Learn how to choose, store, and cook ham for every occasion.
Does your family sit down to a delicious ham dinner during the holiday season? Whether for Christmas, Easter, or any other holiday your family celebrates, ham has long-been considered a staple part of a special-occasion meal. To ensure yours is perfect this year, read on for our best tips on choosing, storing, and cooking your ham.
Ham Defined: Understanding the Differences Among Ham Varieties
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 supermarkets 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, it keeps in the refrigerator for an additional seven to ten days.
Baked Ham Dos and Don'ts
To make your most delicious baked ham, take note of these essential dos and don'ts. First, the dos: Make sure to line your roasting pan with aluminum foil to prevent a difficult scouring job later on. You'll 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. Make sure to use a sharp knife with a long, thin blade for carving. Last but not least, invite a large number of people over when making a ham; a 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).
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. And don't forget that ham has only 140 calories in a 3-ounce serving—go ahead and enjoy seconds!
How to Cook Glazed Ham
Glazed ham is a delicious option for a special-occasion meal. Our step-by-step guide to making your own glazed him results in an impressive main dish. Rinse ham under cool running water. Pat dry, and place on a rack, rind side up, set in a roasting pan lined with aluminum foil. Pour 1/2 cup bourbon or cider over ham, and bake in a 350 degree-oven for two hours. Prepare the glaze while ham is baking.
When ham is cool enough to handle, cut off the hard rind, using kitchen shears or a sharp knife.
With a sharp knife, slice off most of the fat, leaving a 1/4-inch–thick layer covering the meat; the trimming does not need to be even all over.
Score fat on top of ham in a pattern of 1-to-2-inch diamonds, cutting 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch deep. Insert a whole clove into the intersection of each diamond.
Brush fat with glaze, working it into the scored lines. Using your hands, pat brown-sugar mixture all over ham. Use toothpick halves to secure fresh bay leaves around the bone; hide the end of each toothpick with a whole clove. Return ham to oven.
After 20 minutes, baste ham: Brush sugar coating with some of the remaining glaze mixture; never baste with drippings from the pan. Baste every 20 minutes until the ham is brown and crusty, making sure to baste quickly so the oven temperature doesn't drop.
Transfer ham to a carving board, and let cool for 30 minutes before carving. Cut a few thin slices from the side of the ham that is rounder and protrudes more, to make a flat base. Stand the ham on its cut side—the meatiest part of the ham is not on top. Slice straight down in 1/4-inch intervals until you hit the bone. Run the knife horizontally along the top of the bone to remove the slices. Serve with molasses biscuits.