How to Cook a Perfect Ham
Ham for the holidays! Get recipes and cooking tips to bake the perfect ham for all your special occasion dinners, with suggestions for leftovers, too.
We'll show you how to cook a ham with top-rated ham recipes and some smart cooking tips, so you'll bake the best ham yet!
What Kind of Ham to Buy
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.
Try these ideas for glazing and heating 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 or 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.)
Amaze with the Glaze
A baked ham is perfectly delicious all by itself, but you can make it extra-special by adding a glaze. The most popular glaze recipes often combine fruit juice, wine or whiskey, honey, mustard, brown sugar, fruit preserves, and spices. Before baking, brush some of the glaze over the surface of the ham.
How to Bake a Ham
These easy tips will help you bake your best ham.
- If you're starting with a fully cooked city ham, bake it in a 350 degree F oven for about 10 minutes per pound. If your ham is only partially cooked, bake it for 20 minutes per pound.
- To help keep your ham moist and juicy, place the ham cut-side down in a baking pan and tent it with foil.
- Every 20 minutes or so, brush the ham with glaze and baste it with the pan juices.
- To finish, remove the foil tent, brush the ham with glaze and pan juices one more time, and turn the oven to broil. Broil for about about 3-to-5 minutes until the outside glaze is deliciously caramelized -- but watch it closely so it doesn't get too dark.
- Before carving your baked ham, let it rest 15 minutes to redistribute juices and firm up the meat.
VIDEO: Honey-Glazed Ham
"A great holiday ham glaze needs to have three things," says Chef John: "Wonderful flavor, gorgeous, shiny appearance, and a crispy, crackling crust you can hear across the room. I'm happy to report this easy-to-make glaze has all those things in abundance." See how to bake a honey-glazed ham:
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.
How to Cure Your Own Ham
Here's one for the DIY'ers in the crowd. There are many reasons to cure your own holiday ham. But as Chef John explains, beyond bragging rights, "you can flavor your ham any way you want and you can control the salt content." Check out the recipe for Home-Cured Holiday Ham, and follow along with the video.
Leftover Ham: Second Time's a Charm
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.
Try your leftover ham in these diverse dishes, too:
Keep leftover ham in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, for up to a week.
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.
Discover many more top-rated Ham Recipes.