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Meat Week: How to Smoke a Black Bear Ham

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December 13, 2012

Meat Week: How to Smoke a Black Bear Ham

By David Draper

Despite what a lot of hunters will tell you, black bear meat is delicious. I will concede the flavor of the meat depends on what the bear has been feeding on and what time of year it was killed, but I’ve killed both fall and spring bears and both have been wonderful. Although there are hundreds of great ways to prepare bear meat, I’m now a huge fan of making a whole, bone-in bear ham like this one.

This particular bear, a middle-aged sow, was called out of an oak flat in a deep canyon in northwestern New Mexico this past August. That part of the state isn’t especially verdant, so I’m thinking acorns were probably the bear’s primary food source. When I saw how much fat the sow had on her, I knew she would be good eating. Because we had to pack her out on our backs, I trimmed a lot of the fat in the field. I kind of regret not bringing more of it out, as what I did render from her was sweet and delicious. I’ve used it to fry everything from eggs to potatoes—even chicken.

Surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of sources out there detailing how to make a bear ham, so I did hours of research, including referencing two must-have books for the wild-game cook—Charcuterie by Polcyn and Ruhlamn, and the meat-making bible from Rytek Kutas titled "Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing, 4th Edition."

First, the bear would have to go in a brine. Many ham brines call for InstaCure, which is also known as Pink Salt. I went with Morton’s Tender Quick instead, which includes nitrates and nitrates, as well as salt. Here’s the recipe:

Brine Recipe

Ingredients
- 1 gallon ice cold water
- 1 cup Tender Quick (or about 1 ½ tbs. per pound of meat)
- 2 cups brown sugar
- ¼ cup pickling spices
- 10-pound bone-in bear ham

Directions:
1. Prepare the bear ham by removing the fat cap and much of the other surface fat. (Keep the fat for rendering. Bear fat is great for frying potatoes, making biscuits and even waterproofing your boots.)

2. In a food-safe tub large enough to submerge your bear ham, mix the water with the next three ingredients. Whisk thoroughly until the Tender Quick and the brown sugar is fully dissolved. (Whisking the ingredients into warm or hot water will help the dissolving process, but then you’ll have to refrigerate the brine for several hours before adding the bear ham.)

3. Using a syringe or marinade injector, pump the brine into the bear ham at several locations. Be sure to get the needle down the bone while pumping. Add the bear ham to the brine, ensuring it is completely submerged. Place a weighted plate or pan on top of the bear to keep it under the surface of the brine.

4. Brine the bear for 10 days (or one day per pound).

5. After 10 days, remove the bear from the brine and rinse with cold water. Place on a rack set over a sheet pan and Pat dry. Let the ham drain and come to room temperature, about 1 hour.

6. Hang the bear ham in a smoker that’s been preheated to 120 degrees. Open the smoker vents and hold at this temperature without smoke for 1 to 2 hours. You could put the ham in a nylon stockinette before smoking, but I didn’t have one so I just tied a loop to the exposed bone with some kitchen twine. Add wood chips to the pan and raise the temperature of the smoker to 180 degrees. I used a mix of alder and hickory.

7. Close vents halfway and smoke until the ham’s internal temperature reaches 155 degrees. (Note: Do not place your temperature probe on top of the smoker like this. It will ruin it. I know this from experience.) The amount of time it takes for the ham to come up to temperature will vary depending on a number of factors, including outside temperature. This ham took about 10 hours before it was done.

8. A perfectly smoked ham should be pink clear through. If your ham is spotty or gray in places, the cure didn’t penetrate. Next time, pump it more thoroughly and leave the ham in the brine a few days longer.

9. And as good as a bear ham is fresh from the smoker, it’s even better as leftovers. Here it goes into a ham sandwich with lots of mayo, yellow mustard and, yes, American cheese, for which I have a weakness. And don’t forget to save the bone, which will take a plain bowl of ham and beans to wild new level.

Here are the other posts from Meat Week, in case you missed any:
- How to Cook Whitetail Deer Ribs
- Rules for Grinding Wild Game (And Mom's Meatloaf Recipe)
- How to Cure Venison Prosciutto
- Meat Week Holiday Party Food Fight

Comments (12)

Top Rated
All Comments
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

YIIIKES! Black bear is good? Smokin covers up a lot of ills, but you sure had better pour the heavy smoke to black bear.

-2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Levi Banks wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Given the paucity of black bears in my state and funds to go out of state to hunt them, I would love to try this, but with a deer ham.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mike Shea wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

That looks unbelievably good!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Casey Walker wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

I have done this same thing with goose breasts and deer and elk hams. I will admit that I "cheated" by ordering a ham making kit from LEM products but the results where awesome!!! I have taken something similar to your recipe above and made corned goose and deer. Cover the outside with course black pepper and a couple of other spices, smoked it and had pastrami that was to die for. I enjoy doing this part of the hunt as much as the actual stalk and shooting. I think people that have their animals processed by someone else are really missing out on one of the best parts of being a hunter. It also makes you pretty popular with the holiday party crowd! LOL

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gtbigsky wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

It looks good but my experience with Bear is not great. 155 degrees internal temp? Is that enough to kill Trichinosis? 98% of Trichinosis cases in the U.S. come from undercooked bear meat. You dont want Trichinosis. I would take the temp to 175 internal to make sure.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jgtalerico wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

I'm with Gtbigsky, but I thought to kill Trichinosis, the temperature had to be a minimum of 180 degrees Fahrenheit?

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gtbigsky wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

jgtalerico,

That is very possibly and thank God there are people smarter than me to answer that question. I will definitely look into it before I cook any bear steaks.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gtbigsky wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

PS: Im sorry if I have come off as a negative nancy doubting tom on the last two Meat week articles. I have just been curious about each topic and the only way to draw out more info is to ask questions. I love love love the meat week theme though so keep up the good work. Anyone have any good rattle snake recipes?? I've had it a couple time and its always been excellent. what say ye?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Double D wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

I appreciate your questions about trichinae, but stick to my 155 degree suggestion, which it what most information on smoking ham suggests.

Here's some more information from the USDA sheet on trichinae:

"Cooking - Commercial preparation of pork products by cooking requires that meat be heated to internal temperatures which have been shown to inactivate trichinae. For example, Trichinella spiralis is killed in 47 minutes at 52° C (125.6° F), in 6 minutes at 55° C (131° F), and in < 1 minute at 60° C (140° F). The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations for processed pork products reflects experimental data, and requires pork to be cooked for 2 hours at 52.2° C (126° F), for 15 minutes at 55.6° C (132° F), and for 1 minute at 60° C (140° F).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that consumers of fresh pork cook the product to an internal temperature of 71° C or 160° F. Although this is considerably higher than temperatures at which trichinae are killed (about 55° C or 131° F), it allows for different methods of cooking which do not always result in even distribution of temperature throughout the meat."

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Greenhead wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Mr. Draper, thanks for the info on trichinae. I was wondering the same thing.

You ham looks great!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Retired2hunt wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

Low and Slow = oven at 200 degrees and bake foil wrapped ribs for 6 hours. Include a small pan of water in oven to keep meat moist. Then unwrap ribs and place on a BBQ set on medium heat (350). Cook each side for 5 min then brush on your favorite BBQ sauce mixed with melted butter and cook each side for another 5 min. Enjoy REAL great ribs!

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from Gtbigsky wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

It looks good but my experience with Bear is not great. 155 degrees internal temp? Is that enough to kill Trichinosis? 98% of Trichinosis cases in the U.S. come from undercooked bear meat. You dont want Trichinosis. I would take the temp to 175 internal to make sure.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jgtalerico wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

I'm with Gtbigsky, but I thought to kill Trichinosis, the temperature had to be a minimum of 180 degrees Fahrenheit?

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Double D wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

I appreciate your questions about trichinae, but stick to my 155 degree suggestion, which it what most information on smoking ham suggests.

Here's some more information from the USDA sheet on trichinae:

"Cooking - Commercial preparation of pork products by cooking requires that meat be heated to internal temperatures which have been shown to inactivate trichinae. For example, Trichinella spiralis is killed in 47 minutes at 52° C (125.6° F), in 6 minutes at 55° C (131° F), and in < 1 minute at 60° C (140° F). The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations for processed pork products reflects experimental data, and requires pork to be cooked for 2 hours at 52.2° C (126° F), for 15 minutes at 55.6° C (132° F), and for 1 minute at 60° C (140° F).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that consumers of fresh pork cook the product to an internal temperature of 71° C or 160° F. Although this is considerably higher than temperatures at which trichinae are killed (about 55° C or 131° F), it allows for different methods of cooking which do not always result in even distribution of temperature throughout the meat."

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Levi Banks wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Given the paucity of black bears in my state and funds to go out of state to hunt them, I would love to try this, but with a deer ham.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mike Shea wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

That looks unbelievably good!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Casey Walker wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

I have done this same thing with goose breasts and deer and elk hams. I will admit that I "cheated" by ordering a ham making kit from LEM products but the results where awesome!!! I have taken something similar to your recipe above and made corned goose and deer. Cover the outside with course black pepper and a couple of other spices, smoked it and had pastrami that was to die for. I enjoy doing this part of the hunt as much as the actual stalk and shooting. I think people that have their animals processed by someone else are really missing out on one of the best parts of being a hunter. It also makes you pretty popular with the holiday party crowd! LOL

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gtbigsky wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

jgtalerico,

That is very possibly and thank God there are people smarter than me to answer that question. I will definitely look into it before I cook any bear steaks.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gtbigsky wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

PS: Im sorry if I have come off as a negative nancy doubting tom on the last two Meat week articles. I have just been curious about each topic and the only way to draw out more info is to ask questions. I love love love the meat week theme though so keep up the good work. Anyone have any good rattle snake recipes?? I've had it a couple time and its always been excellent. what say ye?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Greenhead wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

Mr. Draper, thanks for the info on trichinae. I was wondering the same thing.

You ham looks great!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Retired2hunt wrote 1 year 16 weeks ago

Low and Slow = oven at 200 degrees and bake foil wrapped ribs for 6 hours. Include a small pan of water in oven to keep meat moist. Then unwrap ribs and place on a BBQ set on medium heat (350). Cook each side for 5 min then brush on your favorite BBQ sauce mixed with melted butter and cook each side for another 5 min. Enjoy REAL great ribs!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 17 weeks ago

YIIIKES! Black bear is good? Smokin covers up a lot of ills, but you sure had better pour the heavy smoke to black bear.

-2 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment