Prepare The Perfect Ham

Get recipes and cooking tips to bake the best ham yet!

Chef John's Honey-Glazed Ham

Photo by Chef John

The Country Ham and the City Ham

There are three basic varieties: city hams, country hams, and fresh hams.

  • The one you are most likely to see in the grocery store is city ham. These have been soaked in brine and then either smoked or boiled. City hams are moist and tender. Their flavor ranges from mild and salty to rich and smoky, depending on how they have been cooked.
  • Country-cured hams are made from pigs that have been fed fruits and nuts to produce more flavorful meat. The hams are dry-cured by packing them in salt, then smoked over fragrant hardwoods and aged. Some are aged seven years! Country-cured hams have a more intense flavor, but are drier than brined hams, since the longer they are aged, the more water evaporates from the tissue.
  • Rarely you will encounter a fresh ham. This type is uncured, raw, and must be fully cooked before eating.


Almost all hams have either been partially or fully cooked before they are packaged. A partially cooked ham has been brought to an internal temperature of 137 degrees F, which kills any bacteria. To make it more tender and delicious, you’ll want to cook it a little bit more. A fully cooked ham is one that has been brought to an internal temperature of 148 degrees F.

The Hambone

  • Hams with the bone left in tend to be more flavorful than boneless hams. Bone-in hams are also more decorative, and make for a more ceremonious presentation on special occasions.
  • Many brands of bone-in ham are spiral-cut. This means that the ham has been cut in a continuous spiral all the way around the bone, producing thin slices that easily peel away, making the ham very easy to serve.
  • A bone-in ham will have less meat per pound than a boneless one. When buying bone-in ham, figure at least 3/4 pound for each person who will be at dinner. For boneless ham, at least 1/4 pound per person.

Baking Your Ham

The most traditional way to prepare a whole ham is to bake it.

Although ham is perfectly delicious all by itself, you can make it extra-special by using a glaze. The most popular glaze recipes contain combinations of fruit juice, wine or whiskey, honey, mustard, brown sugar, fruit preserves, and spices. Brush some of the glaze over the surface of the ham before placing it in the oven.

  • For a ham that has only been partially cooked, you will need to allow about 20 minutes per pound in a moderate (350 degrees F/175 degrees C) oven.
  • A fully cooked ham will require about 10 minutes per pound in order to be heated all the way through.
Tangy Honey Glazed Ham


To help keep your ham moist and juicy:

  • Place the ham cut-side down in a baking pan. If it’s going to be in the oven for more than an hour, you also may want to place a foil “tent” over your ham in order to keep it from drying out.
  • Continue to brush the ham with glaze and baste it with the pan juices every 20 minutes or so, until it is heated through.
  • To finish the ham and give it a deliciously caramelized coating, remove the foil tent, brush it with glaze and pan juices one more time, then turn your oven to the broiler setting. Allow the outside of the ham to get nice and browned-this should only take about 5 minutes, but watch it closely so it doesn’t get too dark.
  • When the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F (80 degrees C), the ham is ready for serving.

Leftover Ham: Second Time’s a Charm
The only thing better than baked ham for dinner is leftover baked ham for a midnight snack. Your surplus ham is also a perfect candidate for sandwiches, soups, casseroles, hash, quiche, salads, and pasta dishes. You can keep your ham in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, for up to a week.

Leftover Thanksgiving Salad

Photo by bd.weld

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