Despite being displayed more prominently around the holidays, hams are available in the grocery store year-round. No matter what time of year, ham is an impressive centerpiece. It’s easy to cook, feeds a crowd and can be tailored to your tastes with the addition of seasonings and glazes.
Ham comes from the hind legs of a pig. A whole ham consists of the butt and the shank, but what’s mostly available at the grocery store is half a ham which is either the shank or butt. The shank is tapered and more pointed and has leaner meat. The butt, not to be mistaken for Boston butt which is actually the shoulder of the pig, is more rounded and its meat more tender and flavorful.
Hams fall into three categories: city ham, country ham and fresh ham.
- City hams are wet-cured (injected with a brine), usually smoked and already cooked. This is the type of ham that is most readily available and found in grocery stores.
- Country hams are dry-cured (rubbed with salt and spices), sometimes smoked and are aged for several months to several years. This curing preserves them, but they are not fully cooked. Country hams are saltier, more intensely flavored and not as juicy as city ham. Before cooking, country hams need to be soaked to rehydrate and remove some of the salt.
- Fresh ham has not been cured and is raw. It is not as readily available.
How to cook a raw (fresh) ham
A raw, or fresh, ham needs to be fully cooked. Fresh hams are sometimes smoked, but have not been cured or brined, and they usually come with the skin on. Before cooking, score the skin in a diamond-shaped pattern, but be careful not to cut down into the meat. Scoring helps the fat baste the ham as it cooks, and if a glaze is applied, those cuts allow it to seep into the meat. Place ham in a roasting pan and rub it with your choice of seasonings: A mixture of salt, pepper, garlic and herbs always works well. Cover with foil and cook in a 350 F oven for approximately 20 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature is 160 F. Baste throughout cooking. Remove the foil for the last 30 minutes. At this point, a glaze can be applied.
How to reheat cooked ham
City hams can be bought bone-in or boneless. Bone-in ham will be more flavorful and, as an added bonus, the bone can be used to make ham and bean soup or a variety of other recipes.
Because city hams are already cooked, they can be eaten cold, but they're most commonly served warm. Gradually heat it up with or without the addition of a liquid (apple juice and pineapple juice are popular choices) and add a glaze during the final 30 minutes of cooking. A packet of glaze usually comes with the ham or simply make it yourself by combining a sweetener, herbs and spices.
How to cook ham in the oven
Ham is traditionally baked in the oven. Cook for approximately 15 to 20 minutes per pound at 300 F. No matter the size of the ham and the temperature of the oven, it should be cooked until the internal temperature reaches 140 F. Covering with foil throughout the cooking process keeps it moist. If applying a glaze, do so in the last 30 minutes of baking so it will caramelize and not burn. Rest ham for 15 minutes before slicing. A half a ham will serve approximately 20 people.
How long to cook ham
City ham should be cooked until the internal temperature reaches 140 F. Country and fresh hams should be cooked until the internal temperature reaches 160 F. Always let it rest 15 minutes before slicing.
How to cook ham without an oven
Ham can also be cooked on the grill and, depending on size, in a slow cooker or an Instant Pot.
To grill, set up the grill for indirect cooking over low heat, about 300 F. Place ham in an aluminum foil pan or cast-iron pan and wrap with foil. Place on grill grates and cook for 15 to 20 minutes per pound. Remove foil for the last half hour of cooking and baste with a glaze, if using. Cook until the internal temperature of the ham is 140 F. Rest for 15 minutes before carving.
For an Instant Pot, add 1 cup liquid to the pot (i.e. water, broth or juice). Insert the trivet and then the ham. Drizzle with glaze and/or seasonings. Cook on high for approximately 2 minutes per pound and naturally release steam for 15 minutes.
For a slow cooker, rub ham with seasonings and/or glaze and place in the slow cooker. Cook on low for approximately 6 hours, or until the internal temperature of ham reaches 140 F.
How to cook ham slices
If one or two servings is all that’s needed, then buying a single slice of ham is the way to go. A slice of ham, also called ham steak, can be bought bone-in or boneless. Ham steaks can be cooked on the grill, stovetop, in the microwave or oven.
Grill on medium heat for 2 to 4 minutes per side.
To cook in the oven, place on a rack in a shallow roasting pan and broil in the oven 2 to 4 inches from heat, until heated through.
Microwave on high for 2 to 4 minutes on a microwave-safe dish. Help prevent curling by making several cuts along the edges of the ham steak before microwaving.
For stovetop, heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat and cook for 1 to 3 minutes per side. Add butter or olive oil and a little brown sugar for extra flavor.