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Choosing the Perfect Ham for Christmas

We always have ham with brown sugar and pineapple glaze on the table for Christmas. Do you know the differences between the various types of hams?


At Christmastime, I always make sure we have ham with brown sugar and pineapple glaze on the table. It is a tradition I started years ago.

There are several options for hams. You might choose a bone in, spiral cut, boneless, etc. Oh, there are so many choices.

You will notice I did not mention a picnic ham in that choice list. This is because picnic ham is not actually a ham; it comes from the shoulder of the animal instead of the hind leg. A picnic ham may be sold as a fresh pork roast or one that is cured and smoked. A picnic shoulder will usually cost less than ham and is not as popular, because it has more bone and is less tender.

When deciding how much to buy, estimate the size needed according to the number of servings the type of ham should yield. For a boneless ham, purchase one fourth to one third pound per serving. If purchasing a bone-in ham, then you need one third to one half pound of meat per serving if it has a small bone, and three fourth to 1 pound of meat per serving with a large bone. Hams with the bone left in tend to be more flavorful than boneless hams. Bone-in hams are also more decorative.

Many brands of bone-in ham are spiral-cut. This means that the ham has been cut in a continuous spiral all the way around the bone, producing thin slices that easily peel away, making it very easy to serve and great for sandwiches later.

Ham must be thawed and there are two safe methods: refrigerator or cold-water. Never thaw pork on the kitchen counter. The outside of the meat will reach a temperature above 40 degrees F while the inside is still frozen. The area that reaches a temperature above 40 degrees F would be susceptible to bacterial growth and could subject your guests to a food borne illness.

The safest method is thawing in the refrigerator. It is the slowest but will result in the least amount of moisture loss. Leave the meat wrapped and place on a platter or a tray to catch the drippings as it thaws. Allow 4 to 5 hours per pound thawing time.

The cold water method allows you to thaw in cold water. It is faster than thawing in the refrigerator, and is safe as long as proper precautions are taken. Fill the sink with enough cold tap water to cover the cut of meat; place the pork in a leak proof bag and put it into cold water. The meat must be sealed tightly to avoid exposure to water. Meat exposed to the water will result in flavor and color loss, and will have a greater chance of bacterial growth.

The water must be replaced with fresh cold water every 30 minutes. Do not use warm or hot water because it will encourage the growth of bacteria. Following this method, the ham should be thawed in two to three hours.

Do not use the sink for other purposes during the thawing period and be sure the water does not splash onto other preparation surfaces or food. Once thawed, remove it from the sink and sanitize all utensils and surfaces. The ham should be cooked immediately after thawing.

The most traditional way to cook a ham is to bake it. Place the ham cut side down in a baking pan. For a ham that is partially cooked, allow about 20 minutes per pound in a 325 degree oven. A fully cooked ham that needs only reheating will require about 10 minutes per pound.

For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We're online at, on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS/CarlaDue, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at

Glazes make your ham extra-special. This is my favorite glaze recipe; it is enough for a six to eight pound ham. From my kitchen to yours, I hope you have a very merry Christmas.

Brown Sugar Pineapple Glaze

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon prepared mustard

1 (15 ounce) can pineapple slices, drained and juice reserved

1 (4-ounce) jar maraschino cherries


            In heavy saucepan, mix brown sugar and cornstarch. Add reserved pineapple juice and prepared mustard; stir well. Bring this mixture to a boil and continue to cook until the mixture has boiled for 1 minute. Lay pineapple slices and cherries on top of the ham. Drizzle half of the glaze over the ham and place in 325 degree oven. Continue to brush ham with glaze every 20 minutes until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F.

By Carla Due
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Carla Due
County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
400 Laurel Street, Suite 215 Texarkana AR 71854
(870) 779-3609


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