Wondering how long to cook ham hocks? The short answer is this. The exact time depends on your cooking method and cooking temperature, but it usually takes two to four hours to cook a ham hock. If you’re serving ham hocks as a main dish, consider brining it first. That will add a few days of prep prior to your cooking time.
Read on for the specifics on how long to cook ham hocks by cooking method plus a few other tips to ensure your pork is tender, delicious, and safe to eat.
Ham hocks 101
Ham hocks are thick cuts from a pig’s foot. That’s why they’re also called pork knuckles. The cut includes skin, fat, bone, and collagen. It can be tough meat, but it’s also rich in flavor. You’ll see many ham hock recipes rely on low-and-slow cooking methods or braising to unlock that flavor and tenderize the meat.
Ham hocks are an important ingredient in U.S. Southern cooking. Southern cuisine leans on ham hocks as a flavor addition to stews, soups, stocks, collard greens, and beans.
Because ham hocks aren’t the easiest or tastiest cut to work with, they’re fairly inexpensive.
Tips for cooking with ham hocks
If you’ve never worked with ham hocks before, you may need a few guidelines. Here are the dos and don’t for cooking with ham hocks.
Don’t assume your grocery store has ham hocks
Don’t wait until the day before you have 10 guests coming over to shop for your ham hocks. Grocery stores carry them when there is a local demand — but that demand varies dramatically depending on where you live.
If you have a ham hock recipe you’re dying to try, call your local grocers first. Or, better, ask a local butcher to source them for you. You’d typically buy two or four at a time in a grocery store. But a butcher who’s sourcing ham hocks may ask you to buy more.
Do leave extra time for cooking ham hocks
You want your ham hocks tender, whether they’re the main dish or a flavor addition to your stew. As a general rule, ham hocks take hours to cook. You can’t rush them by turning up the heat, either.
Do buy a good instant-read meat thermometer
- Ultra-fast 2-3 second readouts thanks to a proprietary high-performance Japanese temperature sensor, making Javelin PRO Duo one of the most popular cooking and grilling accessories out there.
- Superb accuracy of ±0.9°F achievable by laboratory calibration. Javelin PRO Duo is an instrument-grade digital cooking thermometer designed to take the guesswork out of cooking.
- A large 2″ 180° auto-rotating and motion-activated backlit display makes Javelin PRO Duo instant read thermometer well-suited for glove-wearers, awkward angles, and left-handed users.
- With an expected battery life of 4000+ hours, as well as auto-sleep and motion-activated wake, Javelin PRO Duo is the perfect meat probe thermometer for extended cookouts.
- IP65-rated splash-proof construction shields the Javelin PRO Duo digital meat thermometer against spills, kitchen mishaps, and the daily rigors of both home and professional kitchens.
The done temperature of ham hocks is 150F. An instant-read thermometer allows you to check the temperature quickly, without unnecessary disrupting the cooking process. If you’re smoking ham hocks, for example, holding the smoker door open too long reduces the temperature. That will extend your cook time.
Personally, I use a Thermopen meat thermometer, but they are expensive. You can try cheaper versions from Thermapen and Javatools (shown above), which are available on Amazon.
Do choose the right cooking method
Ham hocks can be prepared in the slow cooker, oven-braised, smoked, grilled, or boiled. Choose the method that suits your skills best. If you’re a master-smoker, go that route. If you prefer to remain hands-off, use the slow cooker.
Do brine your ham hocks
Mix up an easy brine of water, salt, and brown sugar. Soak your ham hocks in the brine for three days up to a week. The brine adds flavor and moisture.
Before cooking, remove the ham hocks from the brine, rinse, and pat dry.
Don’t substitute just anything for ham hocks
Ham hocks have a rich, fatty flavor. If you substitute improperly in a stew or braised dish, you might be disappointed in the end result.
Good substitutes for ham hocks include bacon, pork shanks, turkey legs, and chicken thighs. Turkey and chicken legs are your healthier options.
Do crisp the skin
Smoking, braising, and slow-cooking are soggy cooking methods. They don’t deliver that crisp skin flavor that you’d get from frying. You can address by searing your ham hocks in a pan first, or by popping them in the oven (or on the grill) for a few minutes after cooking.
Do shred the meat and use the cooking liquid
If you’re using ham hocks as a flavor addition, shred the cooked meat with two forks. Also save the liquid as it will deliver the same rich pork flavor as the meat itself. Label and freeze any leftovers.
How long to cook ham hocks by cooking method
Here are the guidelines for how long to cook ham hocks, based on your method.
- Smoking: Smoking ham hocks at 200F (93C) takes two hours or more.
- Oven-braising: Cooking ham hocks in liquid in the oven at 400F (204C) takes about three hours.
- Slow-cooking: If your crockpot is on low, ham hocks will take eight to 10 hours to cook.
- Grilling: Set your grill to 350F, place the ham hocks inside, and close the lid. It’ll take three hours or more to cook the ham hock that way.
- Boiling: At medium-low heat, it’ll take two to three hours to boil a ham hock.
For some inspiration, here are some Southern recipes featuring ham hocks from SouthernLiving.com.
Last update on 2023-06-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API