A picnic ham, also called a pork shoulder, is an American specialty especially popular throughout New England. Though not technically actual hams, the meat goes through a smoking process that gives them a similar taste. These "hams" are usually served glazed or barbecued, making them a popular summer staple of New England and Southern cuisine in the United States.
The term "ham" is usually applied to the meat taken from a pig's back legs. Picnic hams are instead taken from the front leg and shoulder area. They are often slightly more tough and require a longer cooking time than traditional ham. Expert butchers note that there is also more waste in the butchering process, as the bone structure of the shoulder requires additional carving.
One popular way to serve picnic ham is with a deeply sugary glaze. The uncooked meat is coated with a boiled-down mixture that usually contains molasses, cane sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and cherry juice. Like traditional hams, the meat may be studded with pineapple slices and maraschino cherries during roasting.
A traditional New England dish is the boiled New England dinner, of which pork shoulder is a major component. This basic dish consists of slow-boiled meat and vegetables, including rutabagas, cabbages, carrots, and turnips. The New England dinner is thought to have derived from Irish-American cuisine, known for its simplicity and heartiness. A similar dish, called a Jigg’s Dinner, can be found throughout the Newfoundland and Labrador areas of Northeastern Canada. Although both dishes use this meat, it is commonly referred to as pork shoulder in context, as the boiling process removes much of the ham flavor.
To serve picnic hams on an actual picnic or for an outdoor summer dinner, some enjoy cooking the meat with a tangy barbecue-style glaze. For this recipe, the meat is boiled with spices, along with vegetables of the cook's choice. She can prepare her preferred barbecue sauce; one version of the recipe calls for a mixture of onions, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard and hot peppers. The meat is brushed with the sauce and baked, and it is recoated with sauce occasionally. While it may not be cooked over the grill, it will have a smoky and heavy flavor.
Because pork shoulder is usually considerably less expensive than traditional ham, it is excellent for families on a tight budget. For busy people, throwing some into a slow cooker with vegetables and spices will create a lovely stew by the end of the day. When teaching children to cook with meat, picnic hams can be an easy start to understanding glazing and flavor combinations. Whether with a complicated sugary topping or simply soaked in apple juice, it can stand up to most flavors and is a great meat for cooking experimentation.