How To Cook A Ham

How To Cook A Ham
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What Is Ham?

Ham is a term for the meat that comes from the back legs and rump of a pig. The meat from the front legs of the pig is called pork shoulder picnic.

Since a pig’s legs are the most exercised part of the animal, ham is relatively low in fat. A 3-ounce serving of cured, roasted ham contains 133 calories and 5 g of fat, with 2 g from saturated fats. People suffering from hypertension or anyone on a low-sodium diet should avoid ham with its high sodium content.

Most hams are either wet- or dry-cured, and the type of curing process used gives ham its distinctive flavor. Dry-curing involves rubbing salt and spices into the ham, while ham cured in a brine mixture of salt, sugar and spices is known as a country-style.

Wet-cured hams are the most commonly available, and come in three distinct types:

  • Ham with natural juices is normally found on a holiday dinner table. It uses the meat’s natural liquid and has very little water added during the curing process.
  • Ham with water added has had some water added during the curing process, and is generally cut into ham steaks.
  • Ham and water product is most commonly found at the deli counter as luncheon meat.

How to Cook a Ham Steak

Photo: Flickr - inasikira

Learning how to cook a ham steak may be the easiest culinary lesson you have ever had. A typical ham steak is packaged fully cooked, needing only to be heated before serving. The most common methods for cooking a ham steak are under the broiler, in a hot skillet or on a grill. In all cases, a 1-1/2 lb. ham steak should take 2 to 4 minutes on both sides before it is ready for serving.

Ham steaks are the preferred choice to serve with breakfast, and they are commonly chopped and added to an omelet or served as-is next to fried or scrambled eggs.

How to Cook a Dinner Ham

Ham comes either canned, fresh, dry-cured or vacuum-packed, and are either cook-before-eating or fully cooked. Dry-roast ham on a shallow rack in a roasting pan.

Calculate your cooking times based on weight and internal temperature. Any ham that is cook-before-eating or fresh must reach a temperature of 160 degrees F to be considered safe for consumption. Fully-cooked hams should reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees F.

Cook ham at no lower than 325 degrees F according to the following:

  • Whole bone-in cook-before-eating (10 to 14 lbs): 18 to 20 minutes per pound
  • Whole bone-in fully cooked (10 to 14 lbs): 15 to 18 minutes per pound
  • Half bone-in cook-before-eating (5 to 7 lbs): 22 to 25 minutes per pound
  • Half bone-in fully cooked (5 to 7 lbs): 18 to 24 minutes per pound
  • Canned ham (3 to 10 lbs): 15 to 20 minutes per pound
  • Spiral-cut ham (7 to 9 lbs): 4 to 18 minutes per pound
  • Fresh whole leg bone-in (12 to 16 lbs) 22 to 26 minutes per pound
  • Fresh whole leg bonesless (10 to 14 lbs): 24 to 28 minutes per pound
  • Country ham (5 to 16 lbs): 20 to 25 minutes per pound

Additional Prep Methods

Ham has a very distinct flavor that melds well with spinach, mustard, honey, brown sugar, pineapple, cherry, clove and maple flavors. Try basting your ham with honey, maple syrup or a thick liquid made from mixing brown sugar with some maraschino cherry, pineapple or other citrus juice.

Photo: Flickr - Tama Leaver

Add a little dry mustard for some zing. There is no right or wrong way to prep the ham, so get creative until you find the basting liquid that suits you and your family.

When the holidays are here or company is coming, dress up your whole or half ham:

  • Cut 1/2-inch deep slits around the ham in the shape of crosses. Stuff with cooked, drained spinach.
  • Stud the clove in geometric or other patterns with whole cloves. Be sure to remove the cloves as you are carving the ham to avoid any unnecessary dental accidents.
  • Cover the ham with slices of canned pineapple, with half of a maraschino cherry centered in each. Secure with toothpicks.


National Pork Board’s The Other White Meat

Self Nutrition Data: Ham

What’s Cooking America: Ham 101

Image Credits

Photo 1: Flickr courtesy of Jersey JJ

Photo 2: Flickr courtesy of inasakira

Photo 3: Flickr courtesy of Tama Leaver