The perfect slow-cooked ham for your Easter dinner

Photography by Laura Morsman.

Barbecue for Easter Sunday dinner? It’s more popular than you might think.

We’re not talking brisket or ribs. Ham is barbecue—slow-smoked meat—but if you don’t routinely make that connection, you may not be eating the right ham.

A hand-crafted, carefully cured leg of pork, slow-smoked over smoldering hickory for 18 hours, offers a flavor, texture and aroma that rivals the best brisket or pulled pork you’ve ever had. Making it the perfect Easter ham.

You’re not likely to find that kind of ham in your local supermarket. Great hams come from a traditional smokehouse like Fritz’s Meats and Superior Sausage (10326 State Line Road, Leawood), which has been serving up these beauties for three years short of a century. You can get a hot eat-in or take-out lunch from Fritz’s, but it is primarily a retail smokehouse rather than a restaurant, offering an array of smoked sausages and cold cuts in addition to hams, turkeys, briskets and ribs. They’ll even smoke anything you bring them for $2 a pound. 

Manager Kurt McDonald describes the difference this way: “A restaurant will cook a brisket to 180 degrees because they want it to melt in your mouth when they serve it. We cook take-home brisket to 165 degrees because we want it to melt in your mouth after you take it home and re-warm it.”

What makes a Fritz’s ham special is the step-by-step process that begins with injecting the meat with a proprietary cure solution. While many mass-produced hams are simply soaked in brine, McDonald says the injection method “takes the cure all the way down to the bone, which brining can’t do.”

Fritz’s unique smoker, fired by 100 percent hickory wood, is 30 feet high, with the wood burning in a fire brick-lined basement chamber. Meats are slid in and out on racks on the main level of the shop. Hams are smoked for 16 to 20 hours, depending on size.

Finished hams are vacuum-packed and will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator. McDonald says they can be frozen, too, although the texture may suffer a bit. (Texture is a hallmark of a Fritz’s ham; you know you’re eating something that started off as fresh meat.)

The Easter ham is sold fully cooked and needs only to be gently warmed in the oven. Ham of this quality is endlessly versatile. It works well with a traditional cloves-and-pineapple treatment, your favorite barbecue sauce, sweet or savory glazes, fruity-spicy chutneys or just about any variety of mustard you can find. It’s bone-in, so you can (should) use the bone to make a luscious, aromatic soup stock. 

McDonald says he expects to sell 150 to 200 hams for the Easter holiday—not as taxing or frenetic as Thanksgiving, when they typically sell about 4,000 turkeys and 500 hams.

Fritz’s State Line Road shop looks decidedly institutional—so much so that they have strung an “Open to the Public” banner by the door. Despite being in business since 1927, McDonald says they still get a regular stream of first-time customers referred by friends.

“People come in and say it’s their first time. I tell them it’s great that it’s your first time, but what we really want is to make sure it’s not your last.”  

Easter ham.

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