Prepare this popular choice for your Easter meal, but make sure you find the right cut first--we'll show you how.
Ham is a perennial favorite that is easy to prepare. It's also a healthful choice of meat with minimal fat and great flavor. So if you're hamstrung on what to cook this holiday, try one of our simple recipes. Both are irresistible and will be the hot dish on the menu.
- Ham comes from the leg of the hog. You may buy them cooked, uncooked, dry cured, or wet cured.
- Cooked hams can be served directly from the refrigerator. If you'd like to serve it hot, heat in a 350° oven to an internal temperature of 140°. At 140°, the ham will be thoroughly warmed and moist.
- Uncooked hams should be heated to an internal temperature of 160° in a 350° oven. Depending on the size, plan to cook it 18 to 25 minutes per pound.
- Dry-cured hams are rubbed with salt, sugar, and other seasonings, and then stored until the salt penetrates the meat.
- Wet-cured hams are seasoned with a brine solution, which keeps the meat moist and produces a more tender texture.
Choosing the Right Cut
- Whole hams include both the butt ham and shank ham from the leg. These larger cuts weigh anywhere from 10 lb. to more than 20 lb. and are available bone-in and boneless. If you're a beginner, try one of the smaller choices. Preparation tip: To remove the rind (the thick, outer coating) from a cooked ham, cut the rind lengthwise before heating. Bake the ham, slit side down, until heated to 140°. Immediately remove and discard the rind, and slice or glaze for serving.
- Butt ham is taken from the top half of the pork leg. It can be fattier than the bottom half, yet it contains more meat and is easy to carve around the bone. Preparation tip: For easy carving, place the flat end of the ham down on the cutting board. Cut down through the meat, close to the bone.
- Shank ham is taken from the bottom half of the leg. It contains less fat but is not as meaty as the butt. It can be a little more difficult to carve. Preparation tip: Place the ham on the cutting board with the bone to the carver's left. Trim two to three thin slices from the bottom side of the ham to keep it steady when slicing.
- Spiral-sliced ham is precooked and conveniently presliced into pieces that are all the same thickness. You should use or freeze these hams four to five days after you buy them. Dry-cured hams are not usually spiral sliced; this prevents the pieces from drying out too quickly. Preparation tip: To serve this ham warm, wrap it in foil, and bake at 275° for 10 to 14 minutes per pound.
- Picnic ham is not considered a true ham because it is from the shoulder of the pig. It may be fresh or smoked. Generally, the picnic cut is not as lean or as tender as ham, but it is less expensive. Preparation tip: If you need a smoked picnic ham, ask the butcher to order it in advance. It is a good choice for recipes such as soups, stews, or casseroles that use chopped or diced ham.
- Country ham is dry cured by rubbing the meat with curing ingredients that include salt and sugar. The hams are smoked and then aged 6 to 12 months or longer to develop a more intense flavor. They may have a coarser texture than wet-cured hams. These hams can be eaten raw but are usually soaked in water to reduce saltiness, and then baked or boiled. Preparation tip: These may have mold on the surface. This is typical of the curing process. You can easily remove any mold with a stiff bristle brush, vinegar, and water.
How Much Is Enough?
- Bone-in hams typically serve two to three people per lb.
- Boneless hams yield four to five servings per lb.
"Serve a Holiday Ham" is from the April 2006 issue of Southern Living.