How to Buy and Bake the Best Ham
A ham is an investment. Here’s how to get the best ham for your buck, as well as recipes to ensure you make the most of it
Buying a ham: The four C's
Make sense of the labeling lingo.
Cure Hams fall into three categories: city (wet-cured), country (dry-cured) and fresh (uncured). City ham is the most common and usually comes fully cooked. Serve it cold or warmed to 140°. If a city ham is uncooked, bake it to 145°, then let it rest for 3 minutes.
Cost When you see great prices, stop. Bargain hams often have extra water injected during the curing process. Go for meat labeled ham (quite costly) or ham with natural juices (next best). Be wary of ham, water added and ham and water product. You're paying for water weight, and the meat will be bland and spongy.
Cut A whole ham serves 30, so most people buy a half. (Allow a pound per person if you want leftovers.) The shank end has the classic ham look, while the butt has more usable meat. No matter the cut, we strongly recommend bone-in. Better flavor and texture. Cooler presentation. Delicious soup.
Carve Purists may disagree, but we love the ease of a spiral-sliced (precarved) ham. As long as you bake it over water and covered in foil, it shouldn't dry out. But many spiral-sliced hams come glazed, so if you're following a recipe, buy a "naked" ham. If you can't find an unglazed spiral-sliced-or just want to wield a big knife-the shank is easier to carve than the butt, which has a funky T-shape bone.
Whether you buy a spiral-sliced ham or one you'll carve, the secret to moist meat is baking the ham facedown over water and tightly covering the pan in foil. Think of it like a ham sauna. Toward the end, you'll remove the foil and crank up the oven for a crackling finish.
Work those leftovers!
A sandwich made from home-baked ham is a thing of beauty (try our Ultimate Grilled Ham-and-Cheese Sandwiches). But after three days, you should chop any remaining leftovers to freeze in 1- or 2-cup portions in freezer bags or tightly wrapped in heavy-duty foil. Keep the bone, too, for flavoring beans or broth.