Smoked ham hocks are a staple ingredient in Southern country cooking. The salty chunks of meat, cartilage, and marrow are full of flavor and add a silky texture to soups and stews. Traditionally they’re made from the shanks or “knuckles” of domestic pigs, but you can create the same thing with wild game. This recipe is a different way to utilize tough cuts that usually end up in the grind pile.
When making smoked ham hocks with venison, keep in mind that these cuts are tough and take a long time to tenderize. It’s a three-part process. Start with a brine, then smoke the hocks, and finish by gently simmering in liquid until tender. You can also pressure cook the hocks and add the shredded meat to sautéed green beans, cassoulet, or breakfast hash.
Time to make
8 hours to brine, 4 hours to smoke
2 shanks (3 lbs.)
8 cups of ice water
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tsp. pink curing salt
Also works with
Venison neck, hog and bear shanks, turkey legs
- This recipe makes enough brine to cover 2 shanks (with the heel attached) from a deer. If using elk, you will need to double or maybe even triple the brine. Use a saw and cut the shank into thirds. It’s easiest to do this if they’re partially frozen.
- Bring 2 cups of water, salt, sugar, and pickling spices to a boil. Stir until salt dissolves then remove from heat. Pour in the remaining 6 cups of ice water and stir to blend. Allow brine to cool completely before submerging the hocks.
- Brine for 6 to 8 hours for deer and hog, or 8 to 10 hours for elk.
- Remove hocks from brine and rinse. Pat dry and allow to air dry in the fridge for 2 to 12 hours.
- Prepare your smoker according to manufacturer’s instructions using your choice of wood. I like hickory or maple for venison and hog. Set the temperature to about 200 degrees.
- Smoke the hocks for 4 hours and then remove. Shanks take a very long time to break down and tenderize. The objective here is to infuse it with smoke and to dehydrate the meat. It will not be tender enough to consume at this point. If you try to smoke until the meat is tender, it will end up very dry.
- You can immediately cook with them by adding one or two hocks to your favorite crockpot soup recipe set on low. Keep in mind that these smoked hocks are salty and flavorful—a little goes a long way. Another good option is to pressure cook until tender, shred the meat and add it to sautéed green beans, cassoulet, or a breakfast hash. The hocks will keep in the fridge stored for a week, or you can freeze them in portions to cook with later.