Curing meats with salt and smoke was originally an
important method of preserving them. Today it's done for the flavor -
most cured products now require refrigeration and don't last long even
Dry cured "country" hams and a few similar items are still cured by
traditional methods and can be stored at room temperature - until cut.
See the list of Terms & Types of Ham for more
Buying and Storing Hams
If you're off to the local market you're going to be buying a "city ham".
They all look a lot the same, so be sure to read the label carefully
to avoid surprises. The next section Terms & Types of
Hams contains the information you need.
If you want a "country ham" you're going to have to order it (catalog,
phone or Internet) unless you live right where they're made. The article
at link H1 has some names and phone numbers.
Imported ham varieties can be found in markets specializing in European
imports (see H10 and subsequent links).
Freezing Cured Hams: Plan not to. Either as purchased or as
leftovers cured meats don't last long in the freezer - 1 to 2 months max,
and even then quality will be negatively impacted. Freezing should be
considered an emergency option only. I have direct testimony from one who did
freeze leftover ham and suffered the consequences (pretty much inedible).
The reason for this is the salt - the ham is never truly frozen and is subject
Terms & Types of Ham
Cuts: Hams may be "whole", "half" or "portion". If the ham
is just cut in half and the halves packaged they are called "shank half"
(pointy half), or "butt half" (rounder half). If the meat packer removes
a slice or two between the two halves and sells them separately as
"center cut ham" or "ham steak" the rest must be labeled "shank portion"
and "butt portion" to indicate part is missing.
The butt end has more meat, more fat, less bone and is easier to carve,
but the shank end is considered tastier and costs less.
Bones: Hams may be "bone-in", "semi-boneless" (just the main
leg bone) or "boneless". Boneless has less fat and is easier to carve, but the
more bone the more flavor - and the texture tends to be better bone-in. Some
boneless hams are actually reformed from chunks and pieces - these hams are
usually intended for slicing for sandwiches.
Water: Cured hams may contain more water than they did before
curing. The USDA uses a Protein Fat Free (PFF) minimum percentage to regulate
labeling: 20.5% = "Ham" (dry cure hams only); 18.5% = "Ham With Natural Juices"
(premium wet cure hams); 17.0% = "Ham, Water Added" (most wet cure hams,
slices well); less than 17.0% = "Ham and Water Product" (deli ham for thin
slicing and shaving). The price per pound should be less for hams with
Cooking Temperatures: Uncooked and Partially Cooked hams
must be taken to a temperature of 160°F/70°C at the center of the
thickest part (make sure your thermometer does not touch bone or fat or your
reading may be wrong). Fully cooked hams need to go to 140°F/60°C to
To preserve flavor and juiciness you want to keep the temperature as low
as possible, so pull from the oven when the thickest part is 5°F/3°C
below the target temperature and let it rest tented with foil (you have to
let it rest anyway). It will reach the target temperature as heat migrates
in from the outer layers.
A Temperature / Time Chart is provided in the
Baking Hams section. The normal oven temperature is
325°F/160°C for all except spirally sliced hams which are cooked at
275°F/135°C. Any ham can be cooked at a temperature below 325°F
(down to 250°F/121°C) and that will provide better taste and juiciness,
but will take a lot longer to cook.
Types of Ham
- Fresh Hams are simply cut from the pig, cleaned and
hair removed but not cured or otherwise processed. They
can be cooked the same way as any other pork cut and flavor will be
similar to a pork roast.
- Wet Cure (City) Hams: These are the kind you're
likely to find in your local supermarket. Do not attempt to use a country
ham recipe with a city ham. These hams may be "uncooked" (not common),
"partially cooked" (common with smoked hams), "fully cooked" / "ready to eat",
or "fully cooked and spiral sliced". They may be smoked or unsmoked. You
don't have to soak and boil city hams as you would a country ham.
Wet Cure is done by injecting a curing solution into the meat
or by massaging it in by tumbling. The cure will minimally include water,
salt and sodium nitrite (to preserve color) but may also include nitrates,
sugar, honey, smoke flavor and other substances - read the label.
Wet Cure hams are extremely variable in cure and quality by manufacturer.
Just because you succeeded or failed with one type from one manufacturer
doesn't mean your results will be the same with another. Once you find a
brand and model that works for you it's best to stick with it for
- Country Hams: These are dry cured hams similar
to the Italian prosciutto and German Westphalian hams (but unlike
prosciutto are not intended to be eaten raw) and will probably have a light
coating of mold. Do not attempt to use a wet cure (city) recipe with a
country ham. These hams are salty and hard as a rock because they've lost
18% to 20% of their original weight during curing. They are commonly uncooked
but may be cooked. Either may be smoked or unsmoked (a cool smoking is used).
Smithfield Hams from Smithfield Virginia are the most famous.
You're unlikely to find a country ham in your local market unless you
live right where they're made - they're usually special order by catalog,
phone or Internet. The exception is that many Asian markets, at least here
in Los Angeles, sell slices of country cured picnic (foreleg) hams because
these are similar to Chinese hams which are still illegal to import. You
could probably get the meat man to sell you a whole one if you wish, but
the slices are very convenient for use in recipes.
Country hams are not normally served whole as a big main course set piece
as City hams are because they're salty and the flavor is intense. They're
used as a feature ingredient in many recipes, used in sandwiches and served
cut very thin to be placed on crackers or such.
Dry cured hams do not need to be refrigerated until they are cut. Once
cut they are vulnerable and must be kept below 40°F. They will still be
vulnerable to mold (which can be scraped off if not too severe).
- Canned Hams: These are boneless, wet cured,
fully cooked and are often reformed from chunks and pieces. They are not
particularly flavorful and the texture is not as good as other hams but
they are a convenience item and very easy to slice.
There are two types of canned hams:
- Shelf Stable: generally 3 pounds or less. These are fully
sterilized hams that can be stored at room temperature up to 2 years.
- Refrigerated: must be stored in the refrigerator and will
keep there for 6 to 9 months depending on your refrigerator temperature.
A popular size is 5 pounds. These should not be removed from the can and
frozen because cured products degrade fairly quickly when frozen so the
useful storage life won't be extended.
Canned hams should be baked in the oven until the center is at least
140°F/60°C (generally at 325°F/160°C for about 20 minutes
per pound).They can then be glazed as with a normal ham if desired (see
- Other Hams, Terms, Related Products
- Ardennes Ham (Belgium) - an uncooked dry cured, air dried ham
that is eaten raw. Similar to Italian prosciutto.
- Back Bacon - what the Canadians and English call what we call
- Bacon - [American bacon, side bacon, streaky bacon (GB)]
- The belly of the pig cured similar to ham and smoked. It has a high
fat content (required for crisp frying). Unsmoked it would be called
"salt pork". Generally it is sold sliced in 1 pound packages. See also
- Bayonne Ham (France) - an uncooked air dried ham flavored by
wine in the cure. Eaten raw but generally sliced thicker than proscuitto
- Black Forest Ham (German) - an uncooked dry cured, air dried ham
smoked over pine and/or fir. It has an intense flavor and is used mainly
as an ingredient in other dishes or for sandwiches and appetizers.
- Black Forest Ham (brine cured) - a wet cure imitation of Black
- Bradenham Ham - an English dry cured smoked ham finished with
molasses, brown sugar and spices. Deep red color.
- Canadian Bacon is more ham-like than bacon-like and is made from
meat from the loin portion of the pig. Sold unsliced, sliced or
molded into cylinders.
- Capocolla (Italian) - made from pork shoulder butt end, dry cured,
spiced and packed into natural sausage casing.
Ham Capocolla is the same thing except made from the rear (ham)
- Coppa (Italian) - made from pork shoulder and neck, dry cured
for an extended period and stuffed into a skin for a cylindrical shape.
More fat is included than for prosciutto.
- Cottage Ham - same as a picnic ham but just the butt end of
the front leg.
- Culitello (Italian) - made from meat high in the butt end of
the ham. Very lean and aged with spices and dry wine. Deep red color and
- Deviled Ham - a spread made of ham and pork shoulder, cured,
cooked and mixed with other ingredients such as mayonnaise, mustard,
cheese, vegetables, etc.
- Gammon: (primarily UK usage) - the whole side of the pig is
cured at once (usually a bacon cure) and the leg cut off after. Often
sold as gammon steaks or slices. Generally boiled and sometimes
glazed by a final baking.
- Ham Hocks - the portion of the leg cut off the shank end of the
ham. They may be fresh or cured and smoked (most common) and are not
generally baked as hams are but cooked as an ingredient in soups, stews
or similar recipes.
- Honey Cured Ham - a wet cured (city) ham cured in a sweetened
brine where at least 1/2 of the sweetener is honey.
- Hostess Ham - a boneless fully cooked canned ham that is
cylindrical rather than flat oval making it easy to slice uniformly.
often reformed from chunks and pieces. Four pounds is a
common weight. Cook as for any canned ham.
- Irish Ham - a brine cured ham that is then smoked over peat
and/or juniper. It is prepared same as a country ham.
- Jamon Serrano (Spain) - a dry cured, aged ham that is not smoked.
Generally served raw and sliced thin. It is now legally imported into
the United States, but is very expensive (US $48 to $160 / pound depending
on region). "Serrano Style" hams are now made in North America but they
aren't quite the same.
- Kentucky Ham - a dry cured (country) ham that's a little drier
than Virginia hams. Smoked over corn cobs, hickory and apple wood.
- Pancetta (Italian) - bacon that is cured but not smoked.
- Parma (Italian) - prosciutto made in the city of Parma, reputed
to be the best.
- Picnic Ham is the part of the front leg of the pig equivalent
to the ham. It is always cured (if fresh it'd be called "pork shoulder")
and generally smoked. Not as tender as ham but a good ingredient in
many recipes. This is now sold in 1/2 inch slice3 in the Asian markets
here in Los Angeles for use in Chinese recipes.
- Prosciutto (Italian) - a dry cured, uncooked ham that is not
smoked (I have been told that some smoked is made in the Alpine corner
of northern Italy).
Part of the cure period is spent under weights so it tends to
have a flattened shape. In Italy there is a cooked (cotto) form but
elsewhere the raw (crudo) form is expected. Sliced thin and eaten raw.
- Salt Pork - bacon that is cured but not smoked. Sold unsliced
generally in 12 oz blocks. Hormel brand is common, most easily found
in markets serving an Eastern European community.
- Serrano-Style Ham: - a North American ham in the style of
Spanish Jamon Serrano. It has less age and is not quite the same thing,
but US $6.20 / pound is a lot less than $48 to $160 / pound.
- Smithfield Ham - a country ham made in Smithfield Virginia.
- SPAM - a Hormel trademark for "Spiced Ham" (and is properly upper
case - "spam" is annoying unsolicited commercial email). Hormel invented
SPAM in 1937 to provide a canned ham product that did not need
refrigeration. Generally sold in 7 oz cans. Very popular in Japan and
Korea, and still fondly remembered in England.
- Sugar Cured Ham - a wet or dry cured ham using a sweetened
cure where the sweetener is at least 1/2 sugar.
- Sweet Cured Ham [Sweet-Pickled Ham] - a wet cured (city) ham
cured in a sweetened brine. Varies with manufacturer.
- Virginia Ham - a country ham made in Virginia but probably not
in Smithfield. Smoked over hickory and apple wood.
- Westphalian Ham (Germany) - a dry cured ham long smoked over
beechwood and juniper wood. Generally sliced thin and eaten raw.
- York Ham (England) - a dry cured ham lightly smoked but can
be salty. Can be eaten raw but is generally boiled as with a country
There are about as many step sequences for how you bake a ham as there
are recipes for baking a ham. The steps given here are pretty safe for good
results but shouldn't be considered the only way.
This table of times and temperatures will meet USDA
(U.S. Department of Agriculture) safety standards, but in practice you want
to pull the ham when the center of the thickest part is 5°F/3°C below
the target temperature as heat will continue to migrate to the center. IF
you'll be doing a final glaze, you want to pull 10°F/6°C below the
target temperature as it'll be going back into the oven.
|Approximate Total Roasting Times
Confirm with Meat Thermometer
|Type of Ham||Oven Temp.||Minutes
|Fully Cooked Whole||325°F/160°C
||15 to 18||140°F/60°C|
|Fully Cooked Half||325°F/160°C
||18 to 24||140°F/60°C|
|Partially Cooked Whole|
||18 to 22||160°F/70°C|
|Partially Cooked Half|
||22 to 25||160°F/70°C|
||10 to 14||140°F/60°C|
||15 to 20||140°F/60°C|
||25 to 30||140°F/60°C|
||30 to 35||160°F/70°C|
||25 to 30||170°F/77°C|
|Note: times are higher for half hams
because they're thicker|
for their weight.
- Fat stripped from the ham can be used in place of bacon fat
(and will probably be more flavorful). Be mindful whether you stripped it
before or after baking (if before it will have to be cooked, but that's
probably going to happen anyway in your recipe).
- Bones - cover your bones and trimmings with cold water and
bring to a simmer for a few hours for soup stock. Goes well mixed with pork
stock if you have any of that in the freezer.
- Skin - is edible as a tasty snack. If stripped before baking fry
it lightly with some ham fat. If stripped after baking you'll probably have
to steam it a bit to soften unless you like chewing tough things.
- Drippings - don't even use them for basting the ham - too
much salt - you want to leach salt out, not add it. Not only will
pan liquids be loaded with salt they'll probably be sickeningly sweet from
the basting and glazing.
To make a pretty ham like in the magazine pictures you have to cut away
the rind (skin) and shave the fat down to about 1/4 to 1/8 inch and diamond
cut it before baking (don't cut into the meat). The fat will be unmanageable
later. The most traditional presentation is to diamond cut the fat, stud
with cloves and coat with a glaze (see Glazing).
If you don't care from pretty but only about flavor you can strip the
rind and excess fat when the ham is nearly done. Then you can glaze or not
as you please.
- Find a shallow roasting pan and a rack for it that will keep the ham
at least 3/4 inch off the pan.
- Bring your ham out of the refrigerator and place it on the rack in
the roasting pan. IF you have a whole ham, set it fat side down.
IF you have a half ham, set it cut side down. Now let it sit for
about 2 hours to lose the chill.
- Preheat your oven to 325°F/160°C.
- Pour about 4 cups of water into the roasting pan and slide it into the
- Every 20 minutes or so baste the ham with a fruit juice compatible with
your glaze (if using a final paste glaze) or baste it with the glaze if using a
thin glaze. If you aren't going to glaze, apple cider or apple juice works
well. Baste with fresh juice each time, the pan juices are too salty to use.
Make sure the liquid in the pan never dries out (the basting may renew it
sufficiently or add water).
- Bake per the chart above and test the temperature at the center when
it is nearly done. For a fully cooked ham pull at 135°F/57°C and
for a uncooked or partially cooked ham pull at 155°F/68°C.
IF you're using a final glaze pull about 5°F/3°C sooner
even than that.
- IF you've used a thin glaze or are not glazing at all, you're
done - skip on to the final resting step.
- IF final glazing, turn your oven up to 400°F/200°C.
- IF you haven't stripped the skin at the start, cut it away now
and strip excess fat. Leave about 1/8 inch
of fat on and diamond score it best as you can (without cutting into the
- You can stick a whole clove into the center of
each diamond, or half the diamonds, or into the intersections of the cuts
or not at all as you please (some who want clove prefer grinding some up
and mixing into the glaze). Coat the surface thoroughly with you
glaze. Some recipes call for pinning slices of orange, pineapple or what have
you to the ham with toothpicks at this point.
- Slide the ham back into the oven and bake for
another 20 to 30 minutes at the 400°F/200°C glazing temperature until
the glaze is shiny and crisp.
- Remove ham from oven and set out on the counter, tent with foil and let
stand at least 20 minutes before attempting to slice. Center temperature will
continue to rise at least another 5°F and juices will migrate to a more
even distribution (and you won't scald yourself as you might trying to slice a
ham right out of the oven).
Start 1 to 2 days ahead. This recipe presumes an apple glazed
ham (see Glazing), but other glazes and cooking liquids
can be used as well, and of course the glaze can be omitted. You'll need
a covered roasting pan for the main baking, and if you glaze you'll
also need a shallow pan with rack.
- Scrub the mold off your ham and submerge it in cold water. Change
the water after 4 hours, then one or more additional times as you soak
for 1 to 2 days, depending on how much salt you need to leach out.
- Preheat oven to 325°F/160°C.
- Mix about 1/2 gallon of apple cider with 1 gallon of water.
- Place the ham in a deep coverable roasting pan fat side up (you'll
turn it over 1/2 way through) and pour in enough of the water / cider mix
to come up about 2-1/2 inches on the ham. Reserve the rest for replenishment.
- Optional: add to the liquid 10 slices of Ginger and 1 teaspoon of
- Cover and place in oven.
- Check liquid level every 1/2 hour or so and replenish as needed.
- At 1/2 the estimated baking time (figure full baking time at about 20
minutes per pound), pull out of the oven, turn over, and return to the oven,
- When the ham is done (155°F/68°F if uncooked, 135°F/57°C
if fully cooked), pull it out of the oven.
- Turn the oven up to 400°F/200°C.
- Remove the skin and most of the fat. Place on a rack in a shallow
roasting pan. Coat thoroughly with your glaze.
- Place back into oven and bake at 400°F/200°C for 20 to 30
minutes until the glaze is shiny and crisp.
- Remove from oven and set out on the counter and let stand at least 20
minutes before slicing. Actually, country ham is generally served cool
or cold, and the longer it stands the easier it will be to slice.
Spiral Sliced Ham
These hams are fully cooked and bone-in (or there would be nothing to
cut the spiral around). They are also likely to be pre-glazed.
- Preheat the oven to 275°F/135°C.
- Lay out a wide sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil, shiny side up and
long enough to make sure the ham is completely wrapped.
- Set the ham cut side down on the aluminum foil.
- Fold up the foil to make a basket and pour in 1/2 cup of water.
- Finish wrapping the foil up over the ham and pat it down tight.
- Bake for 10 to 14 minutes per pound (or per package instructions) until
the center temperature reaches 140°F/60°C.
- Let cool until safe to handle and serve.
You can glaze a canned ham just like a regular ham
(see Glazing) when it's nearly done.
- Preheat oven to 325°F/160°C.
- Remove the ham from the can and place on a rack in a shallow roasting
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes per pound until the center reaches
- Let rest for about 20 minutes before slicing.
Canned Ham in the Can
This may be in a ham shaped can or may be a "Hostess Ham" in a
- Using a "church key" (an old fashioned beer can piercer) pierce the
top of the can at intervals of 2 inches.
- Bake at 325°F/160°C for 1/2 hour, then drain the can through
- Back fill the can through the holes with your chosen potion (generally
Coca-Cola, BBQ sauce, sweet & sour sauce, or fruit juice). Bake at
325°F/160°C for 20 minutes per pound.
- Open the can with a can opener and remove the ham. If a cylindrical
ham doesn't want to come out, open both ends and push it out.
- Let rest for 15 minutes, slice and serve
Glazing adds extra flavor and a crisp texture to the outer edge of ham
slices. You can use a thin glaze and apply it all through the baking
period or use a thick final glaze and baste with fruit juice during baking.
Most glazing recipes call for brown sugar. I use Jaggery because
I like the flavor and it's what I usually have on hand.
If you'll be using a thin glaze and basting with it through the entire
baking process you must remove the skin, shave the fat to about 1/8" to 1/4"
thick and score the fat into a diamond pattern before you start baking. You
can also do this for the final glaze method if you want a pretty ham. It can
be messy stripping skin and fat when the ham is almost done.
If you want to do a final glaze but your glaze seems too thin to adhere
properly, you can mix in some bread crumbs. This is particularly done with
Along with the glaze step, many recipes call for studding the ham with
cloves or pinning (with toothpicks) fruit slices or ginger slices to the
outside of the ham. Others consider clove sticking too fussy but want the
clove flavor so they just grind some up and mix into the glaze.
|1 cup Applesauce
3/4 cup Brown Sugar
3 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
1 Tbsp Horseradish
|Baste your ham with Apple Cider or Apple Juice
If desired, stud ham with cloves
|1 cup Brown Sugar (packed)
1/2 cup Honey
2 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
|Baste your ham with Apple Cider or Apple Juice
With 30 minutes to go
Stud with cloves if desired
Brush on glaze & return to oven
Continue basting with glaze until done.
|Orange Glaze with Chipotle|
|3 cups Orange Juice
3/4 cup Brown Sugar (packed)
1 Chipotle Chile in Adobo
3/4 cup Triple Sec
|Heat orange juice in saucepan and reduce to 2 cups
Stir in Brown Sugar until completely dissolved and a light syrup
Take off heat
Chop Chipotle fine and stir into glaze.
Stir in Triple Sec.
Use this glaze for basting every 20 minutes or so through baking.
Cured hams aren't as bacteria prone as raw meats, turkeys and the like,
but proper precautions are still necessary.
- Do not use the same surfaces or utensils used for uncooked ham for cooked
ham or any other food until they have been thoroughly cleaned. I clean with
a disinfecting cleanser which releases some bacteria destroying bleach as you
work with it.
- Make sure hams that must be refrigerated stay below 40°F/4.4°C
at all times.
- Dry cure (country) hams do not need to be refrigerated until they are
cut. Once cut they are vulnerable to mold and must be refrigerated and
consumed within a few days.
- You want to keep your cooking time as short as possible and your
temperatures as low as possible to preserve flavor and juiciness, but "as
low as possible" for uncooked or partially cooked hams is 160°F and
140°F for fully cooked hams. Below those temperatures is considered
- Store uncooked hams tightly wrapped and completely sealed so they can't
drip any juices onto other food.
- Refrigerate leftover ham as soon as possible, and if it is a lot, divide
it so it chills quickly.
- Ham shouldn't be frozen because that affects the texture and flavor. If
you must freeze, keep in mind that the quality of cured meats degrades rapidly
when frozen so the keep time is not as long as you might hope, just 1 to 2
months. It'll still be safe for a while longer but quality will deteriorate
quickly. In comparison, a fresh uncured ham will keep well frozen for 6
months or more.
- When you have purchased a ham, check if it has a "Use By" date, and use
it by that date. If it has only a "Sell By" date, use it within 3 days after
that date. If it's undated, use within 3 to 5 days (a whole ham can go
7 days or so but a half ham is 3 to 5 because it's been cut).