How to Cook a Ham

by R.B. Quinn and Min Merrell
how to cook a ham

Here’s how to cook a ham for the holidays. It’s the easiest thing ever. The biggest challenge might be finding a fully cooked ham that isn’t already spiral cut and covered with sugar. Frustrating for fans of the olde time whole ham. Convenience, consistency, and uniformity elbow out flavor, again.

How to cook a ham? The instructions on the wrapper are a good place to start.

Preheat the oven to 325F and set the oven rack near the bottom. Place the ham on a rack in a roasting pan. Add about a half-inch of water to the pan. Seal the ham and the pan with aluminum foil. Put the ham in the oven on the lower rack. Make sure that the top of the ham is not immediately below the top of the oven.

Do not baste the ham, do not check the ham, do not open the oven door. Check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer (or use your BBQ thermometer probe with remote control) and you’re looking for at least 140F.

If you are going to glaze the ham do that during the last hour of cooking. Carefully remove the foil cover (the escaping steam will be HOT) and slather on the glaze. Check out this how-to cook a ham page for additional interesting facts about ham.

Now, about the spiral sliced comment. It would appear that today’s ham buyers are as happy to not slice their own hams as they are in not washing their own salad greens, or cutting up their cabbages. We hit four full-size Nashville supermarkets in search of a whole or a half ham untouched by the spiral cutter. We couldn’t even find a fancy, humanely treated ham at Whole Foods without spiral cuts.

After several open-minded attempts, we’ve concluded that spiraling saps most of the hammy flavor. That might explain why the Honey Baked Ham folks coat their hams with a sickly sweet glaze. If you can detect any ham taste while crunching on all that sugar, let us know.

Sure, convenience is nice, but don’t we always pay a taste (and sometimes a nutrition) price, no matter the modernized product? Your best bet for finding a real ham (not one of those boneless footballs) is at a value-priced supermarket is probably a less than affluent part of town (we found a few whole hams, half shank ends, and picnics at Kroger).

how to cook a ham

In the more sensible era before the foodie (B.F.E.), the big cheap ham was the longtime ace of the thrifty hostess. One delicious baked ham feeds a lot of people. And don’t toss that wonderful ham bone as you’ll need it for a pot of real beans. Min’s dad Max runs home with any ham bone he can for his slow cooker New Mexico pinto beans. If all you’ll need is half a ham, choose the pictured pretty shank end. It’s meatier and easier to carve than the picnic end.

The most delicious quick glaze we know needs no recipe. Just combine about equal proportions of brown sugar, whole grain mustard (start with about 1/2 cup each then add more sugar if you like), and a splash of Jack Daniel’s (optional) in a bowl. Adjust the proportions to your own liking. Smear it on the ham near the end of baking and raise the oven temperature to 400F for about 20 minutes so that the glaze sizzles and sets.

Here are a few ideas for the leftover ham:

Ham Salad

how to cook a ham


Ham Biscuits

country ham and angel biscuits

Make a big ham salad

ham chopped salad

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