Ham for the holidays and all year long

There are several kinds of hams to choose from to serve for your holiday meal. MSU Extension provides information on the kinds of hams available.

Hams come in a wide variety of forms, from fresh to cured to cured-and-smoked. Ham is pork which comes from the hind leg of a hog, and pork shoulder picnic hams come from the front leg of a hog. Now there is even turkey ham which is made from the thigh meat of turkey. Which should you choose for your holiday meal? Michigan State University Extension offers the following information on the many kinds of ham that can help you decide.

  • Hams are either ready-to-eat or not.   Both vacuum-packaged fully cooked and canned hams can be eaten cold straight from their package, or can. However, if you want to reheat these fully cooked hams, set the oven at no lower than 325 degrees Fahrenheit and heat to an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Spiral-cut cooked hams are also safe to eat cold. The unique slicing method, invented in 1957, reduces carving problems. These hams are best served cold because heating sliced whole or half hams can dry out the meat and cause the glaze to melt and run off the meat. If reheating is desired, hams that were packaged in processing plants under USDA inspection must be heated to degrees Fahrenheit. To reheat a spiral-sliced ham in a conventional oven, cover the entire ham or portion with heavy aluminum foil and heat at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes per pound. Individual slices may also be warmed in a skillet or microwave.
  • Hams that need to be cooked before eating must reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit to be safe before serving. Cook in an oven set no lower than 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Hams can also be safely cooked in a microwave oven and on the stove top.
  • Country hams can be soaked four to 12 hours or longer in water inside the refrigerator to reduce the salt content before cooking. Then they can be cooked by boiling or baking. Follow the manufacturer’s cooking instructions for best and safe results.
  • Canned hams come in either shelf stable or refrigerated. Shelf stable hams are generally not more than three pounds and can be stored on the shelf for up to two years at room temperature. Refrigerated hams may be stored in the refrigerator for up to six to nine months.
  • Cook before eating hams need just what they say – to be cooked before eating. They are not completely cooked and should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Country hams are uncooked, cured, dried, smoked-or-unsmoked meat products made from a single piece of meat from the hind leg of a hog or from a single piece of meat from a pork shoulder. Smithfield and country hams are not fully cooked but are dry cured to be safely stored at room temperature. They should be cooked before eating according to manufacturer’s directions. A Smithfield ham must be processed in the city of Smithfield, VA
  • Fresh ham is the uncured leg of pork. Since the meat is not cured or smoked, it has the tastes like a fresh pork loin roast or pork chops. Fresh ham will bear the term "fresh" as part of the product name and is an indication that the product is not cured.

Whether you are having ham for the holidays or any time of the year you can enjoy it to the fullest extent when you use a food thermometer to check for doneness. Not only will you know it is safe to eat but it will not be dry from overcooking.

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