Chef Linton Hopkins's Five Commandments Of American Ham

Linton Hopkins is a talker — that's for sure. Over the better part of an hour, the James Beard Award-winning chef muses about the emerging culinary scene in his hometown of Atlanta, discusses the continuous evolution of his 12-year-old restaurant Eugene, and dishes on his own latest restaurant openings and ambitious plans for the year ahead. He also stresses the necessity of serving top-quality food just about everywhere — his latest project is Linton's, located at the city's Botanical Garden (bringing his full-service restaurant total in the city to five), and he personally oversees the food dished out every home game at H&F Burger at the Atlanta Braves' Turner Field. And yes, he's already signed on to accompany the team to its impressive new digs next season.

If there's one topic that really gets Hopkins giddy, however, it's the art of curing, slicing, cooking and glazing American ham. The chef views ham as a metaphor for the way all quality food should be treated in the U.S. — with the utmost care, from its sourcing to its preservation to its preparation to its service. We are talking, after all, about the founder of the Fellowship of Country Ham Slicers, a group of enthusiastic chefs and purveyors from all around the American South, dedicated "to celebrat[ing] the craft of slicing country ham by hand and serving it in its unadorned uncooked glory." Downright giddy, we tell you.

Hopkins was more than happy to ramble about the established history, storied traditions and little-known nuances of American ham. And we were more than happy to glean these five informative bits of knowledge along the way.

Linton Hopkins' Five Commandments Of American Ham

  • The American Southern ham is on par with the other great hams of the world, whether it's ibérico or prosciutto. It is, without a doubt, one of our amazing global artisanal products.
  • Nancy Newsom is an American hero, but the industry is fragile: Who is after her or Allan Benton? We're in danger of losing some key figures in the world of artisans — we need to pass on the importance of preservation to the younger generations.
  • There are two ways to Southern ham: Treat it as a raw, artisanal product that you can serve raw because it's air-dried and safe, or cook it down with sugar water, get the salt out and glaze it traditionally.
  • On the raw side, it's about slicing it so thin that it only has one side, using a knife and not a machine to cut it and buying Spanish ham-holders to be able to hold it.
  • Country ham, by law, is 4 percent salinity. (Ibérico, for comparison's sake, is 1.5 percent salinity.)