Types of Ham: How to Buy and Cook
Here’s an easy-to-follow guide to choosing the right ham for your next dinner party, basic instructions on how to cook it, and a list of simple recipes.
There are quite a few different cuts of ham for sale in the supermarket today and choosing the right one can present a bit of a challenge. For the best flavor and texture, we recommend purchasing a bone-in ham and we’ve included a brief rundown on the different types available.
How To Buy A Ham
The term “ham” actually refers to the hind leg of a hog and is available cured, smoked, or fresh.
Most supermarket hams are mildly flavored and have been brined in a solution of water, salt, sugar, and spices, then lightly smoked. If you’re willing to pay a little more, the pricier brands are generally smoked for longer periods using special woods like maple or cherry and extra spices in the brine, resulting in a more intensely flavored end product.
Bone-in hams are available in several sizes: whole, half from the shank end, or half from the butt end. Whole hams generally range from 10 to 18 pounds, half hams from 5 to 10 pounds, and spiral sliced hams from 7 to 10 pounds. Plan on about 1/2 pound of bone-in ham per guest. This should allow for generous portions and some tasty leftovers.
Cuts of Ham
Fully Cooked, Bone-In Smoked Ham – Butt Portion
The butt half comes from the upper portion of the leg. It’s frequently available semi-boneless, where the aitch (or pelvic) bone has been removed, but the femur remains intact. This cut is flavorful and tender, has less connective tissue than the shank, and is relatively easy to carve.
Fully Cooked, Bone-In Smoked Ham – Shank Portion
The shank half is from the lower portion of the leg. It’s shaped a little like a funnel and retains its portion of the femur, plus a shank bone. It’s very flavorful and not hard to carve, but it does tend to be a little tougher than the butt half.
Fully Cooked, Bone-In Spiral Sliced Ham
Spiral-sliced hams have been pre-sliced in a spiral pattern around the center bone. They are frequently sold covered with a pre-prepared glaze (which we recommend rinsing off) and are quite easy to carve, but extra care should be taken when heating to ensure that the meat doesn’t dry out.
How to Prepare a Fully Cooked Ham
When heating a fully cooked ham, the most important thing to keep in mind is moisture. Be sure to add water, cover the ham with foil and seal it tightly to create a steaming environment.
Always remove the ham from the refrigerator 1 hour before placing it in the oven to allow it to come to room temperature.
Heating a Bone-In Butt, Shank, or Whole Ham
Place it on a rack in a roasting pan with 3/4-inch of water in the bottom. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and cook at 350°F until the internal temperature of the ham reaches 145°F. This would be about 15 minutes per pound for half hams and about 18 to 20 minutes per pound for whole hams.
Heating a Bone-In Spiral-Sliced Ham
Remove all packaging (rinse off glaze if desired) and place the ham, cut side down on a sheet (or 2) of heavy duty foil. Draw the foil up around the sides of the ham, add 1/2 cup water, seal tightly and place in a roasting pan. Cook in a 325°F oven for 10 minutes per pound.
Regardless of the type of ham you have, let it stand for 15 minutes before carving.
How To Glaze A Ham
Remove the ham from the oven about 15 minutes before it’s done heating and unwrap it. Increase the oven temperature to 400°F. Brush the ham liberally with your glaze and return it to the oven just long enough for the glaze to caramelize – 12 to 15 minutes.
Our Baked Ham Recipes
Here are a few recipes for baked ham that are perfect for family get-togethers or holiday dinners.