Recipe Spotlight

I Made My First Coca-Cola Ham

America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe for Coca-Cola Ham was too tempting to resist. Here’s how it turned out.

Published Jan. 4, 2022.

In the interest of transparency, it was the moment I poured the fifth liter of Coca-Cola into my mop bucket that I began questioning my decision to make this recipe.

Discovering unexpected flavor combinations and inventive recipes are what I love most about experimenting in the kitchen, and when I saw ATK’s recipe for Coca-Cola Ham, I had to try it.

This recipe is obviously no new discovery. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Coca-Cola is the preferred fizzy beverage of the South, and became a complement to savory proteins in the 1950s when brines and marinades—as well as a host of sweet treats—began to incorporate the soda into their recipes. Now, the addition of a few liters of cola, root beer, or Dr. Pepper is a beloved part of many roast meat recipes.

Coca-Cola Ham

For a flavorful, succulent fresh ham recipe worthy of a holiday table, brine your ham in Coca-Cola.  
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I’ll admit, though, as someone who drools over the thought of a salty, succulent, savory ham, laboring over a roast meat brined in such large quantities of soda made my palms sweat a little. But I'm glad I didn't let that weaken my resolve. Despite a dalliance with half a dozen litres of Coca-Cola, the result was a luscious tightrope walker of a ham—balancing gracefully between sweet and herby, creamy and crispy—never falling short of completely delicious.

My hopes in making this meal was simply to prove the hypothesis: Coke + Ham = Success. My more optimistic goals were to achieve a palatable balance of sweet and savory, and retain enough moisture to make it a deliciously juicy roast.

But there were certainly a few moments along the way that I doubted just how succesful this experiment was going to be. Adding the final clove of garlic into the mop bucket (the only vessel large enough in my small apartment to contain the meat and its brine), the carbonated bubbles of cola hugged the edges of the bay leaves and peppercorns, popping and winking in the muddy solution; an attempt at flirtation that held about as much sway as the plugged-up storm drain it resembled. I was not so easily seduced.

Coca-Cola Ham
Brining ham: another use for my mop bucket.

Nevertheless, after subjecting my fridge to a 24-hour-long rendezvous with the brining ham, I pressed on. Once I had blitzed the garlic and herb rub—a zingy, much-welcome aroma—and applied it to the meat, I set it into the roasting tray to crisp up in a blistering 500-degree oven.

This was where my dwindling resolve reignited. The smells of the rendering fat mingled with the blackening herb rub and syrupy glaze to create that telltale aroma of a delicious dinner centerpiece coming to life.

But, naturally, this undertaking was all about the taste and texture, and this ham was a resounding success on all counts.

Coca-Cola Ham
Behold: the finished ham.

As my partner Daniel and I sat around our dinner table, an American Gothic-inspired scene with carving fork in hand, we were almost unsure of how to approach the unwieldy beast in front of us. But finally doling out healthy slabs of unctuous pork, we found ourselves unable to resist diving in, the creamy-sweet scented steam wafting temptingly from the pink meat.

Here is what surprised me most: nothing about the ham tasted specifically of cola, but rather there was a pronounced sweetness that had penetrated the meat, happily offset by the garlic, salt, and peppercorn that balanced the overall flavor. I looked across to Daniel, whose expression I noticed mirrored my own: eyes wide with the kind of unexpected satisfaction only really, really good food can give.

(So how do actually make Coca-Cola Ham? Watch the video below for step-by-step instructions.)

The crackling—a non-negotiable for many ham lovers—was undeniably crunchy, emitting an ASMR-worthy crackle as the skin snapped between my teeth. The meat itself was so tender and moist that its juices ran slick across my knife in a steamy dribble. Taking a second bite, I found myself frantically plucking at a napkin to dab delicately at the corners of my mouth; an attempt to remain graceful in a situation that called for anything but.

Could this recipe earn a coveted spot among my fastidiously-vetted Christmas spread? Honestly, yes . . . as long as I could convince family and friends that it’s worth breaking out the mop bucket a few days early.

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