can use any type of salt, such as sea salt, kosher salt or pickling salt. The types of sugar you might use include light or dark brown sugar, white granulated sugar or turbinado sugar.
Submerge the ham in the brine mixture inside the container. Add more water, if needed, so the ham is completely covered. Place a tight-fitting lid over the container.
Refrigerate the container for 12 to 36 hours. The amount of time depends on the degree of flavoring you wish to impart to the ham.
Remove the ham from the brine and rinse it thoroughly. Pat it dry with paper towels. Prepare and cook the ham as desired.
- Sugar and salt are the only ingredients needed in the brine, but you can add other spices such as peppercorns or garlic.
- Whether you use a pot for a small ham or a food-grade bucket for a large ham, the ham will take up a lot of space in your refrigerator. If you don't have refrigerator space, you can store the container in a cold garage as long as temperatures stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.