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How to cook a ham

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holiday ham
a glazed and sliced ham is the perfect addition to any holiday dinner table
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How to simply cook a holiday ham

As the holiday season draws near, families prepare to gather together to dine and celebrate.  While some families prefer to serve turkey at their holiday dinner table, others desire a Christmas ham as a main entrée.  Historically, the tradition of serving a Christmas ham can be traced to European pagan times, where a whole boar or a boar’s head was served during the solstice feast.

If you are planning to purchase, prepare and serve a ham this holiday season, here are some helpful tips on how to cook a ham, as well as a delicious recipe for a southern honey and pineapple glaze.  

How to Cook a Ham

First off, decide whether you wish to purchase a fresh ham, a cured ham or a pre-cooked ham.  This primary decision will most significantly affect your options about how to cook a ham for your holiday dinner.

Thankfully, the majority of hams sold in grocery stores today are pre-cooked.  This means that the ham has already been fully cooked or cured in advance and merely needs to be re-heated and glazed for flavor.  It is helpful to use a meat thermometer to heat the pre-cooked ham to an internal temperature of 140 degrees.  If you do not have a meat thermometer, bake your pre-cooked ham at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes per pound. 

If you do plan to purchase a fresh ham, be sure to buy the ham from a reputable butcher or grocer.  Also, be aware that the time table for how to cook a ham varies greatly between pre-cooked and fresh hams.  A fresh ham will generally take about five hours to cook, and must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees before serving (roughly thirty minutes per pound at 350 degrees.)

Whether you plan to purchase a pre-cooked or a fresh ham, most chefs recommend buying your ham “on the bone”, as the bone adds tremendous flavor to the meat as it cooks. 

Most hams sold in supermarkets today are pre-sliced or spiral sliced hams.  If your ham is not pre-sliced, scoring the ham is an important step in the process of how to cook a ham.  Scoring is not just decorative; it allows fat to seep out of the ham, while helping the glaze to permeate the meat.  To score the ham, remove the rind and cut away the excess fat, leaving no more than ¼” layer of fat.  Use a sharp knife to slice diagonal lines (a diamond pattern) into the meat.  Use a skewer or a sharp knife to poke a hole in the center of each diamond and insert a clove. 

Glazing a ham is an ideal way to add extra flavor and sweetness to the meat.  Glazing should be done during the last 30-40 minutes of cooking the ham.  To glaze the ham, place the meat cut side down on the roasting pan and cover the ham with foil to preserve moisture and natural juices.  Remove the foil for the last 15 minutes of cooking.  Many chefs recommend mildly carmelizing the glaze by turning the oven to broil for the last five minutes.  This must be done carefully as the sugars in a glaze can burn easily. 

Southern Honey and Pineapple Glaze for Ham:


• 1 (10 pound) fully-cooked, bone-in ham
• 1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
• 1/3 cup pineapple juice
• 1/3 cup honey
• 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
• 2 tablespoons of Lemon juice
• 1 Teaspoon cardamom
• 1/3 large orange, juiced and zested
• 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place pre-cooked, scored ham in a roasting pan lined with aluminum foil.
2. In a saucepan or double boiler, combine all ingredients.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes until all ingredients are evenly mixed. 
3. Brush the ham with the glaze every 15 minutes or so.
4. Bake for around an hour to two hours depending on the size and type of ham.  To brown the glaze when the ham is done, turn on the broiler to carmelize the glaze during the last five to ten minutes of baking.
5. Let cool for 10-20 minutes, slice, and serve.

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