Ham for the Holiday: Our Guide to Choosing and Baking This Easter Mainstay
Does your family sit down to a delicious ham dinner for Easter, or do you serve ham at Christmas? Is this protein the go-to entrée for another holiday your family celebrates? A big ham has long-been considered a staple part of a special-occasion meal; to ensure yours is the perfect centerpiece on the holiday table, read on for our tips on choosing, storing, and cooking a ham.
Different Types of Ham
There are three types of ham readily available to consumers: Fresh ham, fully-cooked ham, and country ham. Fresh ham is essentially a large joint of fresh pork, neither cured nor smoked. (Our fresh ham with green herb paste makes a magnificent presentation.) Fully-cooked ham is cured—either with a dry salt rub or in a wet brine—and most often, smoked. While this type of ham is delicious as is, it benefits enormously from a few more hours in the oven with a sweetened glaze and sugar rub. For the best flavor, avoid hams whose labels read "ham, water added" or "ham and water product."
Country ham is also called a Virginia, Tennessee, or Kentucky ham; the best-known version is the Smithfield ham from Virginia. It is dry-cured, smoked, and aged during a period that can range from a few months to more than a year. Because it is so heavily salted, it requires a long soaking and simmering process before baking. Even so, the meat retains much of its powerfully salty flavor, and is something of an acquired taste. Unless you live in the South, this type of ham is not available in grocery stores and must be mail-ordered.
Fully-cooked ham can be kept in the refrigerator for up to one week in its original packaging. Freezing ham is not recommended; the quality and flavor deteriorate quickly. After it has been baked, ham will keep in the refrigerator for an additional seven to ten days (and there are lots of tasty ideas for how to use leftover ham.
Baked Ham Dos and Don'ts
To make the most delicious baked ham, take note of these essential dos and don'ts. First, the dos: You'll want to invite a large number of people over when making this protein, as 16-pound ham can feed 18 to 20 people (estimate about 3/4 pound per person for a bone-in ham and 1/2 pound for boneless). Another important tip? Make sure to line your roasting pan with aluminum foil to prevent a difficult cleaning job later on.
You'll also want to leave the rind on the ham during the first two hours of cooking; this allows the layer of fat underneath to slowly baste and flavor the meat during cooking. Last but not least, use a sharp knife with a long, thin blade for carving.
The don'ts are equally as important: Whatever you do, don't coat the ham with sugar until the last hour of cooking, or it will burn. You also don't want to baste the ham with the drippings from the pan; use extra glaze instead. At the end of the meal, don't throw out the ham bone. Use it instead of a ham hock to flavor split-pea soup or bean dishes. Also, don't forget that ham has only 140 calories in a three-ounce serving—go ahead and enjoy seconds!