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How to Cook a Ham

Updated December 5, 2019
The ideal holiday meal is one you can smell just thinking about it! Maybe it’s a ham simmering in mustard and brown sugar, or brushed with bourbon and maple syrup. It could even be stuck with warm, woody cloves or covered with pineapple slices. No matter your preference, ham makes for a wonderful holiday meal and is as impressive as it is easy.

What cut creates that holiday ham you know and love? It’s a combination of two things: the cut (from the hind leg) as well as the curing (or the method of preservation). When a ham is preserved through salt-forward curing, you can expect it to be moist, tender and flavorful. It also brings out the ham’s sweet, salty and sometimes smoky-tasting notes. Given the size, it’s ideal for a crowd and is delicious warm or at room temperature. Plus, most hams are pre-cooked and pre-sliced, which all hosts can celebrate.

To make sure your celebrations have a delicious centerpiece, we'll give you the details on everything from how to pick a ham to how to bake or broil ham. We'll also talk to you about making a glaze for ham and even show you how to carve the ham. Wondering about leftovers? We've got you covered with details on how to reheat your ham (without drying it out). So let's get to it!

What You’ll Need

Before you get started, here’s what you’ll need to roast a ham.

  • Roasting pan: A 9x3x13-inch pan is a good size to look for. You’ll want a pan that’s large enough to fit the ham comfortably without touching the sides. A depth of 3 to 4 inches will help avoid spilling or splashing of hot cooking juices.
  • Meat thermometer: An ovenproof or instant-read thermometer will help ensure your ham is hot all the way through. Since most hams come precooked, this might seem odd, but it’s hard to tell internal temperature—you’re aiming for 140°F when reheating precooked ham—without a thermometer. If your ham was not precooked, it’s even more important to have a thermometer, because it will help you determine doneness (145°F). Since temperature is the most foolproof way to cook meat to perfection, we highly recommend investing in a thermometer. Options range from a basic ovenproof meat thermometers, which are widely available for under $10, to the premium instant-read thermometers, typically found in kitchen supplies stores or available for purchase online.

What if I don’t have a roasting pan?

Don’t fret, there’s more than one pan that can roast your ham. Try using one of the following:

  • a large casserole dish with deep sides
  • a broiler pan with a grated top that fit inside a bottom pan meant to catch juices
  • a sheet pan; just remember to handle carefully as hot juices can splash or spill more easily in this low-sided pan.

And if all else fails, why not ask your friend, neighbor or relative—the one with the fully-equipped kitchen—to lend you their roaster? Chances are, the ham you’re preparing is for a feast meal, and one of your guests might jump at the chance to help out.

How to Pick the Perfect Ham

With the details below, you can avoid indecision or worse, buying a ham that’s not well-suited to your recipe and meal.

City Ham versus Country Ham

The quick answer is that city hams are wet cured and typically come precooked and even presliced, while country hams are dry cured and might need to be soaked for a day or more before cooking. Translation: Buy a city ham, i.e. one that’s labeled as precooked, especially if this is your first time cooking ham. Most likely, this is all that’s available at your grocery store anyway. P.S. Spiral-cut hams are a type of city ham.

City ham: This is the type of ham most widely available, and the one you’re most likely familiar with—unless you live in the South. Preparation is easy, since it’s mostly a matter of reheating and adding flavor. City ham is mildly flavored and very moist due to the curing process. Typically, this type of ham is injected with a cure of salt, water, sugar and spices. Sometimes, the ham is smoked after. It’s typically sold precooked and presliced. It’s generally available bone-in or boneless. Spiral-cut ham is a popular type of city ham that’s been sliced into even pieces around the bone.

Country ham: Differing from city, country ham is preserved by dry curing, or rubbing with a mixture of salt, sugar and spices before being smoked and aged for a period ranging from several weeks up to one year. This type of ham is typically very salty, so much so that it often require soaking (to remove some of that salt) prior to cooking. This method of preservation was popular throughout the South prior to refrigeration and is still a part of the culinary tradition today. This results in strongly flavored, salty meat with a toothsome texture. It is sold both uncooked and cooked and typically bone-in.

Boneless versus Bone-In Ham

The main benefit of a boneless ham is that it’s easier to carve, while the main benefit of a bone-in ham is the flavor is better and meat is juicier. Another benefit of bone-in ham is that your leftover ham bone is the key to delicious soups, collard greens and more. Whichever choice you make, you can’t go wrong—we’re here to show you how to turn out a perfect ham.

How Much Ham Should I Buy?

This part is easy. When cooking a bone-in ham, you’ll want ¾ pound of ham per person. With a boneless ham, you’ll want ½ pound ham per person. So for 20 guests, you’d want to purchase a 10-pound boneless ham or a 15-pound bone-in ham.

What’s with the Hatching?

The classic holiday ham has a diamond pattern etched into its surface. Why do people do this? Good question! Scoring the rind of the ham in this way catches the glaze and better flavors the ham. It’s quite easy to do and makes for a stunning presentation. See how it’s done in the recipe below.

How to Bake Ham

Now, let’s walk through the steps of roasting a ham using a fully cooked, bone-in (city) ham.

What you’ll need:

How to:

1.  Heat oven to 325°F.

2.  Place ham, fat side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.

how-to-cook-a-ham_03

3.  Cover loosely with foil and roast ham, as directed, until thermometer reads 135°F.

ham in oven tented with foil

4.  About 20 minutes before ham is done, remove from oven. Cut uniform diamond-shaped pattern into fat side of ham.

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

5.  Stir together brown sugar, vinegar and mustard.

mixing glaze ingredients for ham

6.  Pat or brush mixture on ham.

patting glaze ingredients on ham

7.  Bake uncovered 20 minutes longer.

ham baking

8.  Let stand 10 minutes or until thermometer reads 140°F.

baked ham resting before being carved

How Long to Cook Ham

Roasting time will depend on the weight of the ham. Check our timetable below to determine the time your ham will need to reach an internal temperature of 140°F—the temperature recommended when reheating a precooked ham.

Ham Roasting Timetable (Baked at 325°F)

Type of Ham (precooked)

Approximate weight (pound)

Approximate Time (minutes/pound)

Boneless Ham (cooked in covered pan with ½ cup water)

1 ½ to 2

3 to 4

6 to 8

9 to 11

29 to 33

19 to 23

16 to 20

12 to 16

Bone-In Ham (cooked in covered pan without water)

6 to 8

14 to 16

13 to 17

11 to 14

Canned Ham (cooked with can juices)

1 ½ to 2

3

5

23 to 25

21 to 23

17 to 20


How to Broil Ham

Craving ham but don’t want all the leftovers? Broiling a ham steak is the perfect solution. Since a steak is just a thick slice cut from the ham, it will have a similar flavor and texture. Broiling allows the ham to brown on the outside, for maximum flavor, and because steaks are typically about ½-inch thick, this method will also cook the meat through. It’s important to note, steaks are typically sold raw, so must be cooked to a temperature of 145°F. Here’s how to broil ham steak.

  1. Set oven to broil and line broiler pan with aluminum foil, for easy cleanup.
  2. Place ham steak on a wire rack over broiler pan. Position the pan so the top of the ham is 4 to 5 inches from heat.
  3. Steaks are done when the meat is heated in the middle and edges are slightly browned; roughly 5 minutes per side for ¼- to ½-inch slices.

How to Cook Ham in a Slow Cooker

For a moist, delicious and hands-off ham, use your slow cooker and keep these tips in mind.

  • Oval slow cookers are best able to accommodate the shape of the ham—you’ll want a 5- to 7-quart size.
  • Before cooking, coat your insert with cooking spray. This will make cleanup easier.
  • Remove excess fat and skin before cooking ham and score with hatched pattern.
  • Hams typically cook on Low and take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, depending on size of ham. If you’re ready to give it a try, we recommend the recipe below!

slow-cooker honey mustard glazed ham

How to Glaze Ham

To add extra flavor to your ham, try adding a glaze. We’ll walk you through all the details!

How to Carve Ham

To add extra flavor to your ham, try adding a glaze. We’ll walk you through all the details!

So there you have it, everything you need to know to pull off your best-ever holiday ham!