Ham Tips

Packaged ham at the market Ham is meat from the hind leg of pork. It can be fresh, cured, or cured-and-smoked. Hams are either ready to eat or not. Ready to eat hams include cooked hams and prosciutto. Hams that must be cooked will have cooking instructions and safe handling instructions right on the label and they MUST be cooked. Typically, ham is cooked at 325 degrees for 10 minutes per pound or to an internal temperature of 145 degrees followed by a 3 minute rest time. To help keep ham moist and juicy during cooking, place cut side down and tent with foil.

Fresh refers to uncured leg of pork. It will have the flavor of a fresh pork loin roast or pork chops. “Fresh” will be part of the product name on the label. The color will be pale pink or beige as opposed to cured ham having a deep rose or pink color and country or dry cured ham being pink to mahogany in color.

Hams can be wet-cured, which is very common, in a brine solution containing water, salt, sugar and spices. During this process the solution is injected into the meat before cooking. There are three varieties of wet-brined ham:

  • “Ham with natural juices” has little water added during the curing process and results in an attractive appearance with a velvety type texture.
  • “Ham with water added” retains more water during the process and is good for steaks, thin slicing and shaving.
  • “Ham and water product” has the most water added to it and is most often found at the deli counter. It is a good choice if the ham is going to be served cold.

Hams can be dry-cured by rubbing salt and spices into the meat’s surface. They are known as “country-style” hams. Prosciutto is also made using a dry cure.

After curing some hams are smoked. This is a process involving hanging or heating the ham in a smokehouse to allow it to absorb smoke from either smoldering fires or generated smoke which gives added flavor and color.

When purchasing ham allow 1/4 -1/3 pound per serving if it is boneless and 1/3 -1/2 pound per serving if it is bone-in. If more ham is prepared than can be used, leftovers will keep 3-4 days refrigerated or should be frozen.   you end up with enough leftover ham you won’t be able to consume it within 3 or 4 days consider freezing the leftovers.  The length of time ham can be kept in the freezer for best quality depends on the type of ham:

  • Uncooked, cut country ham: One month
  • Cooked country ham: One month
  • Fully cooked, unopened ham: One to two months
  • Cooked, whole ham: One to two months
  • Cooked slices, half, or spiral ham: One to two months
  • Cured, cook-before-eating ham (sliced or whole): Three to four months

FoodSafety.gov has excellent information on ham storage and ham cooking.

Reviewed and updated, 5/2024, mg.

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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