Learn about the different types of ham -- and get step-by-step instructions on cooking a ham and carving a ham.
Ham is a cut of pork that comes from the hind leg. While most hams available at the grocery store are fully cooked, you still have several choices when selecting a ham.
Bone-in: At least part of the leg or hip bone is still in place, which adds flavor during cooking. You can purchase a fully cooked whole ham, but the rump half (round, meatier end) or the shank portion (tapered and easier to carve) is plentiful enough for most occasions (a 5- to 6-pound ham makes 16 to 20 servings).
Boneless: All of the bones have been removed. The shape of the fully cooked ham is re-formed, and the ham is wrapped or canned to hold the meat together. Some canned hams are formed from pieces of ham held together with gelatin. Boneless hams are simple to slice.
Spiral-cut: Fully cooked bone-in or boneless ham that is presliced for easier serving and often comes with a glaze packet.
Water or brine added: Fully cooked ham injected with brine or with water added. The label on the ham will say if the ham has water or brine added.
Dry-cured: The surface of the ham is salted, and ham is stored to let the salt penetrate it.
Ham steak: A slice from the center of a bone-in ham. This cut is ideal for when you want a smaller portion of ham and for cutting up and using in recipes.
Fresh ham: Unprocessed, uncooked ham. Most hams go through a curing process and are then called cured ham.
Country ham: Uncooked but cured, dried, and smoked or unsmoked ham, such as the famous Smithfield ham from Virginia.
Buying and Storing Ham
When purchasing a cooked, cured ham, choose one that is firm and plump with rosy pink meat. For a bone-in ham, such as a rump half or shank portion, figure about three entree servings per pound. For a boneless ham, plan on four to five servings per pound. Unless the label says otherwise, assume your ham will need to be refrigerated. A boneless, noncanned ham can be refrigerated for up to 1 week; shank and rump portions can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
Tip: You may want to purchase extra ham so you will have leftovers for sandwiches, egg dishes, soups, salads, and casseroles.
Step 1: Preheating the oven and preparing the ham
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. You do not need to wash a ham before baking. This versatile meat requires no embellishment; however, scoring a diamond pattern in the skinlike outer layer and brushing on a glaze during baking makes the ham a showy centerpiece and adds flavor. Use a chef's knife to make diagonal cuts about 1 inch apart on the ham. Cut through the surface of the ham so the glaze can penetrate the ham. If desired, insert whole cloves into the ham for decoration and added flavor. It is easier to poke them in where the cuts intersect (remove the cloves before eating the ham).
Step 2: Baking the ham
Place the ham on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Insert an oven-safe thermometer into the center of the ham (it should not touch the bone of a bone-in ham). Bake, uncovered, until ham registers desired temperature (140 degrees F for cooked ham). Since cooking times vary based on the size and type of ham, use the timings below as a guide.
*Hams weighing more than 8 pounds should be loosely covered with foil halfway through roasting.
Step 3: Glazing
If using a glaze, the best time to add it to the ham is during the last 20 minutes of baking time. If you glaze the ham sooner, the sugar in the glaze may cause it to burn. Pull out the oven rack, and use a basting brush or spoon to cover the ham with glaze. Continue baking. Reserve any remaining glaze to serve with the ham.
How to Carve a Bone-In Ham
Place the ham on its side. Using a carving knife, slice off a piece of ham from the bottom. Roll the ham back so it sits flat. Cut slices down to the bone, and cut along the bone to release the slices.
Cook a ham all day, unattended, in a slow cooker. For a 5-1/2- to 6-quart slow cooker, choose a boneless ham that is 5 to 5-1/2 pounds, brush it with a glaze, and cook, covered, for 8 to 9 hours on low-heat setting.
Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of a cooked ham shank. For a charcoal grill, cook indirectly by arranging medium coals around a drip pan. Test for medium-low heat above the pan. Place the ham on the grill rack over the pan; cover and grill until ham reaches 135 degrees F, brushing ham with desired glaze once or twice during the last 20 minutes of cooking. Cover with foil and let stand for 15 minutes before carving (the temperature will rise 5 degrees F during this time).
Lightly coat a heavy skillet with nonstick cooking spray or use a nonstick skillet. Preheat over medium-high heat until very hot. Add a ham steak, cut 1/2 inch thick, and reduce heat to medium. Cook, uncovered, for 9 to 11 minutes or until heated through (140 degrees F). Ham steaks are ideal for grilling and broiling as well.