Several Methods of Cooking Ham

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ham_cThe word HAM means pork which comes from the hind leg of a hog. Ham made from the front leg of a hog will be labeled "pork shoulder picnic." "Turkey" Ham must be made from the thigh meat of turkey. In this article we're giving you some methods of cooking ham.


Hams may be fresh, cured, or cured-and-smoked. The usual color for cured ham is deep rose or pink; fresh ham (which is not cured) has the pale pink or beige color of a fresh pork roast; country hams and prosciutto (which are dry cured) range from pink to mahogany color.

Hams are either ready-to-eat or not. Ready-to-eat hams include prosciutto and fully cooked hams; they can be eaten right out of the package. Fresh hams and hams that are only trichina treated must be cooked by the consumer before eating; these hams will bear the safe handling label.

Quantity to Buy:

When buying a ham, estimate the size needed according to the number of servings the type of ham should yield:

  • 1/4 to 1/3 pound per serving of boneless ham
  • 1/3 to 1/2 pound of meat per serving of ham with little bone
  • 3/4 to 1 pound of meat per serving of ham with large bone.

How to Prepare and Bake a Ham

Raw pork must be stored in the refrigerator at 40 degrees F. or lower and used within 3 to 5 days of the "sell by" date on the package or it should be frozen.

Ham can be cooked without thawing first. You will need to increase the cooking time when starting with frozen meat. Larger cuts, such as roasts, will require up to 1 ½ times the cooking time of an unfrozen cut.

Thawing - Two methods that can be used to safely thaw pork are the refrigerator method and the cold water method. Never thaw pork on the kitchen counter. The outside of the meat will reach a temperature above 40 degrees F while the inside is still frozen. The area that reaches a temperature above 40 degrees F would be susceptible to bacterial growth. Use one of the thawing methods described below.

Refrigerator Method - Thawing pork in the refrigerator is the slowest but safest method and will result in the least amount of moisture loss in comparison to the other methods. The temperature of the refrigerator should be maintained at 35 to 40 degrees F to discourage growth of harmful organisms as the meat thaws. Leave the meat wrapped and placed on a platter or a tray to catch the drippings as it thaws or unwrap and loosely cover with plastic or foil.

Approximate Refrigerator Thawing Time

Small Ham 4 to 5 hours per pound
Large Roast 5 to 7 hours per pound

After thawing in the refrigerator the pork can be refrigerated safely for 3 to 5 days. If you decide not to cook the meat within this time, the meat can be refrozen. Remember however, that each time the meat is frozen it loses some of its flavor quality. Do not refreeze meat that has been thawed using the cold water or microwave methods.

Cold Water Method - Thawing pork in cold water is a faster method than thawing in the refrigerator and it is safe as long as the proper precautions are taken. Fill the sink with enough cold tap water to cover the cut of meat, place the pork in a leak proof bag and put it into the cold water. Be sure that the meat is sealed tightly so that it is not exposed to the water. Meat exposed to the water will result in flavor and color loss, and will have a greater chance of bacterial growth. The water must be replaced with fresh cold water every 30 minutes. Do not use warm or hot water because it will encourage the growth of bacteria.

Approximate Cold Water Thawing Time

Small Ham 2 to 3 hours
Large Roast 30 minutes per pound

Do not use the sink for other purposes during the thawing period and be sure the water does not splash onto other preparation surfaces or food. Once the meat is thawed, remove it from the sink and sanitize all utensils and surfaces affected during the thawing period. The pork should be cooked immediately after thawing and should not be stored for any period of time. Do not refreeze the meat that has been thawed using this method, unless it has been cooked first.

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