As far as entrees that can feed a crowd go, ham is relatively simple. You glaze it, you put it in the oven and a short while later you have enough sweet, salty meat to last several meals. That’s probably why it’s a staple of family dinner tables on holidays such as Christmas and Easter. Don’t underestimate it, though. There’s a lot more to ham than you might think.
Fresh, dry-cured, wet-cured, city ham, country ham, Virginia ham, ham steak, spiral-cut; the top section of a pig’s leg sure goes by a long list of names. Do you know the difference? We’d be here a while if we tried to explain them all, so let’s stick to the basics.
Broadly speaking, this is what you’re most likely to find in stores. It’s the most popular type, partly because it’s easy to cook, but mostly because it’s delicious. City ham is soaked in brine or injected with brine to “wet cure” it and preserve it for your enjoyment. More often than not it’s fully cooked, meaning you just need to slide it into the oven to warm through before eating.
Country ham is less common but gaining in popularity. Unlike its urban counterpart, it’s dry cured with a rub of salt and other spices then hung to age for months, or even years, at a time. A growing number of foodies feel the wait is worth it because of the more intensely salty flavor.
Chances are you have a city ham, which means you pretty much just preheat the oven and you’re off, right? While that may technically be true, there are a few easy steps you can take to bake more flavor into your meal.
But first, a few simple rules of thumb for baking ham:
• Heat your oven to 350°F
• Bake for 10 min. per lb. if it’s a cooked ham, or
• Bake for 20-25 min. per lb. if it’s uncooked
• Let it rest 15 min. before carving
Follow those steps and you’ll end up with a hot and delicious ham. If you want to take your pig to higher places, though, check out this advanced advice.
Bone-In or Boneless?
There’s no wrong answer. Boneless ham is easier to serve because you can slice right through it. However, for maximum flavor, bone-in is a shoo-in because the bone releases more flavor into the meat. Plus, you can reuse the bone to make stocks and soups.
Water, Water Everywhere
You’ll notice some ham is labeled “ham with natural juices,” “water added” or “ham and water product.” They’re listed above from least to most watery. Generally, ham with more water costs less, but it also has less flavor. Pick which option suits your appetite and budget and pay close attention to the next few tips to make sure it turns out delicious.
Foil is Your Friend
No one wants a dry ham. To keep the moisture in, put your ham in a pan cut side down and loosely tent it with foil. You’ll allow some air to flow through while conserving some of the heat, letting it cook more evenly than if you wrapped it tight or went without foil.
Score One for Flavor
Scoring isn’t done just for the cool look and the social media pics. The shallow cuts give the glaze a clear path past the outer skin allowing flavor to seep into the meat and adding a little moisture along the way.
Glazed and Confused?
Don’t be. Creating a sweet, shimmering glaze is easy. Once you’re done scoring, liberally brush your glaze on the ham. Then, while it cooks, brush more glaze and baste with the juices from your pan every 20 minutes. When your ham has baked long enough, take off the foil, give it another brush of glaze and set the oven to broil for a few minutes. This will caramelize the glaze to sweet perfection.
Why We Love Cloves
For an extra aromatic touch, and for a fancy garnish, stick cloves into the exterior of your ham. They’ll easily fit in the slice marks and will infuse the meat with flavor, plus it looks amazing. Just be sure to remove whole cloves before eating. The flavor is a bit intense If you bite into them.
Slow Cooking Ham
If you have a big enough pot and want to give yourself more time, try this technique. You can easily make ham in a crock pot by adding your meat, a little brine, and whatever vegetables you like.