If you've been shopping for ham recently, you may have found yourself bewildered by the many choices available: fresh, cured, cooked, spiral-cut, smoked, bone in, boneless, country. It's no wonder people have so many questions about cooking and storing ham.
Here are some tips that will make it easier for you to prepare ham successfully — and safely.
Types of ham
Simply, ham is a leg of pork. If it's made from the shoulder, it's called a picnic. Types of ham are fresh, cook-before-eating, cooked or country (dried and shelf stable).
Hams are either ready to eat or not. Hams that must be cooked before eating will have cooking instructions and safe handling instructions on the label.
Cooking and reheating ham
Fresh and cook-before-eating hams must reach 160 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer to be safely cooked. Cook in an oven set no lower than 325 F. Hams can also be safely cooked in a microwave oven, in other countertop appliances and on the stove.
Ready-to-eat hams include spiral-cut ham, boneless or bone-in hams (whole, halves or portions) and dried ham such as prosciutto. These can be eaten cold right out of the package. If you want to reheat these cooked hams, set the oven no lower than 325 F and heat to an internal temperature of 140 F.
Spiral-cut hams, which are fully cooked, are best served cold because heating sliced hams can dry out the meat and cause the glaze to melt. If reheating is desired, heat to 140 F (165 F for leftover spiral-cut hams or ham that has been repackaged in any other location outside the plant).
To reheat a spiral-sliced ham in a conventional oven, cover the entire ham or portion with heavy aluminum foil and heat at 325 F for about 10 minutes per pound. Individual slices may also be warmed in a skillet or microwave.
Country hams, which have been dried and are safe stored at room temperature, can be soaked four to 12 hours or longer in the refrigerator to reduce the salt content before cooking. Then they can be cooked by boiling or baking. Follow the manufacturer's cooking instructions.
How long should you cook your ham? Go to Foodsafety.org (www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/hamcookingchart.html). This chart will help you determine how many minutes of cooking are required, based on the ham's type and weight.
Many people believe that because most hams are cured that they are safe longer than fresh meat. However, most leftover cooked ham is safe in the refrigerator only about five days.
A fresh (uncured) ham, uncooked can be stored in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or below for three to five days and in the freezer six months. A fresh (uncured) ham cooked can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days and in the freezer for three to four months.
A cured ham that you cook before eating can be kept uncooked in the refrigerator for five to seven days or "use-by" date or frozen for three to four months. Once the consumer cooks this ham it can be kept in the refrigerator for three to five days and frozen for one to two months.
To determine how long other different types of ham can be stored safely in the refrigerator and freezer, see the ham storage chart at www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/hamstoragechart.html
If you have any other questions about ham, feel free to contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov (English and Spanish).
Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Her Family Ties column appears in Sunday Life on the first Sunday of each month and on gainesvilletimes.com. Contact: 770-535-8290.