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How We Make Our Ham

Nolechek’s Hickory Smoked Semi-Boneless Ham is a must-have for any Holiday gathering. Each step of our process is vital to the quality of the final product and no detail is spared. It takes time, but that’s what makes Nolechek’s ham special. Check out this blog post to learn how we produce one of our most favorites products. A product that we’ve been making for three generations, which has been enjoyed by thousands of people across the country for decades!

Ham typically refers to the hind leg of the hog that has been either wet- or dry-cured and smoked. There are many different varieties of ham: Southern-style, country-style, bone-in, boneless Italian prosciutto, just to name a few. Each variety has a different flavor profile and texture, ensuring a favorite for everyone.

Nolechek’s process begins with the highest quality fresh hams from the hog. Fresh hams arrive trimmed to our exact specifications, with the aitch bone removed. The aitch bone is a small part of the hip bone and when removed, allows for easier slicing of the finished product.

Our hams are always wet-cured. This involves mixing a brine solution that contains water, salt, sugar, and spices. Nolechek’s uses a special blend of ingredients to create our famous hams. Just the right amount of salt and 100% pure maple syrup combine to create a flavor, texture, and aroma that are second to none.

The next step is to pump the brine into the fresh ham using a needle injector. Needle injecting meat ensures even distribution of brine which allows for uniform color, flavor, and texture when the cooking process is complete. It also allows for control over the amount of brine that is going into the product.

The next step is to place the injected fresh hams in a large meat tumbler and seal under vacuum. Tumbling the product under vacuum allows the muscle fibers of the ham to expand which leads to better flavor distribution of the spices and cure. 

After the hams have sat for 3-5 days under vacuum, it is time for them to be netted and hung in preparation for the smoking and curing process. Netting the hams provides a uniform shape which makes cutting and slicing easier. All Nolechek’s hams are netted and hung by hand and we take care to make sure there is plenty of space between each ham so that they are smoked and cooked evenly.

Next begins the longest part of Nolechek’s process. Smoking and cooking a batch of Nolechek’s ham takes approximately 17-19 hours, depending on the size of the hams. Yes, it’s a long time, but a product like this can’t be rushed. Nolechek’s uses 100% natural hickory chips during the smoking process, which contributes to our signature flavor and imparts an irresistible, dark brown color.

During the cooking process, Nolechek’s hams return to their original ‘green’ weight, which means the weight of the fresh ham prior to injecting the brine. What does this mean to our customers? It’s simple. Nolechek’s hams are non-water added and consist only of natural juices. The customer isn’t paying for water that is added for moisture, but instead are able to enjoy a truly handcrafted product. This variety of ham is a favorite for a dinner centerpiece because it’s rich texture, savory flavor, and attractive appearance make it irresistible.

After the cooling process is complete, Nolechek’s hams are ready to be cut. We remove the netting and place the hams in carts, ready to be cut according to our inventory demands. Nolechek’s hams are fully cooked according to USDA regulations and we recommend warming them in the oven at a low temperature. It’s important to not overcook, as they can dry out because they are non-water added. Follow this link to learn more about Nolechek’s cooking recommendations: https://www.nolechekmeats.com/pages/cooking-instructions.

Now the hams are ready for the final steps of the process, cutting and packaging. Our team members cut no more than four ham steaks from the center of each ham. Ham steaks are limited in availability because we only use the center cuts. And our customers love ham steaks for breakfast, scalloped potatoes, salads and more!

Nolechek’s hams are available in whole, half, quarter, steaks, spiral sliced and glazed. The attention to detail throughout the entire process creates product with superior flavor, texture, and aroma. We’d love for you to try one and see for yourself why we ship hundreds of hams nationwide during the Holiday season. We promise it’s worth it!