5 Steps to the Perfect Ham
A perfectly carved, moist and tender ham is central to the holiday table. While many people purchase fully prepared, ready-to-eat hams, it can be a gratifying experience to score, season and cook your own ham. Read below to learn how to prepare a spectacular ham for your next holiday gathering.
Get to know your ham.
Most often, ham is cured or smoked, which provides the traditional flavor, texture and uniform pink color of ham. Fresh (non-cured) hams are more similar in appearance and taste to pork roasts or loins, but are used less often. Fresh ham is always considered raw/uncooked, while cured hams may be either uncooked, partially cooked or fully cooked.
Itâ€™s important to pay attention to the cooking/reheating instructions on ham packaging, as it will be specific to the internal temperature to which the ham was heated during smoking or curing. The level of pre-cooking will affect the cooking time.
To score, or not to score?
Scoring the surface of the ham is not only important for aesthetics. It also helps the fat become evenly crisp during the cooking process. Flavorings can also penetrate the meat more effectively when the fat has been scored.
Cured hams have a naturally salty flavor due to the brine used in the curing process, so additional salt often isnâ€™t needed for glazes or rubs. Flavors that work especially well with ham include honey, parsley, mustard, thyme, wine, soy, brown sugar and mushrooms. Whole cloves, when placed in the center of each scored diamond before cooking, provide flavor and visual appeal.
Cook and carve correctly.
Ham cooking times are often calculated based on the weight of the meat. Check the cooking instructions on the package, or reference USDA cooking charts. Use a meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature, removing the ham from the oven once the suggested temperature is reached. If you want a crisper texture on the surface of the ham, broil for 1-2 minutes at the end of cooking, watching closely. Allow ham to rest for 15 minutes after itâ€™s removed from the oven.
Leftover cooked ham can be safely stored in the refrigerator for no more than 5 days. As with all meats, refrigerate as soon as possible and keep leftover dishes covered. Prior to use, whole, cooked, cured hams can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks if vacuum-sealed and unopened. Uncooked, cured ham can be stored safely in the refrigerator for 5-7 days (or the â€śuse byâ€ť date on the package).