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How to Glaze a Ham

Want the most luscious, flavorful and picture-perfect ham? It’s all in the glaze!
Glazing is the key to roasting the perfect holiday ham. A glaze adds flavor and glossy sheen and, since most hams come precooked, is all about tailoring its flavor to suit your taste. Whether you like to add a little heat, a little sweet or another flavor altogether, there’s no better way to do it than with a glaze.

What is a Glaze?

A super flavorful liquid mixture that gets brushed on ham to add flavor and a glossy look. Classically, ham glazes include both sweet and tangy flavors.

  • Sweet flavors pair with the sweetness of the meat and might come from maple syrup, brown sugar or honey—this is one case where you can’t go pairing like with like!
  • Tangy ingredients add contrast and cut through the sweetness. Often, you’ll see Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar or ground mustard included in ham glazes. Sometimes soda pop or even wine might be used for this purpose.
  • Fruit in various forms is often used to add sweetness, acid and moisture in one fell swoop. Canned pineapple is classic, but we also have glazes featuring orange juice, chutney, cranberry sauce and various types of preserves—cherry is a classic.

Dried fruits, warming spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves) and bourbon are other ingredients often included in classic ham glazes. Sometimes drippings from the ham are incorporated into the glaze but before we dig into recipes, there are a few more things you need to know.

When to Glaze a Ham

Glaze is usually applied at one of two points:

  1. During the last 30-45 minutes of baking, remove your ham from the oven. Brush with glaze and return to the oven to finish cooking uncovered. Cooking the ham uncovered will allow for caramelization, which creates more flavor.
  2. Another way to glaze a ham is by applying the glaze before baking and continuing to baste throughout the cooking process, just as you might do with a turkey.

How to Apply Glaze

scoring the rind of the ham to create a criss-cross pattern

Scoring is the key to applying a glaze successfully. Since ham is covered with a thick rind of fat, scoring prior to glazing allows the flavors to permeate the meat more effectively. A glaze will also add moisture and encourage caramelization (i.e. more flavor), since most glazes contain some form of sugar.

How to Score a Ham:

  1. Place ham on cutting board or in the roasting pan, with fat side up. Starting at the bottom and working toward the top, make a vertical cut using the tip of your knife to create a groove about 1/3-inch deep. Cut the next line about 1 inch away from the first. Continue cutting until all your vertical lines are finished.
  2. Turn the ham 90 degrees and continue cutting 1/3-inch deep grooves, 1-inch apart cutting the ham from side to side and criss crossing the vertical lines. Now that your ham has been scored, the next step is to brush on the glaze with a pastry or silicone brush.

Brown Sugar-Balsamic Ham Glaze

Here’s exactly how to apply a glaze!

What You’ll Need:

  • Glaze ingredients
  • Brush (or just use your hands!)

Steps to Glaze a Ham

1.  Mix together your glaze ingredients. Here we’ve combined brown sugar, ground mustard and balsamic vinegar—give it a try yourself in our recipe for Baked Ham with Balsamic Brown Sugar Glaze.

mixing glaze ingredients for ham

2.  The brown sugar-mustard-balsamic mixture was more of a paste, so we patted it on. In the oven, the sugar will caramelize to give the glaze will give the ham a glossy coating and sweet, tangy flavor.

patting glaze ingredients on ham

More Glazes for Ham

Go ahead and toss the glaze packet that came with your ham. There’s a better way and we’re here to show you.

So you’ve picked your ham, glazed it and baked it. Next up is carving! Get all the details you need to serve up beautiful slices in our article, How to Carve a Ham.