What are Ham Hocks?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

As a cut of meat that is often used for seasoning purposes, ham hocks are a cut of pork that is found around the ankle joint of a pig. While not generally considered to be appropriate for serving as a main course, they pack a lot of flavor, which makes them an excellent additive to many types of vegetable-based dishes.

Ham hocks, commonly used to season vegetables, are taken from the ankle area of the pig.
Ham hocks, commonly used to season vegetables, are taken from the ankle area of the pig.

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.

Navy beans, which are often served with ham hocks.
Navy beans, which are often served with ham hocks.

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.

Many different types of beans can be cooked and served with ham hocks.
Many different types of beans can be cooked and served with ham hocks.

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.

Kale is often added to ham hocks.
Kale is often added to ham hocks.

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.

Ham hocks are often cooked in a crock pot.
Ham hocks are often cooked in a crock pot.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments

disciples

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

chivebasil

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.

whiteplane

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.

anon155066

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

anon120283

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

anon119515

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

anon49185

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

anon18729

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

bookworm

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.

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