Is Hickory Honey Ham Real Ham? Exploring This Sweet and Smoky Treat

Around the holidays, you may spot hickory honey ham on charcuterie boards or holiday dinner tables. But is this glistening, spiral-cut ham really a traditional ham? Or is it more of a processed meat product? The answer lies in understanding how hickory honey ham is made.

True hickory smoked ham imparts a delicious smoky flavor. Adding a honey glaze provides sweetness to balance the saltiness. However, not all hickory honey hams are created equal when it comes to ingredients and curing methods. Let’s explore what makes a ham authentic versus processed.

What is Hickory Honey Ham?

Hickory honey ham is ham that has been cured smoked over a hickory wood fire and coated with a sticky glaze made from honey and sometimes brown sugar or maple syrup. It is a ready-to-eat product sold cooked and spiral sliced.

The smoking process gives the ham a distinctive smoky, wood-fired flavor. Meanwhile, the sweet honey glaze provides a crusty exterior and balance for the saltiness. The spiral slicing allows for easy serving.

Hickory honey ham is a popular choice for holidays and special occasions because it can feed a crowd and offers a combination of salty, smoky, sweet flavors However, the curing process and ingredients can vary greatly by brand.

How is Hickory Honey Ham Made?

Traditionally, hickory smoked hams are made through a multi-step process over weeks or months:

  • Curing – Salt, nitrites, and sometimes sugar are used to cure the raw pork leg. This preserves it and adds seasoning.

  • Resting – The cured ham rests to allow the salt and nitrites to fully penetrate the meat. This helps inhibit bacteria growth.

  • Smoking – The ham is hung in a smokehouse and exposed to hickory wood smoke for hours or days. This flavors the meat and further preserves it.

  • Aging – Traditional hams age for several months, which concentrates the flavor.

  • Glazing – Finally, the ham is coated in a sticky glaze, often containing honey, prior to slicing and packaging.

However, many mass-produced hickory hams take shortcuts in the curing, smoking, and aging process to save time and costs. They may:

  • Cure for less time with liquid injected nitrites

  • Smoke for just a few hours versus days

  • Skip lengthy air-drying and aging

  • Use artificial smoke flavoring

So while the traditional process results in rich, nuanced flavor, accelerated commercial smoking and glazing produces a milder, less complex ham.

Signs Your Hickory Honey Ham is Truly Artisanal

When shopping for authentic, artisanal hickory smoked ham with honey, look for these signs:

  • Ingredients – Just pork, water, salt, honey or maple syrup, and natural nitrates like celery powder. No artificial ingredients.

  • Uncured – No sodium nitrite or “nitrite-free.” Nitrates from natural sources are okay.

  • Aged – Hams cured for 6-12 months have deeper, more concentrated flavor.

  • Smoking time – Longer smoking over real hardwood (several days) is better than short smoking (few hours).

  • Small local producer – Support local smokers versus mass manufacturers.

  • Heritage breed pork – Pastured Berkshire or Duroc breeds have more fat and flavor.

  • Minimal processing – Artisanal hams are hand-crafted, not mass produced.

  • Suitable for cooking – Can be baked or roasted without drying out.

Look for these signs of authenticity on the packaging and ask your local butcher or deli about their hickory honey ham sources.

Is Store-Bought Hickory Honey Ham Real?

Mass-produced hickory honey hams from conventional grocery stores use faster industrial processes to cure, smoke, and glaze the pork. While these provide convenience, the ham is less authentic. Common characteristics of store-bought hickory honey ham include:

  • Lower quality confined pork

  • Faster curing with injected nitrites

  • Shorter smoking times in large smokehouses

  • Liberal honey glaze coating

  • Artificial smoke flavoring

  • Preservatives and stabilizers added

  • Excess water and salt absorption

  • Milder instead of rich smoke flavor

  • Lower nutritional value

So while inexpensive and easy to find, store-bought hickory hams sacrifice quality for convenience. Sticking to reputable artisanal producers yields better texture and flavor.

Is Hickory Honey Ham Healthy?

Given the smoking and curing process, hickory honey ham is considered a processed meat. The WHO and other health organizations recommend limiting intake of processed meats due to increased health risks.

Potential downsides to frequently consuming store-bought hickory honey ham include:

  • High sodium levels
  • Nitrates/nitrites exposure
  • Cancer risk from processing methods
  • Loss of nutrients from smoking
  • Sugar content in glazes
  • Preservatives and additives
  • Fat, cholesterol, and calories

Enjoying hickory ham occasionally and in moderation is likely fine for most people. But regular high intake may increase risk for certain illnesses. When possible, choose high quality artisanal hams to minimize preservatives.

A Healthy Homemade Hickory Honey Ham

You can make a healthier homemade version of hickory honey ham using these simple steps:


  • Boneless pork shoulder or leg
  • Dry cure: sea salt, brown sugar, black pepper, cinnamon
  • Hickory wood chips
  • 100% pure honey
  • Brown sugar
  • Mustard


  1. Trim pork and rub dry cure all over. Refrigerate 3-7 days.
  2. Rinse cure off pork. Air dry 24 hours.
  3. Hot smoke with hickory chips for 4-8 hours until 145°F.
  4. Mix honey, brown sugar, and mustard for glaze.
  5. Apply glaze and continue smoking 30-60 mins until sticky.
  6. Rest ham for 30 mins before slicing.

You’ll end up with a tender, smoky ham with all the honey-glazed goodness. Yet you control the quality of ingredients. Serve it for a holiday meal or savor the leftovers all month long in sandwiches, omelets, and more.

Common Questions about Hickory Honey Ham

What’s the difference between ham and honey baked ham?

A ham is simply the cured hind leg of a pig. Honey baked ham is a specific preparation where ham is coated with a sticky glaze of honey, then baked.

Can you bake a hickory honey ham?

Pre-cooked hickory honey hams only need to be warmed before serving. However, you can bake an uncured fresh ham with a honey glaze to achieve a similar flavor at home.

Is Hickory Honey Ham already cooked?

Yes, hickory honey ham sold in stores is a ready-to-eat fully cooked product. It can be served cold or heated to an internal temperature of 140°F before slicing.

Can you freeze hickory honey ham?

Fully cooked hickory honey hams can be frozen for 2-3 months. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and foil. Thaw in fridge before serving.

How long does hickory honey ham last?

Store cooked hickory honey ham for 3-5 days in the fridge. Freeze for longer storage. Discard if mold develops.

Enjoy the Ideal Balance of Smoky and Sweet

When you crave a tender and flavorful ham glazed with honey’s sticky sweetness, seek out high-quality artisanal hickory smoked hams. Though store-bought versions offer convenience, traditionally cured and aged hams deliver far better texture and taste. Or impart the smoky notes yourself at home.

Just go easy on portions, as processed meats like honey ham are best enjoyed in moderation, especially if sodium is a concern. But the combination of salty, savory ham with rich honey can be hard to resist when celebrating special occasions or the holidays. Hickory smoked ham with a glistening honey glaze provides a phenomenal balance of complementary flavors.

EASY Honey Baked Spiral Ham | The Recipe Rebel


Does hickory honey ham exist?

Order the Best Hickory Baked Or Honey Ham Online Our Hickory Baked Hams are a delicious and simple way to please all the different palates at your table. Whether spiral, whole, glazed, smoked, or honey baked we promise nothing but the best in quality and taste.

Are honey baked ham hickory smoked?

All of our hams available for purchase online are hand prepared for you. That means deliciously marinated, slow smoked over hickory embers for up to 24 hours, spiral sliced and finished with our crowning touch: our unbelievably delicious, sweet and crunchy secret recipe honey glaze.

What is the difference between hickory ham and regular ham?

Ham With Natural Juices: The product is at least 18.5% protein. Hickory-Smoked Ham: A cured ham which has been smoked by hanging over burning hickory wood chips in a smokehouse. May not be labeled “hickory smoked” unless hickory wood has been used.

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