When people ask me about bear meat, I normally recommend they try it with any of their favorite pork recipes. A bear fattened on summer and fall’s berries, nuts and acorns has a wonderfully rich and complex flavor.
One of our favorite things to do with bear is to cure an entire shoulder or hindquarter into a ham. We then smoke it on the Traeger Grill to an internal temperature of 165 degrees and slice for a main course. Leftovers make a mean bear ham sandwich, or can be used in any recipe where you would normally use a cured “city-style" ham.
We were recently gifted a bone-in ham from a young bear taken by a good friend. The quarter weighed in right at 15 pounds, perfect for curing into a ham. If you have plenty of time, you can leave a quarter that size soaking in the curing brine for up to a month to ensure the cure works its way all the way into the meat. I don’t have that kind of patience, so I use a marinade injector to pump the brine into the meat and let it soak for about 10 days to 2 weeks.
This recipe uses Instacure #1, also known as Prague Powder, or pink curing salt as the curing agent. While most recipes call for 1 teaspoon of Instacure per 5 pounds of meat when blended into sausages or ground jerky, a wet brine uses more. I prefer 1 level tablespoon of Instacure per gallon of water in my wet brines.
1 12-15 pound bone-in bear shoulder or ham, or you can debone and roll the ham if you prefer a boneless cut.
5 gallons of water
4 cups of brown sugar
4 cups of kosher salt
5 tablespoons Instacure #1
2 tablespoons pickling spice blend
1 cup apricot preserves
½ cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Mix the cure ingredients in a large plastic or glass container. A food-grade five-gallon bucket works in a pinch. Trim most of the fat from the outside of the ham. A thick layer of fat slows down the intake of the curing brine.
Submerge the bear ham in the curing brine. Using a marinade injector, pump the ham full of the brine. Pay particular attention to the center of the ham and the areas along the bone. Inject the ham in several places. While you can’t pump to much brine into the meat, you can definitely pump to little. I keep injecting the meat until I see brine push out of the injection holes around the probe as I pump more into the meat.
Allow the ham to remain in the brine for 10-14 days, turning once daily so that all of the ham is exposed equally. If your ham floats, use a glass bowl or container to weight it down so that it is fully submerged.
Once the ham has cured, remove it from the brine and rinse the surface with cold water. Place the ham on a wire rack in a large pan or directly on the refrigerator shelf overnight to allow the surface to dry and a pellicle to form.
Smoke the ham at 225 degrees. If you are using a Traeger Grill, use the Super Smoke function for the first 4 hours for extra flavor. After 4 hours at the lower temperature, increase the temperature of your grill to 325 degrees. Mix the glaze ingredients and brush the glaze over the surface of the ham. Continue cooking at 325 degrees for 2-3 more hours or until the center of the ham reaches 165 degrees. Brush remaining glaze over the ham every 30 minutes for the remaining cook time.
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