Ham is a staple on many holiday tables, but do you know where it comes from? We’re here to give you the scoop, plus show you the basics of how to cook and serve it.
Ham comes from the back leg of the pig and is cured one of two ways. The traditional holiday ham is wet-cured, where the meat is injected with a solution of water, preservatives, salt, sugar, spices and sometimes smoke flavoring before cooking.
For dry-cured ham, the meat is rubbed with a mixture of salt and spices and allowed to age in a temperature-controlled environment.(1) Dry-cured hams are a specialty item popular in the Southern U.S., where the ham is sliced paper thin and served in small portions.(2) With either type of curing, the hams may be smoked over a smoldering fire after the curing process, which gives the meat another layer of complex flavor.(1)
Before refrigeration was available, salt curing was used to preserve meats, since it inhibits the growth of microorganisms that cause spoilage. Today, the process is done simply because we love the savory flavor and velvety texture that curing imparts to the meat. You’ll also find an uncured ham option from Prairie Grove Farms in our stores, if you are concerned about salt curing.
Now that you have the background on ham – let’s get it ready for your holiday table! Spiral sliced hams are popular and easy to carve, but an unsliced ham is not difficult – it only requires cutting around the bone and then carving slices to the desired thickness. When choosing a bone-in ham, you’ll need to buy 1/3 to 1/2 pound per serving. For a boneless ham, you’ll need 1/4 to 1/3 pound per serving.(3) Remember to buy enough for leftovers!
Whole ham: Available unsliced or spiral sliced and bone-in or boneless. Makes a stunning presentation for serving; great for a big crowd or if you want lots of leftovers.
Half ham: Available unsliced or spiral sliced and bone-in or boneless. Perfect for when you’re having a small gathering. The butt half of the ham comes from the upper part of the leg which gets less exercise and is more tender than the shank half, which comes from the lower part of the leg.(4) A portion is a half ham with steaks removed and sold separately.
Serving your ham couldn’t be easier since it’s already cooked. To reheat, make sure you have a meat thermometer. Place ham in a large baking pan (cut side down if you’re cooking a half ham), then cover loosely with foil and heat at 325°F until the ham reaches an internal temperature of 140°F.(1) Generally, it takes 15 to 18 minutes per pound for a whole ham, 18 to 24 minutes per pound for a half ham and 10 to 18 minutes per pound for a spiral sliced ham. Always follow package directions.
If you’re using a glaze, brush it on during the last half hour in the oven. Take care not to let the ham linger in the oven to prevent it from drying out. Any leftovers can be refrigerated up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months.(5)