If you love bacon, you’ll be head over heels for ham hocks. Smoky, salty, collagen-rich and inexpensive, ham hock is the ultimate cured pork product. In fact, keeping a ham hock or two on hand can help you whip up a delicious dish in a pinch if you know how to use the ingredient correctly. To help you become a ham hock master, we’ll explain what ham hocks are, how to cook them, some common ham hock uses and some specific ham hock recipes. Keep reading to discover some of the best ham hock ideas and cooking hacks you may have never heard of.
What Are Ham Hocks?
Essentially, a ham hock comes from the joint that attaches the pig’s foot to its leg. Although a ham hock is not technically an ankle, where it is positioned on the pig’s leg corresponds to the ankle or lower calf region of a human leg.
More specifically, a ham hock is a chunky portion of bone surrounded by connective tissue, collagen and a bit of meat, all of which is encased by a thick band of fat and skin. Because this section of bone and tissues come from the bottom half of the pork leg, ham hocks are commonly referred to as pork knuckles.
Ham hocks are usually cured with salt and smoked, making them perfect for adding a rich, bacon-like flavor to any dish. After you’ve bought your ham hocks, you should store them in the refrigerator and try to use them within about a week — but always double-check the expiration date sticker to be sure.
In addition to being smoky and delicious, ham hocks are usually inexpensive and sold in pairs so you can save the extra ham hock in the freezer if you don’t need to use it immediately. Freezing ham hocks will make them last indefinitely, though they’re best used within a few months to ensure the most mouthwatering taste possible.
Although ham hocks are most commonly sold after they’ve been cured and smoked, you can buy them raw if you want to smoke them yourself.
How to Cook Ham Hock
If you’re in the market for ham hocks, you get to choose from raw or smoked and cured varieties. While cured or smoked ham hocks can be incorporated into any dish without further preparation, raw ham hocks need to be properly cooked before they’re safe for serving. Cooking methods for raw ham hocks include boiling, roasting, simmering, braising and cooking in a slow cooker. You can complete this cooking with the ham hock alone or with other ingredients.
When it comes to cooking ham hocks, low and slow is the name of the game. Depending on the cooking technique you choose, a ham hock can take anywhere between two hours and eight hours to reach that delicious tender texture. Because ham hocks take so long to cook, they make a great addition to other dishes that are cooked for long periods of time, such as beans, braised greens, soups, stews and stocks.
To get the most flavor out of the cooking process, a ham hock is traditionally slow-cooked. The longer a ham hock cooks in a liquidy environment, the more its fat and collagen begin to slowly dissolve and infuse the liquid with rich and salty flavors. The smokiness found in a pre-cured and smoked ham hock will add a deeper layer to a dish’s flavor profile.
Compared with bacon or pancetta, ham hocks aren’t particularly packed with meat so you might have to dig for bits of edible lean meat to leave in the dish. Although you probably won’t want to eat the fatty bits left at the end of cooking, you can easily pull the pieces of fat off to uncover the pockets of meat hidden close to the bone. Simply shred or dice whichever cuts of meat you want to keep and add them back into the dish.
The nice thing about ham hocks is that you don’t have to worry about overcooking them. While this makes cooking ham hocks much easier and stress-free than many other foods, there are still some cooking strategies you can use to enhance your ham hocks. Check out these five pro tips for cooking smoked ham hocks to perfection:
- Soak out the salt: Soaking the ham hocks in cold water for at least half an hour or more before cooking them will help draw out excess sodium so they don’t overwhelm your palate with salt.
- Go low sodium: If you plan on braising your smoked ham hocks, use a low sodium broth or the salty taste may be too much. You can also add extra water to dilute regular broth and reduce its saltiness.
- Spice things up: Give your ham hocks a flavor boost by adding some seasonings to them like garlic powder or bay leaf.
- Look for skinless: Using ham hocks from skinless cuts will give you a smoother texture and sometimes more meat.
- Crisp up the skin: If you prefer ham hocks with the skin on, try frying or boiling the ham hocks after you braise them to get a crisp blistered skin.
What Can Ham Hocks Be Used For?
Ham hocks might not be a typical main entree, but the amount of flavor they can add to other dishes is amazing. When you add ham hocks to a pot of soup or a pan of braised greens, the whole dish can be elevated to new levels of savory deliciousness. The rich and silky texture of the melted collagen from a ham hock also adds to your dish.
If you’re looking for an authentic sweet and smoky flavor that no barbecue sauce or liquid smoke can replicate, ham hocks are your new best friend. By using ham hocks as your secret ingredient, you can jazz up a variety of liquid-based dishes to wow dinner guests or simply have a delightful dinner for one.
There’s no limit to the kinds of recipes you can try incorporating ham hocks into, but these are the three main categories of dishes they pair best with:
1. Soups, Stews, Stocks and Chowder Recipes
Whenever you add ham hock to a soup, stew, stock or chowder recipe, your cut of ham hock is usually boiled in a large pot along with some spices and seasonings for a few hours until the meat is tender. Once the ham hocks are finished cooking, the leftover liquid can be strained and used as the base broth for the recipe. The ham hock meat itself can be trimmed and added back into the dish later or even used in an entirely different dish.
Soup recipes that commonly call for ham hock are black bean, split pea and potato and ham soup. White bean stew and hambone corn chowder are other popular ham hock dishes. Additionally, ham hock can be incorporated when making chicken or beef stock to add an extra velvety texture and taste to the stock.
Most soup or similar recipes that include ham hocks can be prepared in the slow cooker, making them perfect dishes for a busy weekday. Simply toss all the ingredients into the slow cooker and let them simmer until you and your family are ready to eat. For a mind-blowing, easy weeknight dinner, use a pre-made bean soup mix to make a delicious ham hock and bean soup.
2. Vegetable Side Dish Recipes
While veggies typically aren’t the most sought-after dish on the table, sneaking some delicious ham hock into the recipe is a surefire way to get kids eating their greens. Because the salty smokiness of ham hocks can help offset the bite of most green vegetables and create a more well-rounded dish, ham hocks are most frequently used in recipes for bitter greens like kale, turnips and mustard.
Keep in mind that ham hocks need much more time to cook than vegetables, so you’ll have to cook the two of them separately. You will want to start by cooking the ham hock first, then adding the finished ham hock to the vegetables as they cook so they can absorb the rich flavors. If you are using a cured or smoked ham hock, you can add it to the vegetables at the start of cooking.
Ham hock can enhance the taste of vegetables beyond bitter greens, as well. Consider cooking your Brussels sprouts, asparagus, cabbage, spinach or onions with ham hocks to take them up a notch.
3. Legume Recipes
One of the reasons ham hocks are such a staple in soul food is that they perform well in traditional Southern side dishes like black-eyed peas, as well as white, red, kidney, pinto and Northern beans. By adding some ham hock to the pot before beginning to cook beans, you can create a bold, deep flavor profile for your side dish.
After placing the ham hock in the pot, all you have to do is let it simmer with the seasonings and beans long enough that everything cooks through and the flavors have a chance to meld together. Once the dish is finished cooking, you can cut off any ham hock meat you want to add to the dish before disposing of the rest.
In addition to bean dishes, ham hocks can be cooked with other legumes like lentils and chickpeas. Cooking these foods in the same water as ham hocks will give them a meaty flavor that can’t be matched.
Ham Hock Recipes
Now that you’ve got the overall idea of how ham hocks can spice up any dish, let’s talk about a few specific recipes. Here are 12 of our all-time favorite ham hock recipe ideas:
1. Bean Soup
Want a warm winter meal that feels like a hug in a bowl? Try this bean soup recipe that uses a mix of beans for a variety of textures combined with ham hock to give the broth a rich, meaty flavor. This hearty soup is packed full of plant protein and flavor, making it the perfect reward after a long afternoon of shoveling snow or sledding.
2. Creamy Potato and Ham Hock Soup
This smoked ham hock and potato soup recipe is cozy, delicious and couldn’t be easier. Simply let all the ingredients sit together in the slow cooker until they turn into a creamy soup. We recommend serving this soup with a crusty bread that’s perfect for dipping.
Unlike many other ham hock soup recipes, this recipe includes the meat from the ham hock instead of just using it as a flavoring agent for the broth. Incorporating the meaty portions of the ham hock in the soup gives it a nice texture while still keeping the dish smooth overall.
Keep in mind that if you do not have an immersion blender to use for this recipe, you can still make it work. All you need to do is transfer half of the soup from the slow cooker into a regular blender, then process until smooth. Once finished blending, pour the pureed soup back in with the rest of the soup.
3. Ham Hocks and Dumplings
What’s the only thing better than ham hock soup? Ham hock soup with dumplings, of course! With their fluffy and airy texture, it’s no wonder dumplings are a Pennsylvania Dutch favorite for completing soup dishes.
Take your ham hock soup up a notch with this ham hocks and dumplings recipe that tops a delightfully simple broth-based soup with puffy homemade dumplings. As a bonus, these dumplings are fun and easy to make — all you have to do is cover and cook.
4. Collard Greens With Ham Hocks
With a smoky pork flavor and a hint of sweet cane syrup, these collard greens are unlike any other veggies you’ve ever had before. Instead of suffering through your greens, you can enjoy the process by jazzing them up with a ham hock flavor boost. Whether you’re from the South or just want a little bit of homestyle comfort food, this collard greens with ham hocks recipe is for you.
5. Brown Ale Glazed Ham Hock and Brussels Sprouts
Keep the greens coming with this brown ale glazed ham hock and Brussels sprouts recipe. Using brown ale to glaze your ham hock will give it a unique flavor unmatched by any other meat you’ve tried before. The braising process will also make the meat more tender and delicious overall. Tossing some Brussels sprouts in the brown ale braise makes this dish a bit more healthy, too. Who said veggies have to be boring?
6. Ham Hock and Beans
For an easy, crowd-pleasing side dish, there’s nothing quite like this ham hock and beans recipe. While it’s bold in its undertones of smoky ham hock flavoring, the dish’s main component of beans provides a subtle flavor to balance out the richness. This side dish is savory in flavor, smooth in texture and it might just steal the show.
7. Cajun Red Beans and Rice With Sausage and Ham Hock
Spice your ham hock and beans up a bit with this Cajun red beans, sausage and ham hock recipe. Drawing its bold flavor from Andouille sausage and meaty tenderness from smoked ham hocks, this dish will make you feel like you’re at Mardi Gras. And with Cajun seasoning sprinkled in for some extra pizzazz, this dish truly has it all.
As if the taste of the dish wasn’t enough, this recipe couldn’t be easier to prepare. Made in an instant pot, this Cajun red beans, sausage and ham hock recipe can be ready to serve in record time.
8. Ham Hock Caesar Salad
Ham hock doesn’t need to do much to enhance a dish. In fact, simply adding some shredded ham hock meat to a humble Caesar salad will transform it from a skippable side salad to a must-have plate completer. Make your Caesar salad the hit of any meal with this easy ham hock Caesar salad recipe.
9. Smoked Ham Hock Nachos
When it comes to ham hock, don’t be afraid to think a little outside of the box. These smoked ham hock nachos prove that amazing things can happen with just a few ham hocks and a bit of imagination. Next time you have some friends over for the big game or a Taco Tuesday fiesta, pull out all the stops with these cheesy, smoky ham hock nachos.
10. Ham Hock Mac and Cheese
Make your mac and cheese a bit more sophisticated by following this ham hock macaroni and cheese recipe. This ultimate comfort dish wraps macaroni noodles in a blanket of creamy, velvety cheese sauce while adding bite-sized pieces of ham hock meat for tiny pops of flavor. If you ever need to indulge a bit after a tough day at work or just want to treat yourself, this is the dish for you.
11. Ham Hock Terrine
For fancy occasions, ham hock can be dressed up as a terrine. Similar to pate, terrine is a French dish consisting of chunks of meat cooked along with other ingredients in a molded dish shaped like a loaf. This technique produces an aesthetic looking layered dish perfect for any holiday party. This ham hock terrine recipe includes tasty seasonings like bay leaves, thyme and parsley to infuse the meat with a refreshing herb flavor. With a few capers sprinkled in, this dish has a delightful burst of salt that perfectly complements the ham hock and herbs.
12. Ham Hock, Sausage and Cider Raised Pie
For a fun take on the traditional chicken pot pie, try this ham hock, sausage and cider raised pie recipe. Filled with a robust blend of ham hock, mushroom, sausages and cider, this pie is packed with flavor. Whether you’re a savory pie fan or not, this delicious blend of ham hock, sausage, cider and flaky pie crust will quickly become a new favorite dish.
Where to Buy Ham Hock
If you plan on making any of these mouthwatering ham hock recipes, you’ll want to know where to get good ham hock. For high-quality ham hock, S. Clyde Weaver offers ham hocks with a rich smoky flavor that gives you unlimited options for slow-cooking. Using ham hocks from S. Clyde Weaver in your dishes is sure to make your cooking stand out.
As a leader in the smoked meats industry for 100 years, we’ve perfected the art of preparing ham hocks so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck with a flavorless ham hock with little meat on it. Ham hocks from S. Clyde Weaver are skinless, cured and smoked to produce an unforgettable flavor and texture.
Based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we like to bring a unique blend of Pennsylvania Dutch and German culture to all our products, especially our Lancaster favorites. And by using locally sourced ingredients as much as possible, we never fail to deliver a taste of home. Find out why S. Clyde Weaver is the best place around for ham hocks by ordering online today.