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Ham Buying Guide - From the Archives

Tip of the Day

With Easter just a few weeks away and with ham as one of the most popular meats cooked for Easter, I thought it would be a good idea to post the buying guide to buying ham from the archives again. This is short and sweet and to the point… and I hope it helps!

Admittedly, I knew little about buying ham and what all the things on various labels meant until a few years ago when I came across an excellent buying guide from Cuisine at Home (Issue 50 April 2005)…. I have yet to find it in hard copy anywhere and not on the web… so unless you have the original magazine… it looks like you’d be out of luck…. but I have it and will be more than happy to share it with you.

Before I go on about ham…. a word about Cuisine at Home… it’s a fabulous magazine… one well worth the subscription cost… you can get a free preview issue… and a great deal on a 2 year subscription.. and a free Cooking Tip book… what could be better?… so hop on over to their website to see what the offer is all about... I'm sure this great deal won't last forever!

Now about the ham….

You can buy the expensive spiral-sliced hams available from various specialty stores, but the taste of a great ham baked yourself can’t be beaten. Hams are very easy to bake… the buying is where most cooks lose interest… labels can be confusing… and all the choices overwhelming… leading most cooks to wonder if they are making the correct choice… so they retreat and buy those expensive spiral hams.

This guide should answer most of your questions… or at the very least take some of the mystery out of buying a good ham. This is from Cuisine at Home…

I hope you find it helpful.

Butt Half

"Ham comes one of three ways: whole, shank or butt. Whole is hard to carve, the shank has too much connective tissue, but the butt… is just right. Its large muscles provide pure meaty slices that are easy to carve.


You want a bone-in or semi-boneless ham- just not boneless. Boneless ham is nothing more than ground ham that’s mixed with a binder and re-formed. Bone-in ham is still easy to carve and will serve 2-3 people per pound.

No Slices Removed

Have you ever seen those nice individually-wrapped slices called “ham steaks”? They’re from the center of the ham… slices that should be on your ham. If you see the word “portion”, it means the best pieces have been cut out of the center of the ham. Try to find a half that says “no slices removed”.

Natural Juices or Water Added

Labels that read “Natural Juices”, “No Water Added”, or “Water Added” are all acceptable. Avoid anything that says, “Ham and Water Product Added”. These hams are spongy and weak tasting.

Natural Juice and No Water Added hams are excellent, but can be hard to cook – they can dry out unless you use a recipe that uses a moist heat (liquid in the bottom of the pan below the rack that the ham is on)…. Water added hams are moist and easy to slice…. but you won’t go wrong with either type of ham.”


A Year on the Grill March 14, 2010 at 8:46 PM  

great tip on the slices... I should have figured that out, but never thought about it

Joanne March 15, 2010 at 6:36 AM  

This is so useful! I never cook ham...possibly because I know next-to-nothing about how to buy it. Thanks for this!

Katy ~ March 17, 2010 at 3:43 PM  

Lately all we've purchased is the spiral ham, but now I'm thinking about butt. Any ideas for beautiful glazes?

Linda March 17, 2010 at 5:12 PM  

Katy... last year I posted two glazes... Jack Daniels Glazed Ham and Baked Ham with Rum and Coke Glaze

I'm planning on two more this year... hopefully I'll get them up in the next week.


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