Ham hock is a timeless classic.
It is a homely and comforting ingredient that has been enjoyed across cultures for centuries.
But it also can be a bit of an enigma – how do you cook it and what are the best alternatives when you don’t have access to this unique ingredient?
Fortunately, there are plenty of great substitutes available to add the smoky depth and hearty flavor of ham hock to any dish without having to worry about tracking down this specialty item.
Let’s take a look at the five best ways to make your recipe shine without ham hock.
What’s Ham Hock?
Ham Hock is a cured and smoked pork product, usually cut from the hind leg of a pig.
It can be eaten as is or used to add flavor and texture to dishes like soups, stews, beans, and collard greens.
The ham hock is an essential ingredient in classic Southern cuisine.
The process of curing a ham hock involves removing the hair and fat from the skin, salting it heavily with saltpeter or curing salt, rubbing it all over with spices like black pepper, garlic powder, oregano or marjoram, then allowing it to soak in brine for up to several weeks before smoking the meat.
Once smoked the meat has a distinctive smoky flavor that adds depth to any dish its added too.
When preparing it for use you will want to simmer the ham hock in water before adding it your recipe otherwise you won’t be able to enjoy its full flavor.
The longer you simmer it the more flavor will be released into your dish.
Depending on what type of dish you are preparing you can simmer for anywhere from 15-30 minutes on low heat so that all of its flavors are fully extracted from meat.
The 5 Best Substitutes for Ham Hock
If you’re looking for a substitute for ham hocks for whatever reason, you’ve come to the right place.
Although ham hock can add amazing flavor to your dish, there are times when a substitute is needed.
And luckily, there are many great alternatives to choose from.
Here are five of the best substitutes for ham hock:
1 – Chopped Bacon
Chopped bacon makes a great substitute for ham hocks in many recipes.
The flavor will be quite different, as bacon tend to be much smokier and saltier than ham, but the crunch and texture will be similar.
When using chopped bacon as a substitution, use cooking oil to sauté it before adding it to the dish.
This will help mellow out the smoky, salty flavor of the bacon and make it more palatable with other ingredients.
Make sure to cook it with some vegetables or spices, like onions or garlic, to add additional flavor that can stand up against the bolder bacon taste.
2 – Guanciale
Guanciale is another pork product made from the jowls of the pig, which are cured and smoked for flavor.
It is also referred to as pork jowls and can be used as a substitute for ham hock.
It has a very distinctive flavor and when cooked properly, the flavors take on a nutty and smoky flavor.
This cured meat is popular in Italian cuisine, but it’s gaining traction in other cuisines around the world as well.
Guanciale has a higher fat content than bacon or ham hock, so use it sparingly to add flavor without weighing down your dish with too much fat.
It’s important that you take care while cooking guanciale because its high fat content tends to burn easily if cooked too long over too high of heat.
Consider starting at lower heat then finishing off at higher heat to make sure your guanciale reaches its ideal crispy crunch without burning in the process.
3 – Cubed Ham
Cubed ham might not have the smoky flavor of ham hock, but it offers a more budget-friendly option to give your recipes that classic porky flavor.
Just like choosing smoked bacon over regular, look for smoked cubed ham to help bring in that classic flavor profile.
Although there is still some prep required (dicing the cubes into strips or small pieces), it takes much less time than curing and breaking down a ham hock.
Cubed ham is extremely versatile and can be used in soup or stew, fried or grilled as an entrée, tossed into pasta dishes, or even added to sandwiches and burgers.
Look for cubed ham from pre-mixes such as breakfast bowls; these are often offered with bell peppers, cheese, and other ingredients that make for a delicious one-pan meal.
4 – Chopped Salt Pork
Salt pork is usually sold with other pork products at the grocery store and comes in both pre-sliced and bulk forms.
It is a much fattier product than ham hocks, so it may require adding some grain-based stuffing or a starch to reduce the fat content.
Chopping it into small pieces will help give you more of a ham hock-like consistency, while still providing the salty flavor that makes salt pork so desirable.
The level of saltiness can be easily adjusted by soaking the raw pork cubes in water for 30 minutes prior to cooking.
5 – Smoked Sausage
Smoked sausage is a great substitute for ham hock in many recipes.
It has a similar robust flavor to ham hock, and is also smoked for full-flavored, tender meat.
When substituting smoked sausage for ham hock, you’ll want to reduce the amount of seasoning in your recipe – since the sausage likely contains its own spices and flavorings.
This can help prevent the dish from becoming too salty – as both ham hocks and smoked sausages are salt-cured meats.
Make sure you read the label and use precooked smoked sausage for any sautéing or stir-frying recipes that call for cooked ham hocks.
In dishes like soups and stews, you can use either pre-cooked or uncooked version of smoked sausage depending on your preference.
Ham hocks are a popular ingredient in a variety of dishes, especially soups and stews, where they add a rich, smoky flavor.
Unfortunately, not everyone is able to access ham hock or knows how to prepare it.
Luckily, there are many substitutes that will give you the same flavors and textures with ingredients that are more accessible.
The five best substitutes for ham hock include bacon, smoked turkey legs, smoked pork neck bones, salt pork and kielbasa.
Each of these alternatives has its own unique texture and flavor profiles that can help you create flavorful dishes without using traditional ham hock.
Experimenting with different combinations of these ingredients can result in delicious dishes that everyone at the table can enjoy.
No matter what type of substitute you choose for your dish, always remember to cook your ingredients thoroughly before consuming them and store them properly to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.
With these safe practices in mind, you can explore the delicious possibilities that come from using alternative ingredients like bacon, turkey legs or kielbasa in your recipes instead of ham hock.