How to Prepare a Holiday Ham
We tasted dozens of varieties to bring you the best city and country hams for your holiday table. Here, tips for how to prep, carve, and serve them.
Country Ham 101
Smoked and aged up to three years, with a rich, salty, concentrated flavor, country ham is America’s answer to prosciutto. “Country ham is one of my favorite ingredients to cook with,” says chef Matt Bolus of The 404 Kitchen in Nashville. At his restaurant, Bolus serves trout wrapped in thin slices of country ham over potatoes and chow-chow. At home, he shaves country ham for charcuterie boards, sandwiches, and old-school redeye gravy. For the holidays, he’ll set the ham out on the counter for guests to slice themselves. The best country hams are sold as whole legs—for our favorites, see our ham buying guide. Here’s how to prep, trim, and thinly slice your country ham like a pro:
Prep the Ham
Unwrap the ham (aged country hams typically come wrapped in breathable cloth or paper wrappings), and gently wipe away any mold, dust, or salt with a clean, damp towel. For stubborn mold, remove with a stiff brush or trim off with a sharp knife.
Trim Skin and Fat
Secure ham to stand. Using a ham slicing knife or other thin, sharp blade, remove and discard thin strips of skin and brown fat to expose a section of white fat. Remove a thin layer of white fat (reserve for another use, such as rendering to cook potatoes) until a 4- to 6-inch rectangle of rosy, marbled ham is visible.
With the knife flat against the meat, use an even sawing motion to cut paper-thin slices of ham. Repeat to remove desired amount of ham. When finished, wrap exposed meat and fat with plastic wrap. Refrigerate when not in use. Continue to remove skin and fat as needed to access meat. Ham can be stored in the refrigerator up to 1 month.
City Ham 101
This time of year, customers at Western Daughters, Kate Kavanaugh’s butcher shop in Denver, ask a lot of questions about city ham (the term for wet-brined, briefly aged dinner hams), from roasting and smoking to scoring and glazing. No matter how you plan to serve a ham, the most important factor, she says, is the quality of the pig. Source your ham from a butcher who is transparent about where their pigs come from and how the pigs were raised. Once you’ve selected your ham, here’s how to score, glaze, carve, and serve it:
Score and Glaze
Preheat oven to 350°F. Using a sharp knife, score ham in a 1-inch diamond pattern. Place ham on a rack set inside a roasting pan. Add 1 cup water to pan, cover tightly with foil, and bake in preheated oven until internal temperature reaches 140°F, 2 hours to 2 hours and 30 minutes. Uncover and brush liberally with Ruby Port Ham Glaze. Roast, uncovered, brushing occasionally with glaze, until glaze has thickened and looks lacquered.
Tent ham with foil, and let rest 30 minutes. Transfer ham to carving board. Use carving fork to stabilize ham. Beginning at one bone end, slice vertically into ham until knife reaches bone. Repeat vertical cuts for desired number of slices.
Working from the outside in, slice horizontally along the bone to release slices. Arrange on a serving platter. Once one side of ham is fully carved, flip ham and repeat slicing procedure on opposite side. Reserve bone to make Ham Broth.