Ham Selection & Preparation
Last updated: 09/24/2014
In this topic:
What Is Ham?
from the hind leg of the hog. Ham can be fresh, cured
or cured and smoked. Fresh ham is pale pink, just
like pork butt, and beige in color after cooking. Cured ham is usually deep pink in color as a result of the
curing process. Dry-cured ham like country ham and prosciutto is pink to
mahogany in color.
and smoked picnic portion of the front shoulder is sometimes called "picnic ham". This
is not true ham. Remember, ham is a cut of meat from the hind leg, not
the process of curing and smoking the meat. While tasty, picnic ham has
a higher proportion of fat, bone
and skin to lean meat and is therefore much less expensive than real ham.
ham on the hog
cured using a combination of salt, sodium nitrate, nitrites, sugar,
seasonings, and other ingredients for preservation, color development and
flavor enhancement. Sodium nitrate and nitrites give ham its distinctive
flavor and color, while the nitrites and salt inhibit the growth of Clostridium
botulinum, a cause of food poisoning.
Wet And Dry Curing
(City Ham And Country Ham)
most common types of ham in the United States are fresh ham, city ham
ham. Fresh ham is not cured and can be cooked like any other cut of
fresh pork. The difference between city ham and country ham has to do with
the way in which it is cured.
curing is the most popular method for curing ham. Traditionally, a
fresh ham was soaked in a liquid curing solution for a couple of weeks so
that the cure could penetrate the meat. Today, fresh hams are injected
with a curing solution and cure in just a day or two. After the ham is
cured, it is usually smoked. The result is a "city ham", a
moist, juicy ham like the ones you find in the supermarket. This is the
kind of ham you should choose for preparation on the Weber Bullet.
curing is the process used to make "country ham" like the famous
Smithfield ham from Virginia. A country ham starts out as a fresh ham that
is rubbed with a dry cure mixture, smoked in a smokehouse, then aged at
75-80°F or higher in rooms or barn-like structures for a period of a few
months to more than a year.
ham will lose 20-30% of its moisture content during aging. Mold develops
on the surface during this time and must be washed away before the ham
undergoes a long soaking and simmering process before baking. The result
is firm, dry meat with a very concentrated, salty flavor and a deep
burgundy color. While delicious, it is something of an acquired taste.
they're so expensive, can be hard to come by, and have been lovingly
smoked and cured for up to a year, I don't recommend that you barbecue a
country ham in the Weber Bullet. However, there are differing opinions
on this matter. Jim Minion of
Minion Method fame says that country hams can be smoked with hickory,
pecan, or fruitwood. "The thing that needs to be done to get the best
results is to soak in fresh water for a couple of days, changing the water
3-4 times during that time. Smoke to 160°F internal in the center of the
ham. Very good eating."
States also imports a wide variety of dry-cured hams from other countries,
including prosciutto, Spanish Serrano ham, Bayonne ham, Black Forest ham
Westphalian ham. These are similar to country ham except
that they're often eaten raw, while country ham is baked before serving.
Whole, Half, Bone-In, Boneless, Butt, Shank
available bone-in or boneless. Most people feel that bone-in hams are more
flavorful and have better texture than boneless hams. Bone-in hams will
have part of the leg bone or hipbone intact, plus some smaller bones
depending on the cut. Boneless hams have had all the bones removed and are
then bound up and tumbled in order to fill any voids in the meat. Boneless
hams are easy to carve, of course, but a spiral-sliced, bone-in ham is
probably a better choice since it combines better flavor with ease of
to buy a ham of appropriate size based on the number of people you want to
serve. You can purchase a whole ham (pretty much the entire leg of
the hog) that will feed an army, or you can buy a half ham. Half
hams come in
two varieties: the butt end and the shank end. The butt end
comes from the upper thigh and has a rounded end, whereas the shank end comes
from the lower portion of the leg and has a pointed or tapered end.
Half Ham Varieties and Center Slices
the best "center cut" slices are removed from half hams during
processing. If the label on a half ham reads "shank end half"
or "butt end half", then it includes these meaty center
slices. If it says "shank end portion" or "butt end portion",
then the center slices have been removed.
Which Ham To Buy?
choosing a whole,
bone-in ham, authors Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly of The
Complete Meat Cookbook write,
"A short, plump shape with a stubby rather than an elongated shank is
the best choice."
choosing a half ham, the butt end is meatier and less fatty than the
shank end. However, the shank end is easier to carve because of its
simple bone structure. Both are good choices, but shank end is
Juices, Water Added, And Water Product
references to "juices" or "water" on the label of a ham.
they're defined by the USDA:
the product is at least 20.5% protein in lean portion and contains no
added water. For example, a country ham.
with Natural Juices: the product is at least 18.5% protein. Can
weigh 8% more than uncured weight. (This kind of ham should be your
first choice for cooking on the WSM. Some spiral-sliced bone-in hams
fall into this category.)
Added: the product is at least 17% protein with 10% added
solution; it can weigh 8% more after curing than uncured weight. (This is
your second best choice for cooking on the WSM. Many supermarket hams
and some spiral-sliced hams fall into this category.)
And Water Product: product may contain any amount of water but the
label must indicate percent of "added ingredients." For
example, "X% of weight is added ingredients" for any canned
ham with less than 17% protein.
A ham with
more water content will be a less expensive product, but that also means
you're paying for a lot of water instead of meat.
slicing is a process in which a ham is placed on a special cutting machine that spins the
ham around while cutting thin slices all the way to the bone in a
continuous spiral. They are usually served with a sweet glaze of some
sort. These hams have become extremely popular in recent years because of
their serving convenience.
Almost all spiral-sliced hams
are bone-in, and some are a "ham with natural juices" product,
meaning they're of better quality and flavor. You can buy whole spiral-sliced hams at specialty shops like HoneyBaked
Ham, but you're likely to find only half hams at
the supermarket or wholesale warehouse store.
hams usually include a
separate glaze packet. You can use the glaze packet or you can make your own
glaze. Ham glaze recipes can be found on the Whole
Ham - Mustard & Whiskey Glazed page and the Spiral-Sliced
Ham - Sugar Glazed page.
"Ready To Eat"
vs. "Ready To Cook"
that you find at the supermarket are already cooked and can be
eaten right out of the package. These include fully-cooked hams,
spiral-sliced hams and canned hams. Look for the phrase
"ready to eat" on the label.
and hams that have only been partially cooked must be fully cooked to
145-150°F internal temperature so that they achieve a final resting
temperature of 155-160°F before serving. Look for the phrase "ready
to cook" or "cook before eating" on the label. The USDA safe food handling instructions
will also be found somewhere on the label of
this kind of ham.
Ham Should I Buy?
vary as to how much ham to buy.
Illustrated estimates that you'll get 3-4 servings per pound of
bone-in ham. "Most half hams range in size from 7-10 pounds,
Stewart says, "A 16-pound ham can feed 18-20 people (estimate
about 3/4 pound per person for a bone-in ham and 1/2 pound for
Aidells and Denis Kelly write that a whole ham weighing 10-20 pounds
"will serve 20 people, probably with leftovers. A 6-to-8 pound
shank (end) will serve 10 to 12 people, a 6-to-8 pound butt (end) 12
or more." They go on to say, "allow 8 to 12 ounces for a
bone-in ham per serving, 6 to 8 ounces for a boneless ham."
recommends 1/4 to 1/3 pound of boneless ham per serving, 1/3 to 1/2
pound of meat per serving of ham with little bone, and 3/4 to 1 pound
of meat per serving of ham with large bone.
agree that ham should be served warm or cool—but definitely not cold right out of the
refrigerator. For a "ready to eat" ham, a range of 110-140°
seems to be the consensus. "Ready to cook" hams must be fully cooked to
145-150°F internal temperature so that they achieve a final resting
temperature of 155-160°F before serving.
Ham On The Weber Bullet
to eat" and "ready to cook" city hams are easily prepared
using the WSM.
the ham to sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours before cooking.
fat layer to 1/4" and score the fat into a diamond pattern,
cutting 1/4" to 1/2" deep into 1" to 2" squares.
"ready to eat" ham, fire the cooker to 225-250°F. Add some
water to the water pan to keep the temperature down and put just 2-3
dry chunks of your favorite smoke wood on the coals. Apple, cherry,
alder and oak are good choices alone or in combination. Follow the
packaging instructions for how to arrange the ham in the cooker (for
example, spiral-sliced hams are usually placed with the cut side down
on a baking sheet). Heat the ham to an internal temperature of 110-140°F. If desired, apply a glaze toward
the end of the process.
"ready to cook" ham, fire the cooker to 325°F. Put the foil-lined
water pan in place, but leave it dry to keep the temperature up in the
cooker. Place 2-3 chunks of dry smoke wood on the coals and cook
according to the packaging instructions, usually 10-15 minutes per
pound. If desired, apply a glaze during the last hour of cooking. Cook to
145-150°F internal temperature, then allow the ham to rest 15-20 minutes
until it reaches a final
temperature of 155-160°F.
Here's how to carve a whole
- Cut a few thin slices
from the side of the ham that is rounder in order to make a flat base.
- Stand the ham on the
cut side and slice straight down to the bone in 1/4" slices.
- Run the knife
horizontally along the bone to remove the slices.
- Turn the ham over and
carve 1/4" slices in the same fashion.
To carve a half ham,
follow the steps above for a whole ham, but don't bother cutting a flat
base on the side.
To carve a spiral-sliced
ham, just follow the instructions included with the ham. Otherwise,
follow the steps illustrated below:
- Use the tip of a sharp
knife to cut around the bone to loosen the slices.
- Use a long carving
knife to cut horizontally through the top spiral slices, starting at
the outside edge of the ham and cutting all the way to the bone.
Follow the natural muscle lines for good looking slices.
- Remove the top slices
from the bone and cut to fully separate the slices.
- Cut straight down from
the bone to release the remaining slices.
- Cut away any meat in
areas that have not been spiral sliced.
Carving a Spiral-Sliced Ham
For the most
part, all hams must be refrigerated before and after serving. The
exceptions are some small canned hams (better quality canned hams from
Denmark and Holland must be kept refrigerated—read the label) and country
hams, which may be stored unrefrigerated in a cool, dark location almost
indefinitely. A country ham contains so little water that bacteria have a
hard time surviving, so the meat doesn't spoil easily.
uncured ham can be safely refrigerated for 3-5 days before cooking and
3-4 days after cooking.
"ready to cook" ham can be refrigerated 5-7 days before
cooking or until the "use by" date on the package, then
refrigerated 3-5 days after cooking.
cooked, "ready to eat" ham in a store wrapping (e.g.
HoneyBaked Ham loose foil wrapper) can be refrigerated up to 7 days
for a whole ham and 3-5 days for a half ham.
cooked vacuum sealed ham can be refrigerated for up to two weeks if
undated and unopened or until the "use by" date, then 3-5
days after being opened.
uncut country hams can be stored safely at room temperature for up to
1 year. After 1 year the ham is safe but quality may suffer. It may be
refrigerated for up to 3 months before cooking, then refrigerated for
up to 7 days after cooking.
hams labeled "Keep Refrigerated" can be refrigerated from
6-9 months, then refrigerated up to 7 days after opening.
stable" canned hams may be stored at room temperature for up to 2
years, then refrigerated 3-4 days after opening.
safe indefinitely when frozen, but texture and taste will suffer after
about 2 months.
Ham is one
of the leanest cuts of pork. According to the USDA, a 3.4 ounce (100 gram)
serving of roasted extra-lean ham has about 145 calories, 5.5 grams of
fat, 21 grams of protein and 53 milligrams of cholesterol. Ham contains a
significant amount of vitamins B-1 and B-12.
pork is low in sodium, ham is high in sodium as a result of the curing
process. According to the USDA, a serving of ham can contain about
one-half of the recommended daily intake of sodium.
allow the ham to sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours before cooking.
trim the fat, leaving a 1/4" layer. Score the fat into a diamond
pattern by cutting 1/4" to 1/2" deep into 1" to 2"
squares. Not only does scoring look nice, but it allows fat to render
from the ham and provides greater surface area for the glaze to stick
to. You may not be able to score a ham that has been "super
trimmed" and has little fat left.
use a sharp carving knife with a thin blade to cut the ham, or
buy a spiral-sliced ham.
forget to line your WSM water pan with aluminum foil if cooking a ham at
high temperature and with an empty water. Cleanup will be much easier.
baste the ham with its drippings during cooking, as they tend to be
coat the ham with sugar, honey or glaze until the last hour of
cooking. One application is usually enough.
throw out the ham bone, use it to flavor soups or bean dishes.
Of Ham Terms
list of terms that you may encounter when shopping for ham:
Ardennes Ham: An
air-dried ham similar to prosciutto.
Bayonne Ham or
Jambon Bayonne: A boneless French ham similar to prosciutto.
Black Forest Ham:
A moist German ham that is smoked and coated with beef blood to create a
Butt End, Half or
upper, meatier part of the whole leg; a butt portion has had some center
slices removed for separate sale as ham steaks or center cut ham slices.
The half includes this meat.
Canned Ham: Canned
hams come in two forms:
- Shelf stable - store
on shelf up to 2 years at room temperature. Generally not over 3
pounds in size. Processed to kill all spoilage bacteria and
pathogenic organisms such as Clostridium botulinum, Salmonella
and Trichinella spiralis. The product is free of
microorganisms capable of growing at ordinary room temperature.
However, high temperature storage — above 122°F F (50°F C) — may
result in harmless thermophylic bacteria multiplying and swelling or
souring the product.
- Refrigerated - may
be stored in refrigerator up to 6 to 9 months. Its weight can be up
to 8% more than original uncured weight due to uptake of water
during curing. It need not be labeled "Added water" except
for "In Natural Juices." Net Weight is the weight of the
actual ham excluding the container. Processed at a time/temperature
sufficient to kill infectious organisms (including Trichinae) but
the ham is not sterilized so spoilage bacteria may grow eventually.
pork butt which is dry cured; not necessarily cooked. Ham capacolla is
made with ham instead of pork butt.
Cook Before Eating:
Needs further cooking. Is not completely cooked in the plant and should
be cooked to 160°F F.
Cottage Ham: A
ham made from the shoulder butt end.
Uncooked, cured, dried, smoked-or-unsmoked meat products made from a
single piece of meat from the hind leg of a hog or from a single piece
of meat from a pork shoulder. Smithfield and country hams are not fully
cooked but are dry cured to be safe stored at room temperature. They
should be cooked before eating according to manufacturer's instructions.
A ham labeled "Smithfield Ham" must be processed in the city
of Smithfield, Virginia.
Fresh Ham: The
uncured leg of pork. Since the meat is not cured or smoked, it has the
flavor of a fresh pork loin roast or pork chops. Its raw color is
pinkish red and after cooking, grayish white.
Needs no further cooking. Fully cooked in plant. Can be eaten directly
as it comes from its packaging or reheated.
one-fourth ounce of dry gelatin is often added before a canned ham is
sealed to cushion the ham during shipment. During processing, natural
juices cook out of the ham and combine with the gelatin. When the ham
cools, a jell forms. Gelatin is included in the net weight statement on
Ham: The product
is at least 20.5% protein in lean portion and contains no added water.
Ham with Natural
Juices: The product is at least 18.5% protein. Can weigh 8% more
than uncured weight. Example: canned hams.
The product is at least 17.0% protein with 10% added solution; it can
weigh 8% more after curing than uncured weight.
Ham and Water
Products: Product may contain any amount of water but label must
indicate percent of "added ingredients." For example, "X
% of weight is added ingredients" for any canned ham with less than
Portions of the lower leg, cut into pieces and smoked. Often used to flavor
stews and other dishes.
Another name for center cut ham slices.
A cured ham which has been smoked by hanging over burning hickory wood
chips in a smokehouse. May not be labeled "hickory smoked"
unless hickory wood has been used.
Hock End or Hock
Half: Same as a shank end half ham.
be shown on the labeling of a cured product if honey is the only
sweetening ingredient or is at least half the sweetening ingredients
used, and if the honey is used in an amount sufficient to flavor and/or
affect the appearance of the finished product.
Ham: The term "lean" may be used on a ham's label provided
the product contains less than 10 grams fat, 4.5 grams or less of
saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams cholesterol per 100 grams and
Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC).
Lean" Ham: A ham labeled "extra lean" must contain
less than 5 grams fat, less than 2 grams saturated fat and the same
cholesterol as allowed per the amount of "lean" ham.
Shoulder Picnic: A front shoulder cut of pork which has been cured
in the same manner as ham.
An Italian-style dry-cured raw ham; not smoked; often coated with
pepper. Prosciutto can be eaten raw because of the way they are
processed. Parma Ham is prosciutto from the Parma locale in
Italy. These hams tend to be larger than the U.S. produced product, as
Italian hogs are larger at slaughter.
Pumped Ham: Same
as a wet cured ham.
Formed" or "Chunked and Formed": A boneless ham that
is made from different cuts, tumbled or massaged and reassembled into a
casing or mold and fully cooked. During this process it is usually
Serrano Ham: A
Spanish dry-cured ham that is not smoked and does not require cooking
before eating. Similar to prosciutto.
Shank End, Half or
Portion: The lower, slightly pointed part of the leg. A
"portion" has the center slices removed for separate sale as
"ham steaks" or center cut ham slices. The half includes this
A ham with all of the skin and the shank removed. The leg bone and
aitch (hip) bone remain.
A ham that has been placed on a special cutting machine that spins the
ham around while cutting thin slices all the way to the bone in a
continuous spiral. Usually served with a sweet glaze.
Sugar Cured: A
term that may appear on ham labels if cane or beet sugar is at least
half the sweetening ingredients used and if the sugar is used in an
amount sufficient to flavor and/or affect the appearance of the finished
product. Most hams contain sugar in the curing mixture.
Tasso: A heavily
smoked ham with a spicy pepper exterior. Common in Cajun cooking.
A German-style dry-cured ham that is similar to prosciutto; smoked,
sometimes with juniper berries. Also called Westfalischer Schinken.
York Ham: A dry-cured, lightly smoked British ham. Saltier but milder than most European
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