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Baking your Easter Ham

Though families of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds enjoy different foods for Easter dinner, a ham remains the most popular main course for Easter Day meals in the United States. And why not? It’s a great choice. Tasty and low in fat, the ham is quite versatile and can be enjoyed not only with all the traditional fixings but also between two slices of bread with plenty of mayo or mustard. There are plenty of uses for the leftovers as well.

Selecting the right Easter ham and preparing it properly could mean the difference between a delectable meal and one that’s rather bland and uninteresting. A knowledge of the types of ham available and the best ways to cook them will help you to present a delicious Easter meal that all your guests will enjoy.

Choosing a Ham

When you shop for hams at the supermarket, you’ll probably be presented with a few different types and a few different cuts as well. The standard choices are:

o Fully cooked hams – This is what you’ll find in the grocery stores most often. Simply, it is a ham that is already cooked and just needs to be warmed in your oven. These hams – also known in some places as “city hams” – are generally soaked in brine for moistness and then boiled before being packaged and sent to your supermarket.

o Country hams – These hams are dry-cured and then are lightly smoked and aged, which provides added flavor. Some cooks prefer these. They tend to be a little saltier than the city ham variety. It’s tough to find these in some parts of the country but they are usually available online if they’re not in your supermarket.

o Canned hams – This is basically a fully-cooked ham which is deboned and packaged in a tin can. These hams are convenient but tend not to be as tasty as other varieties and they are more perishable because they have a very high moisture content, necessary because of how they are packed.

o Fresh hams – This is an uncured ham and it actually tastes more like pork than ham. It needs to be cooked thoroughly before serving.

Bone or No Bone

Hams that contain bones tend to be much more flavorful than those that do not. The spiral-cut hams that you find in the market or online are of the bone-in variety and can look very festive when sliced. Hams without bones, of course, are much easier to slice but you’re generally giving up a lot of taste when you choose this variety.

If you’re not buying a whole ham but rather just a half, you may need to choose between the “shank” end or the “butt” end. The shank end comes from the lower portion of the leg while the butt end comes from the upper thigh. The butt end tends to be meatier but also contains a lot of fat and membrane so some cooks prefer the shank. Many people don’t recognize a huge difference between the two and are happy with either.

When deciding what size ham to buy, figure about ¾ pound per person for a bone-in ham and about a ½ pound per person for boneless.

Cooking the Ham

Traditionally, hams are baked in the oven though some clever grill meisters have figured out ways to cook them on the barbecue. But chances are yours will be of the oven-cooked variety.

The biggest problem with ham is overcooking, which results in tough, dry meat. A fully-cooked ham will require only about 10 minutes per pound at 350 degrees for warming. Place it cut side down in a pan and “tent” it with foil if it’s big enough to be in the oven for more than about an hour. This will help avoid drying.

The best way to keep the ham moist is to glaze it. A variety of condiments can be used to glaze the ham, including brown sugar, fruit juices, preserves, honey, mustard, and even whiskey. Some cooks even pour lemon-lime soft drinks over their ham. Be sure to add more glaze or baste it about every 20 minutes or so to keep it moist and delicious.
A ham is suitable for serving when it reaches a temperature of about 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike a turkey, there’s no need to let it sit before carving.