Pork - Hams


Hams are cuts of pork that come from the leg, which have been dry-cured and smoked (country hams) or wet-cured and then boiled or smoked (city hams). The dry-cured hams are saltier, stronger flavored and have a coarser texture. Hams are larger cuts used to serve several people. A whole ham can weigh 10 lbs. to 20 lbs. or more, but are generally sold in halves. They are fairly low in fat but high in sodium and are available bone-in, semi-boneless or boneless. There are many different varieties that are cured and smoked using different methods and some are processed to have a lower fat content.

Some of the terms used to describe the different ways in which hams are processed are shown below. The terms will help to explain the types of ham available and the preparation required.

Bone-in Ham - This type of ham can be a butt or shank portion or it could be a whole or half leg that has the hip, thigh and/or shank bone remaining as part of the ham.
Semi-Boneless Ham - A ham from the leg primal cut that has only the leg bone remaining. The hip or shank bone has been removed, making it easier to carve.
Boneless Ham - A round, oblong or rectangle-shaped cut that has all of the bones and most of the fat removed.

Fully Cooked Ham - A ham that has been heated through to the middle reaching temperatures exceeding 147°F making it ready to eat without further cooking.
Partially Cooked Ham - A ham that has been heated through to the middle reaching temperatures exceeding 137°F, but still requires additional cooking prior to eating.
Uncooked Ham - A ham that requires cooking to prepare the meat for eating.
Boiled Ham - A ham that has been boned, cured and cooked using a process that includes boiling the ham in water. It is ready to serve as sliced ham or ham pieces.

Shown in the chart below are some of the different types of hams that are available. When selecting a ham it will generally have a description on the label that includes one or more of the terms from above.

Whole Ham

Bone In Ham Boneless Ham

A processed cut which includes both the butt ham and shank ham from the leg. Whole hams can weigh from 10 lbs. to 20 lbs. or more. They are available bone-in and boneless.

Butt Ham

A processed cut taken from the top half of the leg. The butt end is meatier but contains more fat than the shank end of the whole ham and is harder to carve because it contains the hip and pelvic bone.

Shank Ham

A processed cut taken from the bottom half of the leg. The shank end contains less fat, is not as meaty as the butt end, but it contains only one leg bone, making it easier to carve. It has a slightly sweeter flavor.

Spiral Sliced Ham

A precooked ham that has been presliced in a spiral cut for your convenience. A spiral cut is a cut that is done in one continuous cut around the ham, starting at one end, and moving consistently to the opposite end to create the same thickness of slices throughout.

Canned Ham

Ham that has been cured, with the bones removed and then vacuum-sealed in a can with a small amount of dry gelatin. The ham is steam cooked in the can and the gelatin helps to absorb the natural juices of the ham. When opened, it is ready to eat or it can be heated before serving. Canned hams are not as flavorful and have a different texture than other ham but they offer convenience. Check the can for refrigeration instructions because some require refrigeration before opening and some only require it after opening.

Picnic Ham

This is not a true ham but a cut from the shoulder of the pig, which has been cured and smoked. It is not as lean or tender but is less expensive. A good choice when in need of chopped or diced ham to add to other dishes.

Prosciutto Ham

A dry cured ham, originating in Italy and made from the meat of the pork butt section. It has a firm, dense texture and a delicate flavor. It has a rosy brownish rich color and is available as a bone-in ham, as a boneless ham, or as paper-thin slices. Since it has been cured it can be served raw. When served raw it is referred to as "prosciutto crudo" and often used as an appetizer. It can also be cooked, which it is then referred to as "prosciutto cotto". When cooked, it becomes an excellent deli sandwich meat.
Gourmet Ham A ham that is cured, smoked and then allowed to age for a longer period of time (1 year or more) than other hams. The additional aging develops more flavor in the ham.
Specialty Ham A hams that has undergone special processes for curing and cooking to produce a distinctive flavor. The flavor and curing processes vary depending on the ham.

Center Ham Slice

Also referred to as center cut ham steak, this cut is approximately ½ to 1 inch thick and is sliced from the center of the leg primal cut. It is available as a fresh cut of meat or it can be cured and smoked. The ham center slice may be found boneless or with a small circular bone included. It is also available fully cooked and ready to serve.

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