More tips on choosing and preparing a ham:
¢ When selecting a ham, figure on buying 1/4 to 1/3 pound per person if boneless, 1/3 to 1/2 pound per person if partially boned, and 3/4 to 1 pound per person for bone-in hams.
¢ If hope to get your holiday shopping done early, you can store a ham, unopened, in the original packaging for 7 to 10 days. For longer storage, you can freeze a ham, in the original packaging, for up to 3 months.
¢ Fully cooked or ready-to-eat hams can be eaten with no further preparation. They are available with or without the bone, or partially boned, which still have a small part of the thigh bone, but not the big joints.
While the bone adds flavor during the cooking process, it can make carving more difficult. Regardless of the bone, fully cooked hams can be purchased in a variety of sizes.
Meat expert Bruce Aidells, author of "The Complete Meat Cookbook," says a whole, 10- to 20-pound bone-in ham is the most flavorful and least wasteful cut. It can serve 15 to 20 people with leftovers, and the bone can be used as you would a ham hock, for seasoning soups and bean dishes.
For smaller groups, Aidells recommends buying a smaller section of the ham. The butt-end, which is the upper part of the leg, tends to have more meat than the smaller shank end, which is lower on the leg.
¢ Partially cooked or ready-to-cook hams are made using traditional smoking and curing techniques and have been heated to at least 137 degrees during some part of the processing.
Aidells says that because these hams are minimally processed they usually have superior flavor and texture.
Finer markets may stock ready-to-cook hams during the holidays, and they can always be purchase online and mail order from specialty producers.
¢ Fresh hams haven't been cured or cooked. They must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. These are sometimes found with alongside other pork roasts, but you may need to order them.
Mark Scarbrough and Bruce Weinstein, authors of "The Ultimate Cookbook," praise fresh hams for their fat and lean meat, which they say creates and excellent moist texture and superior flavor.
¢ Spiral-cut hams, which usually are fully cooked and available with or without the bone, have become increasingly popular, in part for their ease of serving. But that may be where the advantages end.
Aidells says these hams tend to dry out. They also often are coated with a sweet commercial glaze made with processed sweeteners. Aidells says even the simplest glaze of brown sugar and mustard would taste better.
¢ Fully cooked hams can be eaten cold. If you plan to bake it, heat the oven to 325 degrees and cook to an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Leftovers, or hams not in their original packaging, should be heated to 160 degrees.
¢ A fully cooked whole ham will take 15 to 18 minutes per pound to come to temperature. A fully cooked half ham will need to cook for about 18 to 24 minutes per pound.
¢ Partially cooked hams must be heated at 325 degrees to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. A 15- to 20-pound ham needs 18 to 20 minutes per pound. A 5- to 7-pound ham needs 20 to 25 minutes per pound.
Any ham looks and tastes better with a flavorful glaze. Most classic ham glazes combine a sweet ingredient, such as brown sugar, maple syrup or molasses, with a contrasting flavor, such as mustard or vinegar.
The sugars in the glaze caramelize while baking, giving the ham a glossy sheen.
Before coating ham with a glaze make sure to score it with a diamond pattern by cutting 1/4- to 1/2-inch slashes into the surface. This looks great and provides more surface area on the ham for the glaze to stick to.
If a ham has been cured and smoked in a net bag it may already have a pattern etched into the surface. But even these hams will benefit from being scored.
A ham can be coated with a glaze using a pastry brush or a large spoon at any point during baking, but every 15 minutes is a good rule of thumb.
A sweet glaze can certainly work well on a fresh ham, but because of the long cooking time, you will want to add the glaze toward the end so it doesn't burn.
When carving a ham use a very sharp knife with a thin blade. Cut only the amount you will serve, as leftover sliced ham dries out faster than larger pieces.
To carve a bone-in ham, cut a few long slices parallel to the bone, then turn the ham so it rests on the cut surface. Make perpendicular slices toward the bone and then cut along the bone to release the slices.
To carve a boneless ham, cut a few long slices to make a flat surface, then turn the ham onto the cut surface and slice to your preferred thickness.
Ginger-ale Glazed ham
3- to 4-pound boneless ham
1 cup white wine
2 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons molasses
Pinch cayenne pepper
2 cups ginger ale
2 tablespoons honey
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place the ham in a roasting pan.
In a medium saucepan, combine the wine, mustard, molasses and cayenne pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger ale. Pour the glaze over the ham. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.
Increase oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake for another hour, basting the ham every 15 minutes.
Brush the ham with honey. Bake, basting every 15 minutes, until the ham is well glazed, about another 30 minutes. Slice and serve. Serve 8 to 10.
- Recipe from Jamie Deen and Bobby Deen's "The Deen Bros. Cookbook"
Tomato & onion glaze
This glaze of tomato sauce and sauteed chopped onion is a less sweet alternative to traditional fruit- or sugar-based recipes. Since a glaze only coats the outside of the ham, you might want to double the recipe to serve as you would a gravy.
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
8-ounce can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter or margarine. Add the chopped onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce, then bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer until glaze thickens, about 5 minutes. Use the sauce to glaze a ham, basting as desired. Makes about 1 cup.
- Recipe from "The Good Housekeeping Cookbook"