Smoked Venison "Ham Hocks"
There is much potential in tough cuts of meat. But they can be hard to deal with, and the grinder does them no justice. I use shanks in this recipe, cut cross-wise so they resemble the smoked ham hocks you see in butcher cases. You could apply the same technique to a neck, bone in or out, front shoulder, or even upland bird legs.
I’m using a method called equilibrium brining, because it’s the best way to brine anything, period. It gives you the ability to season your product with extreme precision and eliminates the risk of over salting your product. All it requires is a scale, some simple math, and time. See note at the end of the recipe.
For the hocks, I like to go very salty, five percent by weight. Keep in mind that when you go to use these hocks later in soups and stews they will probably have most, if not all of the salt you need for that dish.
If you adapt this technique for other brining projects (and you should), experiment with the salt percentage to find what you like. Somewhere between 1.5 to 2.5 percent is a good range to be in for most cases. I keep this recipe really simple, but you can absolutely add any flavorings you like to this brine. Spices, onion, garlic, vinegars, etc. You can totally spin off this recipe to make it your own!
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 12-26 hours
Wild game shanks (Or whatever meat you’re using)
The recipe is really simple once you find your measurements. Let your shanks brine for a day, smoke them, then cool and store the shanks. That’s it. Don’t worry if you don’t have a smoker. A sous vide bath or oven will do just fine, see the note at the bottom about alternative methods.
To find out how much salt and sugar to use, you’ll have to determinethe total combined weight of your brine and product. That’s to say, the weight of what you’re brining and how much water you need to use for the brine, which will depend on the size of your container, the size/shape of your product, etc. All you’ve got to do is cover your shanks with water in a container that will fit everything and weigh them together in grams. Remember to zero your scale before weighing everything.
Now to the arithmetic. Once you have your total weight, you need to find out what five percent of that is. So, if you have 3000 grams of shanks and you used 5000 grams of water to cover them, giving you a total weight of 8000 grams, you’d multiply 8000 by .05 (five percent). Plug 8000 x .05 into a calculator and you get 400, meaning you would need 400 grams of salt for your brine. This recipe calls for two and a half percent sugar, so you just take half of your salt calculation and get 200 grams sugar.
Back to the recipe, remove the shanks from the water, add the salt and sugar, and mix until they dissolve. Then place the shanks in the brine, and leave in the fridge for at least a day. As long as you are within a few hours of a day they’ll be just fine. I’ve even left things on brine for up to two days before and they came out great. You can cut it down to about twelve hours if you are brining something small like upland bird legs.
When your shanks are ready to be smoked, take them out of the brine and pat them dry. Hot smoke them at around 220-250 degrees for two to four hours until they are a deep caramel color and reach an internal temperature of about 155. Don’t sweat it if you’re off by a few degrees.
The shanks make an incredible base for all kinds of soups, stews, gumbos, chilis, and anything else that cooks low and slow in liquid for a long time.
If you don’t have a smoker, no problem. You can make this recipe using an oven or sous vide bath and some liquid smoke. Just add a small splash of liquid smoke to the brine, between one teaspoon to one tablespoon depending on how much you are making and how smoky you want your shanks. If you are using an oven, wrap your shanks in parchment paper and then loosely in aluminium foil and bake them at 250 for about three hours until cooked to 155 degrees. For a sous vide bath, just place them in a bag after patting them dry and leave in a 155 degree bath for about four hours.
A note on equilibrium brining
As you can tell, I’m partial to equilibrium brining. It’s the can’t-mess-it-up brining technique that just so happens to be the most accurate way to brine anything. I understand that getting a calculator out in the kitchen might seem a little intimidating, but by measuring everything out and finding exactly how much salt to add by using a desired salt percentage, you take all the guess work out of it. For instance, If you add three cups of salt to four quarts of water and leave a chop in it for two hours, who knows how much of that salt actually ended up in your food? I certainly can’t tell you. And what happens if you get busy or go fishing and forget about it for even thirty minutes? Your food ends up either too salty to taste good or too salty to eat.
As implied by the name, this method actually relies on the salt reaching equilibrium throughout the brine and product. Which is why over brining isn’t an issue here. As soon as we add the unsalted shanks to the salty water, the salt goes to work using osmosis (moving through the water molecules in the meat) to spread itself evenly throughout both the water in the brine and inside of the shanks. This process takes a little more time than traditional brining, but once we give that salt time to reach equilibrium, we know exactly how much salt we’ve now added to our product.
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