Serving a holiday ham may seem like an easy choice. That is, until you get to the grocer.
That's when you discover the often overwhelming variety of hams, leaving you to guess at the best choice.
But understanding a few ham basics can make your selection much easier, ensuring you get the best ham to suit not only your tastes and budget, but also the amount of effort you want to invest in the meal.
A true ham is the leg of pork that comes from the hind of the hog. This is the best choice for slicing and serving.
To confuse matters, the front leg, called the pork shoulder picnic, often is cured and called ham, as well. These hams tend to have more internal fat, making them better suited for dishes such as soups and stews.
Most true hams are cured in salt or salt water and sometimes sugar. After curing, American hams are smoked, then partially or fully cooked. European hams, such as prosciutto, are salted and air dried.
A few small U.S. producers still make traditional country hams, which are salt-cured, then cold-smoked over smoldering fires.
Most of the hams carried by mainstream grocers are fully cooked. The various names on the labels generally refer to the cut of the leg you are getting and the style of flavors used to prepare it.
See tips on purchasing and preparing ham, and recipe ideas, on page 8D.