How to Cook Ham

How to Cook HamGlazed Whole Ham

Here is your quick and easy to understand guide on buying, cooking, carving and serving ham.  

Ham is an all-time favorite on any traditional Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas menu.  It is also an economical and easy way to serve a crowd on any party menu.  

How to Buy Ham

Before you cook a have to buy a ham!  It might seem complicated...but we'll try to simplify it here.

Image of a  pig with the different cuts outlined

The term ham refers to the meat cut from the upper rear legs of the pig.  This is a meaty, fatty cut.  It is generally dry (rubbed) or wet cured (brined) with salt and spices and is usually smoked or processed in a variety of ways. 

butt end hamButt End Ham

Shank End HamShank End Ham

The  upper rear cut of the pig is divided into two more cuts.  The butt ham comes from the most upper part of the pig leg and the shank ham comes from the lower section of the leg.

So, a whole ham = butt end + shank end.  

Glazed Whole HamGlazed Whole Ham

Picnic Ham or Pork ShoulderPicnic Ham/Pork Shoulder

Another type of ham is the picnic ham.  This cut comes from the front leg or shoulder area of the pig. 

These are technically not hams but are pork shoulders that are smoked and processed in a way similar to rear end hams. 

FYI, ham hocks are found further down below the shank. 

Which is Best?

Hey, it's all pork goodness!  Which is best is generally a matter of taste and how you want to serve the meat. 

The butt end is meatier and has more fat and membrane then the shank end.  Because of this, it can be more flavorful. The butt end contains the pig's hip and pelvic bone which makes carving a bit tricky but makes it a good compliment to beans, greens and other slow cooked dishes. 

The shank end has a straighter bone and less fat and membrane.  The shank is easier to crave and makes a nicer presentation. This makes it good for sandwiches and a dinner party menu. 

In reality, your choice of ham may be limited to what's available at your supermarket and may also depend on the time of year and the size and price you desire.   

FYI, the whole, butt and shank cuts can be purchased bone-in or boneless.

Tasty Ham Recipes

How Much to Buy

When buying a ham, estimate the size needed based on the serving size suggestions on the packaging.  In general, plan on 1/4 to 3/4 pound of ham per person depending on how you are serving (appetizer, sandwiches, main entree) and what else is being served, especially meats. 

How to Cook Ham

When shopping for a ham for your next party menu, be aware that whole and half hams can be fully-cooked, partially cooked and raw.  Be sure to read the label and ask the butcher or grocer if you are unsure.  Different hams require different cooking times and handling methods.

Fully-Cooked Ham
Most hams purchased in the supermarket are smoked and fully-cooked.  The smoking process cooks and flavors the meat.  The ham can be eaten as is but reheating or roasting the meat maximizes the natural flavor, juiciness and texture.  Also, nothing is better than a fresh, hot-baked ham!

Preheat oven to 325°F.  

  • If necessary, trim skin and fat.  Place whole ham on a rack in a shallow baking pan fat side up

  • Half hams should be placed with cut side down so the fat can baste the meat

  • Add about one cup of water to the roasting pan.  Ham can be roasted covered with foil or uncovered. I recommend covering the ham until the last 30 minutes to seal in the moisture 
  • Place in a preheated oven.  See chart below for baking times

  • If ham is covered, remove foil during last 15-25 minutes of cooking to allow extra crisping of the skin and fat

  • Bake until internal temperature reaches 135°F. Allow ham to rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. Internal temperature should rise to 145°F during this time 

  • If using a glaze, apply during the last 30 minutes of cooking.  See recipes for glazing instructions

Reheating Times for Fully Cooked Hams

The internal temperature, as measured with a food thermometer, is the best indicator of doneness

Partially-Cooked and Raw Ham

Partially cooked hams are processed to an internal temperature of 145°F to kill parasites.  The purchased ham still requires additional cooking and must be reheated to an internal temperature of 145°F.

Raw or fresh ham (also called "green" ham) is an uncured and uncooked pork product which has the the pinkish beige color of other raw pork cuts.  Just like other hams, it must be cooked to a temperature of 145°F.  

Bone-in half-hams of 5-8 pounds are cooked from 35 to 40 minutes per pound.

hole leg, bone in hams of 12-16 pounds are cooked from 22 to 26 minutes per pound

How to Carve a Ham

Here is a brilliant way to carve a butt end bone-in ham.  Makes leftovers so much more manageable.

How to Serve Ham

Ham is extremely versatile and flavorful.  It is a welcome at breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner.  It goes with pasta, potatoes, rice, bread and most vegetables.  Once properly carved, ham becomes a very easy protein addition to any meal

The smoky, salty, savoriness of ham lends itself perfectly to thick, sweet glazes and cool, creamy sauces. 

Tasty ham recipes and serving suggestions


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