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How to Cook the Perfect Ham

Everything you need to know to select, prep and carve this beloved holiday entree.

When it comes to choosing the star of your holiday meal, a handful of entrees promise an unforgettable dining experience. A gorgeously glazed ham is at the top of that list.

Ham can be a tricky dish to prepare, but that’s where we come in. Consider this your definitive guide to selecting, preparing, and cooking a ham roast. With our step-by-step tips, we’re certain that this sweet and juicy centerpiece of your holiday meal will have guests raising their hands for seconds!

Our Best Recipe: Baked Ham with Pineapple

Brown sugar combined with the juice from a can of DOLE® Pineapple Slices brings out the sweet-and-savory best in our Baked Ham with Pineapple recipe. Delicious? Of course! And when decorated with DOLE Pineapple Slices and maraschino cherries, it’s also a spectacular centerpiece for your holiday table.

Prep: 10 min. Bake: 2 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 fully cooked bone-in ham (6 to 8 pounds)
  • 1 can (20 ounces) DOLE Pineapple Slices
  • Whole cloves
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 12 maraschino cherries

Directions

1. Place ham in roasting pan. Score the surface with shallow diagonal cuts, making diamond shapes; insert cloves into diamonds. Cover and bake at 325° for 1-1/2 hours.

2. Drain pineapple, reserving 1/4 cup of the juice. Combine brown sugar and reserved pineapple juice; pour over ham. Arrange DOLE Pineapple Slices and cherries on ham using toothpicks. Bake, uncovered, 30-45 minutes longer or until a thermometer reads 140° and the ham is heated through. Yield: 16-20 servings.

 

How to Choose the Right Ham

City or country? Shank or butt end? Bone-in, semi-boneless, or boneless? What about spiral cut? Choosing a ham is enough to make your head spin. For the perfect holiday ham, let these tips guide you at the store.

Which Cut Is Best?

Ham comes from the rear leg of the pig, which is salted and dried or smoked. A whole ham can weigh 15 to 20 pounds and can serve up to 30 people. Unless you’re feeding a large crowd (or want a lot of leftovers), chances are you don’t need to purchase an entire ham. Instead, look for the shank or the butt end.

You’ll need about a third- to a half-pound per person for bone-in hams or a quarter- to a third-pound per person for boneless hams.

Shank or Butt?

For a traditional holiday ham, we suggest the shank (the leg portion). It will give you that classic ham profile; when decorated with pineapples and maraschino cherries, you can imagine the “hearts” that will pour in when you post a photo of your holiday ham for all to see. But more important than the pretty picture, the meat on a shank will be fattier (read: more succulent) and it will have one long bone, making it easier to slice.

If you’d prefer something a bit leaner, go with the butt end (the top half of the ham). It’s less fatty while also offering a little extra meat. Keep in mind that it does have a T-shaped bone inside that can be tricky to carve around. Keep reading for some tips on how to carve it perfectly.

Bone-in or Boneless?

If you’re comfortable with the work of carving a ham, choosing bone-in is worth the effort. The bone provides the meat with better flavor and texture. And be sure to save the bone after carving your ham: it’s great for making soups and stews.

A semi-boneless ham (which removes the shank bone, but leaves the leg bone intact) offers a win-win combination of easier carving without the loss of flavor.

If convenience is more important to you than presentation and flavor, boneless ham is always an option. With this type, the bone is removed, and the ham is pressed into that familiar oval shape. Boneless ham looks like a solid piece of meat because the added salt breaks down its proteins, causing it to re-form, in a sense. This makes for the easiest carving.

What About Spiral Cut Ham?

If you’re not super confident about carving but consider bone-in flavor a must, try a spiral-cut ham. These are sold already cut into thin slices, which then just need to be carved away from the bone. If you want big chunks of ham, this isn’t the way to go; instead, it provides nice, thin slices that are perfect for sandwiches the next day.

It’s worth noting that many spiral-sliced hams come glazed, so they’re not a good choice if you’re following a specific recipe like our popular Glazed Ham with Pineapple recipe. Be sure to read the label to make sure you’re getting an unglazed ham.

City or Country?

One more consideration before you get cooking: Do you want a city ham or a country ham?

City ham is what’s generally available at the grocery store. These are usually cured by brining and sold fully cooked. City hams may come with added liquids that can dilute the flavor, so check the label.

Country hams are cured with a dry rub, hung to dry and sold uncooked. They may or may not be smoked and can be very salty. Understandably, they’re much drier than city ham. They are either served in very thin slices or soaked for 24 hours before cooking. The chewy, intensely flavored meat is an acquired taste, but country hams (Virginia hams, for example, are considered country) have a passionate following.

Baked Ham with Pineapple

Tips for the Cooking the Best Holiday Ham

To eliminate the guesswork, here are the best tips for ensuring your holiday ham turns out perfectly.

1. Cook a Bone-in Ham

We look for semi-boneless. The bone prevents the ham from drying out and adds flavor.

Test Kitchen tip: Don’t toss your leftover bone! Add it to pea soups, throw it into broth or add to a pot of beans.

2. Make Your Own Glaze

Our Baked Ham with Pineapple recipe combines sweet brown sugar, cloves and a 20-ounce can of DOLE Sliced Pineapple—both the fruit and some of the juice. The combination of ingredients perfectly complements the meat’s savory flavor.

Test Kitchen tip: If you want to go a little bolder, you can substitute dark brown sugar, which contains more molasses and a deeper flavor.

3. Score Your Ham

Before you glaze the ham, use a sharp knife to score the surface with 1/4-inch-deep cuts in a diamond pattern. Add cloves to the center of each diamond.

Test Kitchen tip: Scoring the ham opens up the fatty outer layer, allowing the glaze to soak into the meat.

4. Save the Glaze for Last

For best results, wait to add the sweet pineapple glaze until the last 30 to 45 minutes of baking. Be sure to get the glaze into all the nooks and crannies! Arrange DOLE Pineapple Slices and cherries on the ham and finish baking, uncovered, until your thermometer reads 140° and the ham is heated through.

Test Kitchen tip: Baking the ham uncovered exposes the glaze to more heat, letting it caramelize (which is a good thing!).

5. Carve Wisely

  • Grab the Right Knife. All you need is a sharp knife, preferably one with a long, thin blade, and a carving fork, which you use to stabilize the ham as you cut.
  • Give Yourself Room. Be sure to choose a large cutting board and give yourself plenty of elbow room.
  • Position It Right. Your semi-boneless ham will have just one bone running through it. Set the ham on your board so the pre-cut side is down. The bone should be perpendicular to the board.
  • Follow the Bone. Pierce your fork into the top corner of the meat. (It should be out of the way of your cutting knife, but it should be sufficiently deep in the meat to hold it still as you cut.) Carve along the bone to remove the boneless section of meat. Carve this section into vertical slices. Set these slices on a serving plate, then tent it with foil to keep the ham warm.
  • Slice Down and Across. First, make horizontal cuts through the meat up to the bone. Then, slice vertically along the bone. This will cut off your horizontal slices, which will fall neatly onto the board. Transfer them to the serving plate.

For more great holiday recipe ideas, visit dolesunshine.com/holidayfavorites.