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What Are Ham Hocks: Your Ultimate Guide to Cooking and Enjoying This Cut

Editorial Team
Updated May 16, 2024
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What are Ham Hocks?

Ham hocks, nestled around the pig's ankle joint, are a treasure trove of flavor often overlooked in mainstream cuisine. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), this cut of pork is not only economical but also rich in collagen, which when cooked, imparts a luxurious mouthfeel to dishes. 

While they may not take center stage as a main course, their robust taste and ability to enhance the depth of vegetable-based soups and stews are unparalleled. Ham hocks are particularly popular in Southern and soul food cooking, where they're used to infuse dishes with a smoky, savory quality that's hard to replicate with other ingredients. So, what are ham hocks? In this article, we’ll explore how to utilize them to elevate your culinary creations, offering a rich layer of flavor that is both traditional and versatile.

Ham hocks are most often taken from the front section of the leg of the pig, in the general area of the ankle. The slice or portion of the meat is generally a semi-thick cut that is packaged in groups of two or three hocks. They may be purchased raw or fresh, as well as smoked and cured. Cured varieties have a relatively long shelf life, which makes them ideal for storage and use over a longer period of time.

Perhaps the most common use of ham hocks has to do with seasoning cooked vegetables. In many parts of the United States, this part of the pig is used as a relatively inexpensive way to season various types of greens. Turnips, collards, kale and mustard greens are often slow cooked with one or two ham hocks tossed in for a little extra flavor. The pork contains just the right amount of salty accent to provide a pleasing taste with most greens, without the addition of any extra salt or other seasonings. While some people choose to serve the meat with the greens, others remove it before placing the dish on the dinner table.

Beans and peas are also often seasoned with ham hocks. For example, pinto beans, navy beans, crowder peas and black-eyed peas are often placed in a crock pot with the meat and allowed to slow cook over the course of several hours. As the beans and peas soften and cook through, the flavor from the ham seeps into the texture of the peas, leaving a pleasing taste.

Ham hocks are usually obtained from a butcher shop or the meat department of a supermarket. Because the meat is not usually considered ideal for serving as alone, they are generally less expensive than purchasing bacon or ham steaks to use in flavoring various types of vegetables. Chefs recommend only using the meat once, as it does not retain much flavor after it has been cooked.

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Editorial Team
By Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.
Discussion Comments
By disciples — On Dec 19, 2012

Where can I buy smoked ham hocks? I never see them in the grocery store.

By chivebasil — On Dec 18, 2012

Does anyone have a good recipe for ham hocks and green beans? The holidays are coming up and I always make green bean casserole, but this year I have been thinking of switching it up.

I have some really great fresh green beans that I was able to get from a friend of mine who can grow them year round. There is a butcher close to me that I know has these great, really meaty ham hocks. So I have good ingredients, I just need a good recipe.

By whiteplane — On Dec 18, 2012

My mom used to make navy beans with ham hocks all the time in the winter. It was a tasty, hearty meal that seemed to suck the damp and the chill right out of you. When it gets cold I still make her recipe sometimes because it is such a comfort food.

By anon155066 — On Feb 22, 2011

Do not remove the skin from ham hocks. That's where most of the flavor is contained. Cook with the bones in, again for the flavor released by the bone marrow

By anon120283 — On Oct 20, 2010

I need to know if you're supposed to remove the outer rind before cooking the ham hocks in the crock pot with beans.

By anon119515 — On Oct 18, 2010

Does anyone know the salt content in ham hocks? Can you use ham hocks if a person is on a salt restricted diet?

By anon49185 — On Oct 18, 2009

Does anyone have any wisdom regarding front vs rear hocks? I think that the smaller front hocks contain nicer meat.

By anon18729 — On Sep 28, 2008

Thanks for the idea, Bookworm. I'm always looking for new ideas for soups and stews.

By bookworm — On Sep 28, 2008

I use ham hocks when I make a version of minestrone soup. Ham hocks are boiled with beans, and in the last part of cooking I add pasta, or barley. Barley needs more cooking time than pasta. Potatoes and carrots can be added too.

Toward the end of the cooking, ham hock is removed from the pot, the edible part is separated from the bone, chopped and placed back into the soup, the rest is discarded. It is a healthy and hearty soup, relatively inexpensive and filling.

Editorial Team
Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.
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