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How to cook the perfect ham — in the oven, on the stovetop, grill and beyond

Ham is easy to cook, feeds a crowd and so flavorful. What's not to love?

Knowing how to cook a ham can make the difference between a glistening glazed ham that will wow a crowd and a main that tastes bland and dry. When prepared properly, it serves as an impressive centerpiece for any holiday feast. It’s easy to cook, feeds a crowd and can be tailored to your tastes with the addition of seasonings and glazes. Whether you bake it in the oven or grill it over charcoal outdoors, there are more than a few delicious ways to cook a ham. But before you turn up the heat, you need to know what to look for when shopping for this juicy cut.

Ham comes from the hind legs of a pig. A whole ham consists of the butt and the shank, but you’ll usually find one or the other at a grocery store. So, what’s the difference between these two cuts? The shank is tapered, more pointed and has leaner meat. The butt, not to be mistaken for Boston butt which is actually the shoulder of the pig and used most commonly for pulled pork, is more rounded and its meat more tender and flavorful. Cooking ham shank is nearly foolproof, but both yield delicious, specialty mains. Looking for the perfect recipe for holiday glazed spiral ham? We’ve got you covered. For a spicier spin, try this four-ingredient gochujang-glazed ham.

What's the difference between city ham, country ham and fresh ham?

When shopping for ham, you’ll find that it falls into three categories: city ham, country ham and fresh ham. Here’s a primer on the difference between them.

City 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. 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.

Country ham

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 and more intensely flavored but not as juicy as city ham. Before cooking, country hams need to be soaked to rehydrate and remove some of the salt, which makes it a time-consuming process.

Fresh ham

Fresh ham has not been cured and is raw. It is not as readily available at grocery stores and needs to be ordered from a butchers. Because it’s raw, it also takes significantly longer to cook and is naturally less flavorful than cured hams.

Spiral Ham with Pineapple-Aleppo Glaze

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 the 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 reaches 160 F. Baste the ham throughout cooking using a spoon or plastic baster. Remove the foil for the last 30 minutes. At this point, a glaze can be applied.

Five 5-Ingredient-or-Less Ham Glazes

How to reheat cooked ham

Because city hams are already cooked, they can be eaten cold (like on a deli-style sandwich), 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, but you can 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.

Herby Honey-Baked Ham with Citrus

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 to lock in the juices.

Holiday Glazed Spiral Ham

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.

Slow-Cooker Glazed Ham

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.

Ham steaks, which can be cooked on the grill, stovetop, in the microwave or oven, are perfect for serving one to two people.
Ham steaks, which can be cooked on the grill, stovetop, in the microwave or oven, are perfect for serving one to two people.Carrie Parente

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.