A Guide to Buying a Ham

With Easter just around the corner and with ham as one of the most popular meats cooked for Easter, I thought it would be a good idea to post my guide to buying 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… in most cases all you are doing is just reheating the already cooked ham (check labels for details... in fact a lot of hams will come with heating or cooking instructions on them... much like turkeys do).

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… and taken in its entirety from them. (I’m just not that smart to remember all this).

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.


Kat said...

I learned a long time ago that Smithfield makes the BEST ham. I have not been disappointed once. I always get confused about what part of the ham to buy, now I will remember it is the butt, with no portions removed. Thanks a bunch.

Lea Ann said...

I appreciate this post. Year after year I stand around in the market wondering what to do. So many times I just pick a pre-cooked and end up disappointed. I will be cooking my ham this year, thanks to you.

Linda said...

I agree about Smithfield hams... they are the best!
Thanks for stopping by and adding the comment... I'm sure it will help anyone reading it.

Linda said...

Lea Ann... you and me both... that was me... wallking around hte store with that glazed over look... now I just have to remember the post with the info in it.

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