How to Clean Ham Hocks: A Step-by-Step Guide

Ham hocks are a beloved ingredient in many classic dishes like split pea soup red beans and rice collard greens, and more. Their rich, meaty flavor adds delicious depth and savoriness to slow-cooked meals. However, before you can enjoy ham hocks in your favorite recipes, it’s crucial to know how to properly clean and prep them.

Improperly cleaned ham hocks can Harbor bacteria, excess salt, and other impurities that can negatively impact your dish So taking the time to wash, boil, or soak ham hocks is an essential first step

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know about cleaning ham hocks, from basic prep steps to more advanced techniques. We’ll also share pro chef tips for cooking ham hocks to juicy, fall-off-the-bone perfection.

Why Cleaning Ham Hocks is Important

Ham hocks come from the lower portion of a pig’s leg, so they contain a lot of connective tissue. This makes them ideal for braising and stewing, as the collagen melts into rich gelatin when cooked low and slow.

However, this also means ham hocks tend to be quite tough and dirty. Before cooking, it’s important to clean ham hocks properly to:

  • Remove bacteria: Ham hocks can contain bacteria like salmonella. Proper cleaning removes this harmful bacteria.

  • Reduce excess salt: Many ham hocks are cured or smoked, which adds a lot of sodium. Cleaning draws out some of this salt.

  • Eliminate impurities: Things like bone fragments, blood clots, and grime build up on ham hocks during processing and storage. Cleaning removes these.

By thoroughly washing, boiling, or soaking ham hocks before cooking, you ensure they are safe to eat and deliver optimal flavor. Skipping this step risks contamination and overly salty dishes.

Preparing Raw Ham Hocks for Cleaning

If you purchased raw, uncooked ham hocks, they require a bit more prep before they’re ready for your recipe. Here are the steps for cleaning raw ham hocks:


  • Raw ham hocks
  • Water
  • Scrub brush
  • Colander


  1. Remove ham hocks from packaging: Unwrap ham hocks and discard plastic packaging. Rinse under cool water to remove any blood or juices from the package.

  2. Scrub under running water: Vigorously scrub ham hocks with a brush under cool running water. Target any visible dirt, grime, or bone fragments.

  3. Boil for 1 minute: Place ham hocks in a large pot and cover fully with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 1 minute.

  4. Drain and rinse: Remove ham hocks from the water and drain in a colander. Rinse under cool running water for 1 minute.

  5. Alternate soaking method: For a less hands-on approach, soak raw ham hocks in water for 24 hours in the fridge, changing the water 4-5 times.

Once cleaned, raw ham hocks need to be cooked fully before eating. Simmering or braising for at least an hour ensures they are safe to consume.

Preparing Pre-Cooked Ham Hocks for Cleaning

If you purchased smoked or pre-cooked ham hocks, the cleaning process is simpler. Here are a few tips:

  • Soak in water for 30 minutes to draw out excess salt from the curing process.

  • Simmer in seasoned liquid like broth or water with spices for 1-2 hours.

  • Rinse under cool water to remove any lingering debris.

  • Remove solid fat cap by running your knife across the surface. Discard this fat before cooking.

  • Cook in a slow cooker or oven: Pre-cooked ham hocks just need reheating before serving.

The beauty of pre-cooked ham hocks is you don’t have to worry about fully cooking them through. A brief simmer or soak is all you need to clean and refresh them before adding them to your dish.

Step-by-Step Instructions for Cleaning Ham Hocks

Now let’s walk through the complete process for cleaning ham hocks, from start to finish:

What You Need

  • 2-3 ham hocks
  • Water
  • Scrub brush
  • Large pot
  • Colander
  • Slow cooker or oven

Step 1 – Scrub Under Running Water

Rinse ham hocks under cool water and scrub vigorously with a brush. Target any visible dirt, grime, bone bits, or debris.

Step 2 – Boil or Soak

For raw ham hocks: Place in pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil 1 minute then drain and rinse.

For pre-cooked ham hocks: Soak in cool water 30 minutes to an hour.

Step 3 – Simmer in Seasoned Liquid

Place ham hocks in a slow cooker or oven proof pan. Add seasoned liquid like broth, tomatoes, herbs, garlic, etc.

Simmer raw hocks for 1-2 hours or until fully cooked. Simmer pre-cooked hocks for 30 mins to an hour.

Step 4 – Remove Solid Fat Cap

Run your knife across the surface of the ham hocks to remove the solid fat cap. Discard this fat before cooking.

Step 5 – Finish Cooking

Add ham hocks to your recipe and cook until tender. They can braise, stew, or simmer for hours.

And that’s it! With these simple steps, your ham hocks will be clean, salt-balanced, and ready to impart maximum flavor.

Common Questions About Cleaning Ham Hocks

If you’re new to working with ham hocks, chances are you have some questions about the cleaning process. Here we’ll tackle some of the most frequently asked questions:

Do I Really Need to Clean Ham Hocks?

Yes! Give those ham hocks a good scrub before cooking. Washing removes bacteria, impurities, and excess salt. Skipping this step is asking for trouble.

How Long Should I Boil Raw Ham Hocks?

Just 1-2 minutes of boiling is sufficient to clean and sanitize raw ham hocks. Any longer and you risk overcooking them before they go in your recipe.

Is It Ok to Simmer Pre-Cooked Ham Hocks?

Absolutely. A brief 30-60 minute simmer in seasoned liquid revitalizes salt-cured ham hocks and infuses them with flavor.

What’s That White Fat Cap on Ham Hocks?

This opaque layer of fat should be removed before cooking for easier eating. Use a sharp knife to cut it off.

Can I Use a Ham Hock Without Cleaning It?

You can, but we don’t recommend it. Uncleaned ham hocks may contain harmful bacteria or an unpleasant amount of salt. Take a few minutes to prep them properly.

Avoiding Pitfalls When Cleaning Ham Hocks

Cleaning ham hocks is pretty straightforward, but there are a few mistakes to avoid:

  • Don’t boil pre-cooked ham hocks. This can make them rubbery. Just a brief simmer is needed.

  • Don’t soak for too long. More than 24 hours allows bacteria to multiply.

  • Don’t forget to scrub! Rinsing alone won’t remove grime and impurities.

  • Don’t boil raw ham hocks for too long. 1-2 minutes max, or the meat will get tough.

  • Don’t discard the fatty skin before cooking. It keeps the ham hock moist and adds flavor. Remove it after cooking.

With some basic vigilance, you can avoid these common ham hock cleaning pitfalls.

Troubleshooting Questions

Even if you follow the proper technique, you may occasionally run into issues with your cleaned ham hocks. Here’s how to troubleshoot common problems:

Why are my ham hocks still really salty after cleaning?

  • You may need to soak them longer to draw out more salt. Up to 24 hours in the fridge, changing the water frequently.

  • Use lower sodium broth or add more water when braising.

  • Add salty components like soy sauce or fish sauce to the dish very sparingly.

Why is my ham hock meat dry and stringy?

  • You likely overcooked it. Ham hocks only need 1-2 hours of braising to reach tenderness.

  • Try a moist cooking method like stewing next time, instead of roasting.

Why is my ham hock slimy or sticky after cleaning?

  • Rinsing alone isn’t sufficient – you need to scrub vigorously with a brush to remove grime.

  • Avoid soaking for too long. Change the water every 8-12 hours to prevent sliminess.

  • Pat ham hocks dry thoroughly with paper towels before cooking.

With a little trial and error, you’ll get your ham hock prep down to a science. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find the method that works for you.

Cooking Ham Hocks to Perfection

Of course, properly cleaned ham hocks are only half the battle. You also need to cook them correctly to get the best results:

Choose the right cooking method – Braising, stewing, simmering, and slow cooking are best. The moist heat tenderizes while coaxing out rich gelatin.

Cook low and slow – Ham hocks need at least 1-2 hours of gentle simmering to reach fall-off-the-bone tenderness. Be patient!

Add flavorful braising liquid – Wine, broth, tomatoes, and warm spices make excellent braising liquids. Go bold with the seasoning.

Let them cool in the liquid – Allowing the cooked ham hocks to cool in the braising liquid keeps them moist and infuses more flavor.

Pull off the meat – Once cooled, it’s easy to pull or shred the tender ham meat right off the bone. Discard bones, skin, and fat.

Use ham hock meat as an ingredient – Shredded ham hock meat makes a delicious addition to soups, stews, greens, beans, pot pies, and more!

Sample Ham Hock Recipe – Split Pea Soup

Here’s an easy sample recipe that showcases ham hocks at their finest. The tender meat and rich broth is utterly delicious:


  • 2-3 cleaned ham hocks
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 lb dried split peas
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Simmer ham hocks in water for 1 hour until cooked through. Remove meat from bones and shred.

  2. Sauté onion, carrots and celery 5 minutes until softened. Add split peas, broth, bay leaves and shredded ham hock meat.

  3. Simmer soup uncovered 45-60 minutes until peas are tender. Season with salt and pepper.

  4. Remove bay leaves before serving. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley.

Get the Most from Your Ham Hocks

Ham hocks are packed with mouthwatering flavor. But to get the most out of them, it pays to start with cleaning. Properly washing, boiling, soaking, and scrubbing ham hocks removes impurities so they can shine in your dishes.



Should you soak a ham hock before cooking?

Ham hocks are usually sold pre-cooked, and often smoked. If you get a smoked hock you may want to soak it overnight to get rid of some of the saltiness. Otherwise, they are ready to use. You can braise a ham hock, trim it up and serve it as a meat course.

How to remove hair from ham hock?

For the fresh ham hocks (pork knuckles) in the Beer-Braised Pork Knuckles your butcher will normally scrape the skin clean of any hairs. Quite often the skin is scalded with hot water first then scraped with a thin blade.

How do you wash ham hocks?

Vigorously wash the exterior of the ham hocks with a scrub brush to remove any visible dirt. Rinse the ham hock completely after washing. Place the ham hocks into the pot and add water until they are completely submerged. Bring the pot of water and ham hocks to a boil over medium high heat and boil for one minute. Drain the ham hocks in a colander.

Can You boil ham hocks?

Bring the pot of water and ham hocks to a boil over medium high heat and boil for one minute. Drain the ham hocks in a colander. Rinse the ham hocks in the colander under cold running water for a full minute. Use the ham hocks immediately in any recipe desired. Soak the ham hocks in cold water for 24 hours instead of boiling them, if you prefer.

How to cook ham hocks?

To reduce the salt level and to remove any impurities, a long washing or soaking is needed before using the ham hock in cooking. Vigorously wash the exterior of the ham hocks with a scrub brush to remove any visible dirt. Rinse the ham hock completely after washing. Place the ham hocks into the pot and add water until they are completely submerged.

How do you remove skin from a ham hock?

If you choose to remove the skin from your ham hock, it’s important to do so carefully to avoid losing any of the flavorful meat. Here’s a step-by-step guide: 1. Using a small sharp knife, cut through the skin/rind about 10cm from the top of the hock (or knuckle end of the leg). 2.

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