As a vegetarian growing up in Virginia, I always thought of ham hocks as my nemesis. Green beans, collards, black-eyed peas, you name it—they all were cooked with ham hocks. Many years later, I’m omnivorous again and have a new appreciation for this flavorful cut. Though they contain too little meat to be worth eating on their own, ham hocks are great for boosting the flavor of other dishes, much as a bouillon cube does.
Ham hocks come from the bottom part of the pig’s leg, between the meaty ham and the foot. They’re typically cured and smoked, which gives them a longer shelf life and a more complex flavor.
Look for ham hocks in the supermarket meat case, where they’re sometimes sold in two-packs. Our Spicy Red-Eye Baked Beans calls for only one ham hock, but you can store the extra one, tightly wrapped, in the freezer for up to six months.
If you can’t find smoked ham hocks at the supermarket, a smoked turkey leg is a good substitute.