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How to cook a ham that can be the centerpiece of your holiday table


A great holiday spread doesn’t need multiple carbohydrates, a cookie rack, a green veg or – hey presto! – of a beautifully tanned bird. The real centerpiece is a bone-in glazed ham, which can redeem any little conversation you have to have with third cousins.

Learning to cook ham takes almost no learning – as is the case with many of the best foods, the payoff is disproportionate to the preparation. As long as you are looking for a high quality ham and making a delicious sauce to coat and flavor it (brown sugar frosting is always a crowd pleaser), you will be rewarded with a nice piece of meat that can gladly serve twelve of your closest friends. It’s a hands-off process that you can do entirely in your oven with minimal equipment – you don’t need a slow cooker or even a roasting pan. While a turkey needs to be dry brined for several days, a cooked ham, as long as you remember to thaw it, requires almost no thought. And the leftover ham that you’ll be making all week after could be even better than the ham itself?

Below we will see what ham even is, what distinguishes a holiday ham from a regular ham (hint: it’s not just a ham wearing its ugliest sweater) and how to cook ham in perfection.

Wait, though: what is ham, anyway?

The word ham refers to the hind leg of a pig, usually one that has been preserved or dried, whether by salting, drying, smoking, or a combination of the three. Before general refrigeration, pork was treated in this way to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and to extend its shelf life; these days we still do it because, well, it tastes amazing.

So, what is a holiday ham?

When we talk about the cracked, glazed, rosy meat roast that anchors many Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter tables, we are usually referring to what is called a town ham, it is the haunch of thigh. ‘a pig which dried in a brine of salt water, then usually smoked and fully cooked. (A fresh ham, on the other Ham hand, has not been preserved: it is an unsalted, unsmoked, uncooked piece of meat that must be prepared using a different process.)

Sold! Now, how do you buy a good holiday ham?

To get your hands on the best ham possible, follow these four steps:

1. Order in advance

While most local butchers and even some grocery stores will be able to supply you with a quality specimen, we like the security of having great, reliable mail order sources up our sleeve. Snake River Farms offers six and eight pound American Kurobuta hams (Kurobuta is the same as Berkshire pork, which you can think of as the Wagyu of pork), and Heritage Foods sells half-hams with maple sugar of Paradise Locker Meats in Missouri. d’Artagnan and Porters Path are sold out for Thanksgiving, but will be restocked for December.

6 lb Korubuta ham with bone

Traditional Ham with Maple Sugar

2. Choose wisely

There is nothing wrong with buying a boneless ham, but we usually get one with the bone intact. There is just something festive in a piece of bone-in meat! But aesthetics aside, a leftover bone with clinging pieces of meat is the key to a truly transcendent pot of split beans or split pea soup.

3. Buy half

Unless you have an army to feed, you probably don’t need a whole ham, which can weigh around 20 pounds, one of the reasons most vendors cut them in half for you. first place. Half a ham weighing between 8 and 10 pounds is enough for a main course for 12 people with leftovers, and it will serve many more as part of a buffet of holiday snacks.

4. Slice it yourself

We generally like the flexibility of being able to slice a ham ourselves. That said, a spiral-sliced ​​ham (that is, a bone-in ham that the butcher sliced ​​into, you guessed it, a giant spiral), disintegrates into neat chunks and is a safer option. if the thought of slicing up a large chunk of meat – or letting your drunk guests try it – makes you uncomfortable.