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How to Cook a Ham

Albertina Roca
  |   June 5, 2024   |  

Whether it's for Thanksgiving, Christmas or another special occasion, figuring out how to cook a ham can be a daunting task. But it doesn't have to be! Cooking ham is simple, so long as you know what kind you’re working with. Whether you bake, glaze or smoke it, discover the best way to cook a ham with us!

What is Ham?

Ham usually refers to the hind leg of a pig, which is often salted or smoked. It can be bought, cooked and served in a number of different ways, with some including the whole bone and leg, while others are sliced into wafer-thin pieces. Some are cured and cooked, whereas others are raw and uncured. They can come whole, with essentially all of the leg except the foot, or you can purchase a half ham, from either the top half (butt end) or bottom half (shank) of the leg.


The majority of store-bought hams are pre-cooked, having been wet-cured and then smoked or boiled. Since this is cooked, you can serve it as is, but cooking it again can yield a deliciously tender, rich meat feast.

Country-Cured / Dry-Cured

These hams have been salt-cured, smoked and aged, resulting in a dry but very flavorful delicacy. People tend to eat less of it because of its saltiness, so you may need to purchase less than with other varieties. This can be eaten like prosciutto, raw and trimmed off the bone in wafer-thin slices.

Fresh (uncured, raw)

This is best obtained from a butcher, though some grocery stores may provide it too. Since it has not been cooked, baked, cured or smoked at all, it'll take considerably longer to cook.

City Ham

Also known as a prepared ham, is the most common type of ham found in grocery stores. It is typically wet-cured, meaning it has been soaked in a brine solution, and is fully cooked. They can be either smoked or unsmoked. This type of ham is often pre-sliced in a spiral cut for easy serving. Because it is already cooked, it can be eaten straight out of the package, but it is usually reheated and glazed to enhance its flavor and presentation.

City hams are popular for their convenience and versatility. They are ideal for holiday meals and large gatherings due to their ease of preparation. You have the option of choosing between bone-in and boneless varieties - while bone-in hams are generally considered to have more flavor and moisture, boneless are easier to carve and serve.


A boneless ham is exactly what it sounds like: a ham from which the bone has been removed. This type is often processed into a compact, oval shape, making it easier to slice and serve. The texture of boneless ham is typically smoother and more uniform compared to bone-in ham, and it resembles the texture of deli-style know and love.

While boneless ham is convenient and simple to carve, it can sometimes lack the depth of flavor and juiciness that bone-in hams possess. The bone in a bone-in ham helps retain moisture and adds a richer flavor during cooking. However, boneless varieties are popular for their ease of preparation and serving, making them a great choice for those who prefer a hassle-free cooking experience.

Baked boneless glazed ham, photo by Gourmet Food Store

How to Pick the Perfect Ham: Tips and Tricks

Know Your Types

  • City: Pre-cooked and brined, often smoked or boiled. Ideal for a straightforward, no-fuss preparation.
  • Country: Dry-cured and intensely flavored, similar to prosciutto. Best for those who enjoy a more robust taste.
  • Fresh: Uncured and uncooked, offering a blank canvas for your seasoning and cooking techniques.

Bone-In vs. Boneless

  • Bone-In: Generally more flavorful and juicy, thanks to the bone which helps retain moisture during cooking.
  • Boneless: Easier to carve and serve, with a uniform texture. Great for convenience, but may lack the depth of flavor found in bone-in varieties.

Consider the Cut

  • Shank End: Leaner with a single, easier-to-carve bone. It has a slightly sweeter flavor.
  • Butt End: Meatier with more fat, which can provide a richer taste but may have a more complex bone structure to navigate when carving.

Check the Label

  • Water Content: Look for labels indicating "water added" or "natural juices." Less added water generally means a more concentrated flavor.
  • Curing Method: Whether wet-cured or dry-cured, the curing method can affect the taste and texture. Wet-cured are typically milder, while dry-cured hams are saltier and more robust.

Size Matters

  • Portion Control: Estimate about ¾ to 1 pound of bone-in ham per person, and about ½ pound of boneless ham per person.


You can cook ham frozen but it will need to spend a longer time in the oven, so we recommend thawing it first.

In The Fridge

The safest way to thaw is in the refrigerator. Wrap your ham, and leave it in your refrigerator at a temperature of 25 - 40 F. Store it on a plate or tray that can catch any liquid it releases as it thaws.

Thaw for around 5 or 6 hours. Larger roast hams may take up to 7 or 8 hours. Once thawed, it can safely be kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. It can also be refrozen during this time, but be aware it may lose some texture and flavor quality.

In Cold Water

Another way to thaw is to thaw it in cold water. This is faster than in the refrigerator but requires greater care.

Fill your sink with cold water (do not use warm or hot water, as it may encourage the growth of bacteria). Put your ham in a sealed plastic bag and submerge it entirely in the water. Make sure no water can get into the bag, as this will hamper (excuse the pun!) the meat and potentially introduce bacteria.

Leave this way for around 3 hours. Larger hams may take an additional hour or two.Once thawed, it should be cooked immediately. Do not refrigerate or refreeze meat thawed using this technique.

Slicing pre-cooked ham, photo by Gourmet Food Store


This is another step you can potentially skip, but if you do want to make it extra-delicious as well as attractive, adding a glaze is a no-brainer. Some will come with a glaze packet included, but it’s easy to throw together a glaze of your own.

You’ll find glaze ideas in cook books and online, but it’s pretty easy to make one from scratch using whatever ingredients are on hand. Usually a glaze will combine the juice of a fruit (such as orange, pineapple or peach) with seasonings like ginger, mustard, rosemary or cinnamon. Honey and brown sugar are also common additions. Of course, you’re free to think outside the box and incorporate anything from marmalade to maple syrup to ginger beer to coca cola! The key is to keep it relatively simple: 4 or 5 ingredients should suffice. Sweet glazes are best-suited to wet-cured, non-salty hams, whereas tangy, sour or savory glazes are best with salted hams.

You can glaze before even placing it in the oven, but the flavors may be stronger if you do it 30 minutes before the ham has finished cooking. Simply remove from the oven, use a knife to score it with a grid-like pattern (this looks pretty and also helps the glaze penetrate the heart of the meat), and then apply the glaze using a spoon or brush. Then return to the oven and cook until it acquires a gorgeously golden, shiny crust and an internal temperature of 160 F.

Cooking the Ham

Before starting the cooking process, make sure you have the right equipment. You'll want a sufficiently big tray or pan, and a sharp knife for scoring and serving. An oven-safe thermometer will help you test the internal temperature, making it easier to avoid over or under-cooking, and you'll also want a brush or spoon if you're planning to apply a glaze (see above).


Preheat your oven to 330 degrees, and place your ham in your pan or tray. You can score and glaze it now, or do it 30 minutes before finish time (see above). You may wish to add two cups of water to the pan, creating a steaming effect that penetrates the ham and keeps it from drying out. Cooking time will depend on the size. We recommend cooking around 15 minutes per pound.

Country-cured / Dry-cured

As we mentioned above, dry-cured varieties can be eaten just like prosciutto, by trimming the meat off the bone and eating it in thin slices. You can cook it, in theory, but because it’s already quite dry, you risk turning the meat into overly crisp leather! Some folks, however, like to pan-fry those slices. Soak the slices in water first to moisten them up a bit, place them in the pan and fry for about a minute per side. Be very careful not to overcook! You can also slice country ham into half-inch-thick steaks and grill them, but once again, be very careful not to let them dry out.

Fresh (uncured, raw)

Since fresh ham hasn’t been cured, seasoned or cooked, it’ll require more effort on your part to cook, but it also gives you the freedom to make it your own way, without worrying about which ingredients the manufacturer may have added. 

You’ll want to season it before cooking it: score the meat with intersecting lines to form a grid and rub it with salt, pepper and any other seasonings. If you’re planning to use a glaze, apply it a little later, after it has been cooking for half an hour or so, so that the salt and pepper have time to permeate through the skin and meat.

Preheat your oven to 330 F, and cook for about 30 minutes per pound.

How to Carve

This can be a rewarding experience if done correctly. After allowing your cooked ham to rest, place it on a stable cutting board. If it is bone-in, start by cutting around the bone, freeing up as much meat as possible. Slice against the grain into even pieces to ensure tenderness. For boneless, simply cut into slices of your preferred thickness.

How Long to Cook a Ham

The cooking time depends on its type and size. Pre-cooked varieties generally require about 15 minutes per pound at 330 F. Fresh, uncured types need about 30 minutes per pound. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure it reaches an internal temperature of 160 F for optimal safety and flavor.


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Albertina Roca

Copywriter & Certified Cheese Addict

Meet Albertina, a seasoned food writing wordsmith and marketing creative split between the sizzling vibes of Miami and the charming streets of Buenos Aires. With a solid 20 years in the traditional and digital advertising world for the gourmet food industry, she’s mastered the art of making words as mouthwatering as the dishes they describe. She’s proudly been part of the Gourmet Food Store family (and its brands) since its very beginnings, and what a fun, flavor-packed journey it has been!


Albertina's journey in copywriting is marked by a passion for creativity and a knack for connecting with audiences. Her expertise spans SEO-driven content that boosts visibility, engaging social media strategies that spark conversations, persuasive advertising campaigns that captivate, and heartfelt storytelling that resonates deeply.


With a diverse portfolio spanning numerous articles, blogs, and captivating content pieces, Albertina has left her mark on the industry. From informative guides to persuasive sales copy, her work not only informs but also inspires action.

Education and Background

Her journey began at Rutgers College, where she studied in History and Political Science, with a minor in English Lit. She honed her craft at The Miami Ad School in South Beach, where creativity and copy collided under the South Florida Sun. From the neon streets of South Beach to the tango beats of Buenos Aires, her pen dances with the rhythm of whatever gastronomic tales she gets to write at the time.

Currently savoring life in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she’s bilingual in English and Spanish, an avid reader, and cheese addict.

Her writing? Seasoned with creativity, spiced with experience, and garnished with a dash of wit.

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Questions and Answers

Q:Do you have to boil ham before roasting?
A:No, you don’t have to boil a ham before cooking, although it might for certain preparations, especially dry-cured varieties.
Q:What is the best cooking method for ham?
A:There is no one best method, each cooking method delivers deliciously different results.
Q:How long should ham be thawed?
A:It depends on the size and thawing method; see above for more details.
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