Ham Hocks Add Incredible Flavor to Some of Our Family-Favorite Recipes

While different from the ham bone, you can use the hocks in much the same way.

Want to know the secret to a savory pot of collard greens or a slow-cooked potato soup? No, it isn't a dash of hot pepper sauce or a sprinkling of crispy bacon, but the addition of collagen and fat-laden ham hock, that unassuming piece of the pig so essential to many dishes in the South. I know, it doesn't sound or even look pretty, and you have to cook it a long, long while for the goodness and flavor of a ham hock to emerge. But it does, and it is well worth your time and efforts. First, let's talk about what a ham hock is (and isn't), and then we can talk about what you can do with a ham hock.

What is a Ham Hock?

A ham hock, sometimes called pork knuckle, is the joint between the tibia and fibula and the metatarsals of a pig's foot, where the foot was attached to the hog's leg. In other words, the joint connects the pig's leg to the foot. The hock is not part of the ham nor part of the foot or trotter, but rather the extreme shank end of the leg bone.

Ham Hock
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What is the Difference Between Ham Bone and Hock?

While a ham bone and a ham hock are two different pig parts, you can often use them interchangeably. Hocks are typically cured with salt and smoked and will impart a bacony flavor when adding it to whatever you cook. Budget-friendly ham hocks, usually packaged and sold in pairs, are found in the butcher section of your grocery store.

How Can I Use a Ham Hock?

Now that you know what a ham hock is, let's talk about how you can use it. Ham hocks, consisting mainly of skin, tendons, and ligaments, are primarily used to flavor dishes, although many people enjoy braising or slow-roasting hocks and eating them as a main course. The meaty parts require a lot of cooking to become palatable and are often slow-cooked with soups and vegetables, where the collagen and fat can dissolve and impart a savory and smoky taste exclusive to the cut of meat. Ham is full of protein and iron, but can also be very high in sodium, so be careful when adding salt to your dish.

How To Slow-Cook Ham Hock?

The slow-cooker, everyone's favorite convenient kitchen appliance, is perfect for pulling out the best ham hocks flavor. Recipes such as slow-cooked collard greens or creamy potato-and-ham soup use ham hock as a flavorful addition to hearty dishes. You will understand why the ham hock is the Southern cook's best-kept secret. Just don't forget the skillet of Southern cornbread.

If you can't find ham hocks, you can usually successfully substitute a ham bone, smoked bacon, or smoked sausage. And if you are going pork-free, try smoked turkey sausage or bacon.

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