How to Cook a Perfect Ham
Preparing a whole ham sounds intimidating, but this classic holiday main is as easy as it is impressive. Learn everything you need to know to cook a whole ham for special occasions like Christmas and Easter.
How to Pick the Right Ham
Ham is a cut of meat taken from the back legs or sometimes the shoulders of a pig. It can be wet-cured, dry-cured, smoked, aged, or raw. The best cooking technique will depend on which type of ham you buy.
Most store-bought hams are city hams. They've been soaked in brine (wet-cured) and then either smoked or boiled before being sold fully cooked. Spiral-sliced hams are fully cooked city hams and can be served cold out of the package, but most people prefer to glaze and heat before they eat. Fully cooked hams can be heated to to an internal temperature of 140 degrees F.
Recipes for fully cooked ham:
- Always Juicy Baked Ham is baked with a simple glaze of beer, brown sugar, and Dijon mustard.
- Honey Glazed Ham is your homemade answer to that famous honey-baked ham. Glaze a spiral-cut ham with this sweet honey-butter sauce and stand back while your guests rush the table.
- Bourbon-Glazed Ham deepens the flavor of a brown sugar/honey/pineapple glaze with a generous measure of bourbon whiskey.
- Not So Sweet Baked Ham lets the flavor of the ham come through without a sugary glaze.
Country-cured hams are dry-cured by packing them in salt, and are often smoked over fragrant hardwoods and aged. They're made from pigs that have been fed fruits and nuts to produce more flavorful meat. Some are aged seven years. Country-cured hams have a more intense flavor, but they're drier than wet-cured, brined hams.
This recipe for Easy Slow Cooker Ham bathes a bone-in country ham in apple cider, maple syrup, and spices, and cooks it low and slow for a favorite holiday meal.
Fresh or Raw Ham
Fresh hams are sold uncured and uncooked, and must be fully cooked before eating.
Canned ham can be a whole piece of ham, but is often several pieces of ham pressed together to make a ham "loaf." It's fully cooked and sold in a sealed can. Follow package directions to glaze and heat, or try this simple recipe for Sweet Ham glazed with orange juice, brown sugar, and pineapple.
Boneless vs. Bone-In Ham
Hams with the bone left in tend to be more flavorful than boneless hams. Bone-in hams are also more decorative, and make for a more ceremonious presentation on special occasions. Also, you get the ham hock for soups and stews!
Many bone-in hams are spiral-cut, which means they've been sliced in a continuous spiral all the way around the bone, producing thin slices that easily pull away.
How Much Ham Should I Buy?
Estimate about 3/4 pound of bone-in ham per person and 1/4 pound of boneless ham per person. (A bone-in ham will have less meat per pound than a boneless one.)
How Long to Cook a Ham
Most hams sold at the grocery store are fully cooked city hams that simply require reheating. These cooking times are for fully cooked hams, and each is based on an oven temperature of 325 degrees F and a minimum internal temperature of 140 degrees F, according to FoodSafety.gov. For more ham cooking times, check out our full guide.
Smoked Ham, Pre-Cooked
Whole, bone in
10 to 14 lbs
15 to 18 min/lb.
Half, bone in
5 to 7 lbs
18 to 24 min/lb.
Arm picnic shoulder, boneless
5 to 8 lbs
25 to 30 min/lb.
Vacuum packed, boneless
6 to 12 lbs
10 to 15 min/lb.
Spiral-cut, whole or half
7 to 9 lbs
10 to 18 min/lb.
How to Bake a Ham
Chef John teaches you exactly how to get a baked holiday ham with a crispy, crackling crust with his five-star Honey-Glazed Ham recipe. This method will work with any style ham.
Here's What You'll Need:
- Ingredients for Chef John's Honey-Glazed Ham
- Roasting pan with rack
- Instant-read thermometer
- Optional: Kitchen torch
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
- Pour water, star anise, and cloves into the bottom of a roasting pan. Place a roasting rack on top.
- Place ham on the rack. Cut 1/4-inch deep slashes 1/2-inch apart lengthwise and crosswise across the top of the entire ham.
- Bake ham in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the glaze.
- Brush glaze over the ham, repeating every 20 minutes until the glaze is golden-brown and the internal temperature reads 130 degrees F (the temperature will continue to rise for a little while after its out of the oven).
- For a caramelized finish, either broil the ham for a few additional minutes, or remove from the oven and use a kitchen torch to heat the glaze until caramelized, about 2 to 5 minutes.
How to Cook Your Ham in a Slow Cooker
Slow cooking a whole ham creates a super-moist, wonderfully tender ham. It's also a great method when you're feeding a huge holiday crowd: pop a turkey in the oven and a ham in the slow cooker, and you're set. This 5-star recipe for Slow Cooker Ham calls for a respectable 8-pound bone-in picnic ham. Other cooks have had success with a 9-pound spiral-cut honey-cured ham.
- 2 cups packed brown sugar
- 1 (8-pound) cured, bone-in picnic ham (not smoked)
- Spread 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar on the bottom of the slow cooker crock.
- Place the ham flat side down in the slow (you may have to trim it a little to make it fit).
- Rub the remaining brown sugar over the ham.
- Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours, or 4 hours for spiral-cut ham.
How to Store and Use Leftover Ham
Keep leftover ham in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, for up to a week.
Baked ham is the holiday main dish that keeps on giving. In the days that follow, your leftover ham will perform heroically in so many additional recipes. Ham sandwiches, soups, casseroles, hash, omelets, scrambles, salads, pizza, and pastas are just some of the top contenders for leftover ham.
And don't forget the ham bone! Hold on to that ham hock, and use it to add mad flavor to soups, stews, and greens.
Try your leftover ham in these diverse dishes, too: