Originally all hams were Dry Cured, This process
produces a leg that is hard, salty, dry and expensive, but can be stored
at a cool room temperature. It needs one or two days of soaking before you
can cook it.
The Wet Cure was developed as a great convenience to both the manufacturer
and the customer, but they must be kept properly refrigerated at all times.
The curing solution of salt and sodium nitrite is either injected into the
meat or massaged in by tumbling the hams in a vat of brine. The brine may
include various flavoring ingredients including smoke flavor. After curing
they may be smoked for a time. Quality varies with manufacturer.
Wet curing pieces as large as hams is rarely done at home. Without the
injection or tumbling machinery it takes a very long time, a lot of care,
and may still be dangerous.
Buying Wet Cure Hams
Wet cure hams all look pretty much the same in the market, but there are
different kinds, so read the label carefully to avoid surprises.
Also, pay attention to the
"Sell By" or "Use By" dates - these hams have a fairly short shelf life.
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
- Whole: The whole back leg, minus the hock (thin end) and
feet. These are usually uncooked.
- Half: This may be "Shank Half" (the pointy end) or
"Butt Half" (the round end). The butt end has more meat, but the shank
end is considered to have better flavor and costs less.
- Portion: If the meat packer removes a slice or two
between the shank and butt ends and sells it separately the ends must be
labeled "Butt Portion" and "Shank Portion" to indicate there is some part
- Ham Steak: Also called "Center Cut Ham" is slices removed
between the butt end and the shank end.
- Bone-in: Most whole hams will be bone-in. This makes
slicing a bit more difficult, but, the more bone the better the flavor and
texture will be. After the ham is eaten, the bonea can be used to enrich
- Semi-boneless: These have just the main leg bone still in.
- Boneless: This form has less fat and is easier to carve,
but the flavor and texture may be inferior to bone-in. Canned hams are
always boneless and some boneless hams are actually reformed from chunks
and pieces - usually intended for slicing for sandwiches and deli use.
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. The price per pound should be less for
hams with more water.
- 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 and ham slices)
- less than 17.0% = "Ham and Water Product" (deli ham for thin
slicing and shaving) These are often reformed from chunks and pieces.
Cooked or not:
- Uncooked: Relatively rare. These hams have never been
brought up to a temperature greater than 137°F/58.3°C at any
time during processing.
- Partially cooked: Most of the hams in this market are
in this state and labeled "cook before eating". These have been brought
up to about 140°F/60°C. but not higher than 148°F.
138°F is sufficient to kill the trichina parasite. Final cooking
must reach a minimum internal temperature of 160°F/71°C just
as for an uncooked ham.
- Fully cooked: also called "Ready to Eat", Spiral cut
hams, ham slices and portion hams often fall into this category. They
are safe to eat cold as purchased if within the "use by" date and have
been properly handled. If they are reheated, they must be brought to an
internal temperature of &140°F/60°C.
Additional Type Definitions
Storing Wet Cure Hams
- Black Forest Ham - Brine Cured: A wet cure
imitation of Black Forest Ham. Real Black Forest Hams are dry cured and
cannot be cooked by instructions on this page
- 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 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
- 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.
- Honey Cured Ham: A wet cured ham cured in a
sweetened brine where at least 1/2 of the sweetener is honey.
- Honeybaked Ham: This is a trademark of the
Honeybaked Ham Company, but we list it because it's so well known. This is
a fully cooked, bone-in, spirally sliced ham with a crisp honey glaze on
- 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.
- Jambon de Paris: A wet cured, boneless fully cooked
ham, often used sliced in sandwiches and the like. It is cured and
cooked wrapped in the skin to keep it moist.
- Picnic Ham: This is a wet cure ham made from
the front leg of the pig and is much smaller than a regular ham. Uncured
it would be called a "picnic shoulder".
- 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 ham cured in a sweetened brine. Varies with manufacturer.
- Spirally Sliced Ham: This is a fully cooked
bone-in ham that, after cooking, has been sliced in a spiral around the leg
bone. It is cooked at a lower temperature than most hams - see instructions
Freezing: 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 suffer. 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
always obey "Use By" dates - or use
within 3 days of "Sell By"
|Type of Ham||Refrigerated||Frozen|
|Fresh Pork / Fresh Ham
|3 to 5 days|
3 to 4 days
3 to 4 mos.
|Ham "Leftovers"||3 to 5 days||1 to 2 mo|
|"City" Ham - fully cooked
- factory sealed vacuum pack
- store wrapped whole
- store wrapped half
3 to 5 days
3 to 5 days
1 to 2 mo
1 to 2 mo
1 to 2 mo
1 to 2 mo
|"City" Ham - uncooked
- partially cooked
|5 to 7 days
5 to 7 days
|3 to 4 mo|
1 to 2 mo
|"Country" Ham (whole)
|(room temp 1 year)
2 to 3 mos
|Canned Ham - refrigerated
- refrigerate (opened)
|6 to 9 mo
(room temp 2 yrs)
1 to 2 mo
Times & 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).
Reheated fully cooked hams need to go to 140°F/60°C to be safe.
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.
To get hams just right, a good meat thermometer is extremely helpful.
The kind with a probe that stays in the meat with a cable going out to a
temperature display is the best kind - you don't have to open the oven
door to measure the temperature.
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.
Baking Hams - Step by Step
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.
A Regular Uncooked or Partially or Fully
(not spirally sliced)
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 flavor prefer grinding some
up and mixing into the glaze). Coat the surface thoroughly with your
glaze. Some recipes call for pinning slices of orange, pineapple or whatever
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).
A 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.
A Canned Ham
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 15 minutes before slicing.
A 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
- 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 on hand.
- 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.
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).