How to enjoy a Tennessee country ham

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TMP Photo by Kelly Hite. Wanda Fann rolls biscuit dough, as Algie Harris and owner of G & W Hamery, Bob Woods shows off the final product.
‘Tis the season for ham.

And according to the county’s leading ham experts, Tom Palmer at Kirkenburt’s Smokehouse Grill and Bob Woods at G&W Hamery, the best way to cook a country ham is the oldest way.

“This is an old, traditional way to cook a ham,” Palmer said. And Woods explained it was the way his mother and grandmother cooked a country ham.

First, soak the ham in water for a couple of days, changing the water half way through. Then, place the ham in a 5-gallon can and fill with water.

“You may have to cut the hock off to make it fit,” Palmer said. And Woods suggests saving the hock for seasoning beans, greens and other vegetables.

Then, boil the ham for 20-30 minutes per pound. When done, put the lid on the can and store in a cardboard box packed with newspaper. Be sure to wrap the box and can in blankets or quilts. Let it sit for a day and a half to two days.

“And when you open everything up, it’s done,” Palmer said. “What it does is the water sucks the salt out.”

Finally, cut the skin from the ham leaving the fat. Score diamond shapes in the fat and press cloves into the corners of the diamonds. Cover the ham in a brown sugar glaze and stick it in the oven until golden, brown and delicious.

This method is long and involved. But if time is a necessity, G&W and Kirkenburts sell hams that are cooked in much the same way.

“What we do at the restaurant is instead of glazing, we smoke it with hickory,” Palmer said.
G&W saves the glazing process for the buyer.

The Ham Man

If there’s anyone in Murfreesboro to trust when it comes to ham, it’s the Ham Man Bob Woods.

Woods has been curing country ham since 1981 when he bought G&W from his uncle Sam Woods and cousin Tom Given.

Uncle Sam and cousin Tom started the hamery in 1968. They missed the traditionally cured hams their grandmother always had on hand and decided to open their own business.

It turned into a good investment because Uncle Sam ended up retiring to Hawaii, Woods said. G&W also turned into one of the best hameries in the state.

G&W won the blue ribbon at the Tennessee State Ham show at MTSU in 1969, 1970 and 1971. Since Bob Woods has operated the hamery, it’s won the Grand Champion Ham at the Tennessee State Fair eight times between 1989 and 2006.

The hams are champion quality because they are cured in a traditional way taking a whole year. Woods calls it Four Season Seasoning.

Beginning with a truckload of hams on New Year’s Eve, Woods personally rolls the hams three times in a dry salt and sugar curing mix, where they marinate for 40 days. The hams are then hung with care and smoked with hickory and apple wood.

Finally, the hams warm during the hot summer months and lose much of their excess fluids, losing about seven pounds in the process.

Woods compared it to a sauce reduction used in cooking. By allowing the excess fluid to seep out the flavor is concentrated.

When the hams are cured, some of them are cooked using the same process described by Palmer.

Others are turned into ham biscuits, ham hocks and another recipe he borrowed from his grandmother.

“My grandmother would have the ham in the refrigerator and slice off of it for Christmas, New Year’s, January, February and on into March,” Woods said.

When the ham eventually dried out and got hard, his Grandmother Snell put it in a meat grinder and make ground cooked county ham. Woods uses his left over ham to make “Aunt Anne’s Southern Secret.”

“If you ever cook anything that tastes bad,” Woods explained, “you can put that in it and turn it around.”

Grandmother Snell stored the ground ham in a mason jar and used it in everything from scrambled eggs and sandwiches to soups and salads throughout the year.

Ham Biscuits

While ham is good for seasoning and eating both cooked and uncooked, Woods prefers to eat his ham on a biscuit.

Woods slices the salty, uncooked ham ultra-thin, thin enough it read a newspaper through it and puts it on light, bite-size Angel biscuits.

“They’re small because a southern lady shouldn’t eat a big biscuit,” Woods said with a smile. “That’s what my grandmother said.”

Woods challenged anyone in the state to make a better biscuit than his biscuit-maker Wanda Fann.

“There’s no better biscuit-maker on earth,” he said.

Palmer prefers a ham sandwich. He likes Kirkenburts’ twice-smoked ham on a sandwich, which he enjoys with his own special mustard sauce.

“God made this mustard sauce for ham biscuits,” Palmer said.

However ham is eaten, it has been traditional fare in southern homes during the holidays, for both Christmas and New Year’s.

Now most is bought from the grocery store. But G&W remains the only source in Rutherford County for a traditional country ham.

“Used to be,” Woods said, you’d drive through the country and see signs for country ham, where farmers were trying to make a little extra money. “But those days are gone.”

Michelle Willard can be contacted at 869-0816 or

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