Getting to Know Your Holiday Ham

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Getting to Know Your Holiday Ham

By The Paula Deen Test Kitchen

People all over the world have loved ham for hundreds of years; in fact, China, Europe, and various other cultures have been eating cured ham since before the Common Era.  Christmas ham has been a domestic favorite since colonists arrived in the mid-Atlantic and Southern states, when pigs grazed on nuts and other delights in the Appalachian Mountains.  Who can resist the smoky, sweet taste and aroma of holiday ham, sneaking in bites before and after the big meal?  It’s delicious, easy, and usually affordable, especially factoring in so many leftover ideas that you won’t get sick of it!


Choose your ham and preparation method
Determine how many people you’re feeding (about 1/3 pound per person, slightly more for bone-in) and what kind of ham you want.  This could mean as little as getting a ready-to-eat ham and glaze.

Americans are most familiar with hams that come ready to cook, usually meaning that they are wet-cured (brined), often smoked or given smoked flavor, and pre-cooked.  In most American supermarkets, cured ham means that salt, nitrates, nitrites, sugar, and preservatives have been added for optimal flavor, color, and longevity.  A common cured type is country ham, which has a strong smoky flavor and typically a moldy exterior (don’t worry, it’s part of the aging process, but it should be removed before cooking and eating).  Due to salt content and other factors, country hams are generally pre-soaked in water for 12-24 hours and do not freeze well, while others can be marinated as desired overnight. Options may include fresh, cured or uncured, whole smoked or smoked parts, country, picnic (which is technically not ham to due to part it comes from), steaks, etc.

Usually your recipe will specify what to buy, so try these!:
Smoked ham butt:
Christmas Ham
Country ham, here fully cooked and spiral-sliced:
Peach Glazed Ham with Peach Corn Relish
Whole smoked picnic ham:
Peanut Butter Glazed Ham
Fresh (uncured) ham:
Herb Crusted Fresh Ham
Baked Ham with Soy House Seasoning
Fried ham and some other preparations, you will need an uncooked ham and will brine it overnight:
Deep Fried Ham
Ham steaks:
Aunt Peggy’s Orange Glazed Ham Steak
Country Ham and Red Eyed Gravy

Dress up for the occasion
Don’t forget about ingredients you might need for a homemade glaze (such as brown sugar, liquid smoke, spices, dried and preserved fruits such as prunes, peaches, and figs) and sides (winter favorites include root vegetables, leeks, hearty leafy greens, dried/canned beans, and of course grits)

Prepare to cook
Oven times and temperatures vary according to cut and recipe, but standard 10-14-pound smoked ham recipes will recommend 325-350 degrees for 15-20 minutes per pound, depending on the cut and whether the ham is fully cooked when purchased. 

If glazing, ready-to-eat hams can be brushed before baking and sometimes basted intermittently with wine, cider, or cola:
Cola Basted Ham
If using a homemade glaze for a roast, this can also be done during the last 30 minutes (remove skin and pan drippings first, then brush on glaze) of cooking.

Allow 10-15 minutes of resting time, especially if carving slices of cooked ham.

For leftovers…
The options are endless, but here are a few of our favorites (note that ham can last in the fridge for a few weeks and in the freezer for up to two months):
Dice it up for an egg-y brunch item, hearty salad, or soup:
Ham and Black Eyed Pea Cake
Ham Salad
Ham and Bean Soup

Read More From Holidays and Entertaining.

Read More From Christmas.

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Leave a Comment

Reader Comments:


Love you Paula Deen. Love all your recipes.

By gretagarris on December 15, 2013


My experience of cooking started when I was about 6 or seven years old and I have been cooking for 86 years since, cooking professionally for about seven of those years during the seventies and eighties. I have had people fight over my apple pie. But I have learned a lot since watching Paula and her family on Food Network. I'm planning on using her peach glaze on my Holiday Ham, and know it will be the best.

By Marge Plantier on December 20, 2011



By LORRAINE-BOISCLAIR on December 14, 2011

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