A ham hock is not the hoof as you may have been told, it's actually the joint at the extreme far end of the shank, above the foot and ankle, where the leg and foot connect.
Many stores sell it pre-smoked. This type of ham hock is good for cooking with greens and other vegetables where you want a smoky taste added to the dish without adding the meat, it is used for flavoring only.
If you want to cook one for a soup or other recipe where you want to add the ham to the dish, you'll want to buy an uncooked one. I bought mine at Walmart, in the meat section where the sell their hams. You will find both ham hocks and small ham chunks mixed together. They are very similar and so I bought both to show you.
The ham chunk I cooked down for Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasta. The ham chunks are just that, a small chunk of uncooked ham, usually with out a bone it. Ham Hocks have a bone. I don't think all stores give you choices between ham chunks and ham hocks. Let's cook a ham hock today so you can feel a little more familiar with it. (both were around $2.00)
Let's get you started:
How to cook a Ham Hock
1) Unwrap the ham hock from it's packaging. Rinse meat and place in boiling water or in my case, I am making soup, so I placed mine in the pan with the pre-soaked navy beans and homemade chicken broth
Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium simmer, and let simmer for 1 1/2 -2 hours till meat is cooked through (and in my case till beans are tender too.)
Here's what it looked like at 1 1/2 hours:
Remove ham hock from pan and place on cutting board. Let cool for a few minutes till you can handle it. You should see a ring of fat to trim away all the way around it. Place it on it's side and slide a knife between the meat and the outside ring of fat and start cutting away (or literally unrolling it as I did, it just came right off!)
And here's what it should look like now: