A nicely cooked ham is beautiful to behold. But how do you prepare the absolute, #1 Best Tasting Ham?
Borrowing advice from the ham-savvy Serious Eats Food Lab, it’s easy:
1) Buy the right ham, and
2) Don’t screw it up.
But, seriously, ham needn’t be a complex dish. With these simple tips, you’re guaranteed to have success.
Know your ham
Many are probably unaware of the different types of ham available. Most of the hams sold in grocery stores are of the city ham variety (there are also country hams and fresh hams). You’ll recognize them filling chilled meat cases everywhere you look this month as people shop for their Holiday Ham. City hams are brined then either smoked or boiled to be moist and tender. Most are partially or fully cooked and come in a variety of choices – bone in, spiral cut, etc.
What to buy
Since most people in the U.S. choose city hams, we’ll focus on them here. There are many fine city hams to choose. One absolute: bone-in hams are more flavorful. Period. Plus, the bone makes a great soup stock.
What’s the word on water content? The more water added to the product, the less your ham will taste like a ham and it will have less of a meat-like texture. Aim for the highest protein to water ratio that you can afford, and remember this is the season for great ham deals at many markets.
Cook it right
You might think there’s little to cooking a ham. You’re mostly right, but a couple simple tips will help you nail it perfectly the first time. Note that regardless whether you choose a fully or partially cooked ham, cooking it is essential. For the former, it will enhance its flavor and juiciness. For the latter, it’s necessary.
Baking your ham is the hands-down best way to prepare it. Wrap your ham in aluminum foil, and place it in an oven bag cut side down inside a roasting pan. This method helps prevent you from inadvertently drying out your ham and is worth the effort.
If it’s a spiral-cut ham, it’s particularly important to place the ham in your roasting pan facing cut side down so the cut slices do not flop apart, dry and ruin your dish.
A partially cooked ham will need to cook 20 minutes per pound at about 350 degrees (175 celsius).A fully cooked ham will take less time, about 10 minutes per pound, to heat through.
Since ovens and hams vary, use a meat thermometer to gauge exactly when the ham is done. For accuracy, it’s important to know exactly where to insert the thermometer probe in your ham. Choose the center of the thickest part of your ham avoiding the bone. I usually go in at an angle from above,
You’ll know your ham is ready to come out of the oven when your thermometer reads about 140-degrees. It will continue to cook while it rests and stopping at this point will keep your ham juicy. The recommended rest period is 30 minutes, tented under foil, prior to slicing and serving.
Answers to Some Frequently Asked Ham Questions
To help you calm any other jitters and concerns about ham here are some FAQs.
Can you cook ham in an aluminum pan?
Yes! Just make sure that the disposable foil pan is up to the job.
Reynolds Kitchens’ website (the company behind Reynolds Wrap foil) mentions that their disposable roasting pans “make classic holiday recipes like Thanksgiving turkey and Easter ham easy and let you spend more time with your loved ones” and can handle up to 24 lbs total.
Do you put water in pan when cooking ham?
Cooking experts disagree on this issue.
Many cooks recommend adding a little liquid (about ½ cup typically) to the bottom of the pan, whether that is water, wine, fruit juice, stock or combo of those liquids to keep the ham from sticking to the pan.
Mashed advises against it in an article about the mistakes made when cooking ham because “The fat from the ham will melt during cooking, keeping the meat plenty moist. If there’s too much liquid in your pan, your ham will boil instead of baking… and that’s not what we’re going for here.”
Either way, don’t go overboard with the liquid.
How do I cook a precooked ham?
Did you know that you don’t need to cook a precooked ham? That’s right, the ham can be sliced cold or at room temperature and served. It doesn’t need to be reheated.
If you prefer warm ham, you can heat it. Be sure to have a meat thermometer handy to avoid overcooking your ham and drying it out.
If you would like to add a homemade glaze, you’ll need several hours in a low temperature oven to make a delicious caramelized exterior.
The helpful people at Southern Living provided these tips:
- Put the ham cut side down in a heavy duty foil lined pan and sit at room temp for 30 minutes.
- Brush glaze over the ham and set an over rack at the lowest position.
- Preheat oven to 350˚F. Bake uncovered for 2.5 to 3 hours — or until the meat thermometer reads 140° when inserted into thickest portion.
- Baste every 30 minutes with an additional ½ cup of glaze.
- When you remove from oven, spoon drippings from the pan over the ham.
- Let the ham stand for 10 minutes prior to slicing and serving.
That’s it! With these few simple steps you can choose, cook and serve the perfect Holiday Ham or Ham dinner any time. Share your tips with us here.
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