How to Cook Ham for a Classic Holiday Dinner
Be holiday-ready when you learn how to cook a ham like a pro. Whether you're a beginner or cooking ham number 354 (if you kept track), we've got step-by-step instructions for cooking a ham in the oven, plus information about the different types of ham. Get ready to make this year's holiday meal the best ever.
A gorgeous baked ham is the best centerpiece we can think of for holiday meals. It looks impressive (especially with a glistening ham glaze), but takes very little work to get on the table. Luckily, there are many ways to cook a ham. You can bake ham, grill it, even cook it in a slow cooker! So even if your oven is full of holiday sides or pies, you’ve got other appliance options. We'll tell you how to cook ham all those ways, plus offer tips on carving and how to choose a ham when you're at the grocery store.
Cooking a Ham in the Oven
When it comes to learning how to bake ham there are only a couple of steps—prep the ham and bake it! It's pretty low-fuss since most hams available at the grocery store are already cooked. Follow these instructions for tender, perfectly cooked ham.
Step 1: Preheat the oven and prepare your ham
Preheat the oven to 325°F. You don't need to wash a ham before baking. If you ask us, baked ham is delicious even when you leave it plain; however, scoring a diamond pattern with a chef's knife in the outer layer and brushing on a glaze during baking makes the ham a showy centerpiece and adds flavor. Use your chef's knife ($90, Sur la Table) to make diagonal cuts about 1 inch apart on the ham. Cut through the surface of the ham so the glaze penetrates the ham. If desired, insert whole cloves ($5, Target) into the ham for decoration and flavor. It's easier to poke them in where the cuts intersect. (Remove the cloves before eating the ham.)
Step 2: Bake the ham
Place the ham on a rack in a shallow roasting pan ($53, Bed Bath & Beyond). Insert an oven-safe thermometer into the center of the ham. (It should not touch the bone of a bone-in ham.) Bake, uncovered, in the preheated oven until ham registers the desired temperature (140°F for pre-cooked ham). Because cooking times vary based on the size and type of ham, use the timings below as a guide.
Step 3: Glaze the ham (if you want)
If you're using a glaze, the best time to put it on is during the last 15 to 20 minutes of baking time. If you glaze the ham sooner, the sugar in the glaze may cause it to burn. Pull the oven rack out, and use a basting brush ($11, Target) or spoon to cover the ham with glaze. Continue baking. Reserve any remaining glaze to serve with the ham.
How Long to Bake Ham
How long to cook a ham depends on the weight and type of ham. Use these guidelines for how long to bake ham for your special occasion:
Boneless cooked ham
- 1½ to 3 pounds bake ¾ to 1¼ hours until 140°F
- 3 to 5 pounds bake 1 to 1¾ hours until 140°F
- 6 to 8 pounds bake 1¾ to 2½ hours until 140°F
- 8 to 10 pounds* bake 2¼ to 2¾ hours until 140°F
Bone-in cooked ham
- 6 to 8 pounds bake 1½ to 2¼ hours until 140°F
- 14 to 16 pounds* bake 2¾ to 3¾ hours until 140°F
Bone-in ham (cook before eating)
- 3 to 5 pounds bake 1¾ to 3 hours until 150°F
- 7 to 8 pounds bake 2½ to 3¼ hours until 150°F
- 14 to 16 pounds* bake 4 to 5¼ hours until 150°F
*Note: Hams weighing more than 8 pounds should be loosely covered with foil halfway through roasting.
Holiday Ham Recipe
Cooking ham for the holidays is pretty darn easy. If you're looking for an oven-baked recipe, this basic holiday ham is a great place to start. This recipe teaches you how to glaze a ham and includes three different glaze recipes.
How to Cook Ham in a Slow Cooker
Yes, you can make slow cooker ham. For a 5½- to 6-quart slow cooker ($90, Bed Bath & Beyond), choose a boneless ham that's about 5 pounds, brush it with a glaze, and slow cook it, covered, for 8 to 9 hours on low-heat setting. Get step-by-step directions for our Cherry Cola Ham recipe in the slow cooker.
Related: How to Reheat Ham in a Slow Cooker
How to Grill Ham
Insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of a cooked ham shank. For a charcoal or gas 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 140°F (timing guidelines below), 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°F during this time.)
Related: Learn How to Light a Charcoal Grill
How Long to Cook Ham on the Grill
As with all roasts, how long to grill ham depends on its weight.
- 3- to 5-pound ham: grill 1¼ to 2 hours, or until ham reaches 140°F
- 6- to 8-pound ham: grill 2 to 3¾ hours, or until ham reaches 140°F
Test Kitchen Tip: If your grilling a natural ham, you may need to grill 45 to 60 minutes longer to reach 140°F.
How to Cook a Stuffed Spiral Ham
Preheat your oven to 325°F. Line a shallow roasting pan with foil. Between the slices of one 8- to 10-pound spiral-sliced ham insert half a thinly sliced orange; four garlic cloves, slivered; and sprigs of fresh rosemary and/or thyme all the way around the ham. Transfer ham flat side down to the prepared pan. Cover with foil. Bake 2 to 2½ hours or until browned and heated through (140°F). For the last 45 minutes of cooking, uncover and spoon glaze over ham (if you're using a glaze). Transfer to a platter using two large, wide spatulas.
Cooking a Ham Steak
When you don't need to cook a full ham, ham steaks are a good option. Lightly coat a heavy skillet ($110, Target) with nonstick cooking spray or use a nonstick skillet. Preheat over medium-high heat until very hot. Add ham steak, and reduce heat to medium. Cook, uncovered, for 9 to 11 minutes (for a ½-inch thick steak) or until heated through (140°F). Ham steaks are ideal for grilling and broiling too.
Related: Apple Butter-Glazed Ham
How to Carve a Bone-In Ham
Place the ham on its flattest side. If there isn't a flat side, use a carving knife to slice off a small piece of ham from the bottom so the ham will sit flat. Cut slices down to the bone, then cut along the bone to release the slices.
Related: Our Best Ham Recipes
Figuring out how to carve a ham that doesn't have a bone? Simply slice it. There's not a thing to worry about here except maybe making sure you have a carving knife and fork to hold everything still.
Types of Ham
Ham is a cut of pork from the hind leg. Although most hams at the grocery store are fully cooked, you do have a few choices to make 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, which includes the entire cured leg, but the rump half (round, meatier end) or the shank portion (tapered and easier to carve) is usually enough for most occasions (a 5- to 6-pound ham makes 16 to 20 servings). The rump half is usually meatier and more tender than the shank half, which is usually slightly tougher and has more connective tissue.
Boneless: All of the bones have been removed. The shape of the fully cooked ham is reformed, and the ham is wrapped or canned to hold the meat together. Some canned hams are formed from pieces of ham held together with a gelatin. Boneless hams are simple to slice.
Spiral-cut: Fully cooked bone-in or boneless ham presliced for easier serving. These often come with a glaze packet.
Water or brine added: Fully cooked ham injected with brine or water. The label on the ham will say if the ham has water or brine added.
Dry-cured: Surface of the ham is salted, and the ham is stored to let the salt penetrate, usually for four to six months.
Wet-cured: Wet-cured hams are immersed or injected with a brine containing water, salt, sugar, spices, and curing agents like sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate, and potassium chloride.
Natural-uncured: Hams with this label are usually preserved using celery powder, which is organically rich in nitrates, then smoked. Labels that include "ham with natural juices" don't have much added water and could take up to 60 minutes longer to bake.
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 entrée servings per pound. For a boneless ham, plan on four to five servings per pound. Unless the label says otherwise, assume your ham needs to be refrigerated. A boneless, uncanned ham can be refrigerated for up to one 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.