Want to serve a spectacular ham at your holiday celebration? Our roasting guide shows you how to pick, prep, cook and dish it up with style.
A succulent roasted ham (also known as a baked ham) is an outstanding centrepiece on any holiday table. And since most hams are cooked and ready to eat, it’s one of easiest roasts around. Our ultimate guide, packed with step-by-step instructions and insider tips, will help you get the most out of your holiday ham.
Cut from the hind leg of a pig, the majority of hams are seasoned (either by brining or brine injection), smoked and fully cooked. Boneless hams come in sizes to feed any gathering, and they’re easy to slice. Bone-in hams have more flavour and are usually sold in two forms: the shank and the butt. The large hind leg section is cut in half crosswise through the bone, creating the long, tapered shank end (which always looks impressive) and the wide, round butt end (which is a little trickier to carve). Spiral hams have been presliced around the bone, which relieves you of any cutting duties.
When buying, make sure the best-before date of your ham isn’t coming up before your dinner event. And look for plump, firm and rosy-pink meat.
How much ham should you buy? For a holiday feast plus leftovers, pick up 6 oz (175 g) per person if it’s boneless, or 12 oz (375 g) per person if it’s bone-in.
What You’ll Need
- Large roasting pan with high sides to accommodate larger hams, and a rack insert to allow air to circulate
- Instant-read meat thermometer to check doneness with the most accurate results
- Foil for covering the ham if it’s browning too quickly, and for tenting the ham to keep it warm while it rests
- Sharp chef’s knife for scoring the fat layer on top of the ham before cooking
- Wide pastry brush for applying glaze
- Long, sharp carving knife and fork to neatly slice meat
- Preparing the Ham
If your ham has a thick layer of fat on top, scoring will make it look beautiful. It’s not an essential step, but it allows any glaze you apply to penetrate the meat. Place the ham in the roasting pan, and then pat it dry with a paper towel. Then, use a sharp chef’s knife to cut 1/4-inch (0.5 cm) deep lines, 1 inch (2 cm) apart, to make a criss-cross pattern. Ham that’s sold without the fat layer doesn’t require any prep—just put it in the pan and you’re ready to roast.
If your ham has both the fat layer and skin on top, it’s called a rind-on ham. It should be scored through the tough, inedible skin to help render the fat underneath. When it’s roasted, you carve off that skin and fat layer and then slice the meat. You can also remove the rind before cooking with a sharp boning knife, or briefly steam it first, as we have in our Root Beer Glazed Ham—it makes the job easier.
The most basic way to flavour a ham is to stud it with whole cloves—just score the fat layer on top and spike a whole clove in the middle of each diamond. (No fat layer? Just press the cloves right into the meat.) Another classic way to dress up ham is with canned pineapple rings and maraschino cherries. Attach them at even intervals to the meat with toothpicks during the last 15 minutes of baking and turn the oven up to 400°F (200°C) so the fruit can caramelize.
The most popular way to flavour a ham is with a sweet, syrupy glaze. Here are a few combinations to experiment with:
- Molasses + black coffee + ground allspice
- Pineapple juice + Dijon mustard + honey
- Brown sugar + cider vinegar + fresh thyme
Hams are traditionally roasted, uncovered, in an oven set to a medium temperature, which simply reheats the meat—remember it’s already cooked—without drying it out. Put the ham on a rack in the roasting pan to keep the bottom from scorching.
Spiral hams have become popular for good reason. They don’t have any rind to contend with and come presliced, but are the same shape as a whole ham so you get a great presentation and easy carving. They often come with a packet of glaze (and all the instructions you need), so all you have to do is heat, glaze and serve! For large gatherings and help-yourself buffets, these hams can’t be beat.
How to Roast Ham Like a Pro
- Line the roasting pan with foil first to make cleanup a breeze.
- If the ham is rind-on or has a thick layer of fat, pour some water into the roasting pan to prevent the fat from splattering and smoking.
- Apply the glaze during the final 30 minutes of cooking so it doesn’t burn.
- Invest in an instant-read thermometer that can synch up with your smartphone or tablet. It will alert you when the ham is ready!
- Ham is getting too dark before it’s done? Cover it with foil, which will protect the outside from the direct heat.
- The glaze hasn’t formed a nice crust? Turn up the oven to 400°F (200°C) and watch it closely for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Forgot about the ham and the glaze is burnt? No problem. Just slice off the charred parts and discard them.
According to Canada’s food safety guide, ham is safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 71°C (160°F). Make sure your instant-read thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the ham without touching the bone. Refer to our handy guide, below, for temps and times.
|Cut||Preheat oven to…||Roast for…||Cook until internal temp is…||Let rest for...|
|Half bone-in ham (shank or butt end)||160°C (325°F)||25 to 30 min. per 1 lb (500 g)||71°C (160°F)||15 to 20 min|
|Whole boneless ham||160°C (325°F)||15 to 20 min. per 1 lb (500 g)||71°C (160°F)||15 to 20 min|
|Half boneless ham or smaller||160°C (325°F)||20 to 25 min. per 1 lb (500 g)||71°C (160°F)||10 to 15 min|
|Spiral-cut ham||160°C (325°F)||15 to 20 min. per 1 lb (500 g)||71°C (160°F)||10 to 15 min|
How to Cut and Carve Ham
Carve boneless ham into crosswise slices, steadying it with a carving fork. If you have an electric carving knife, now is the time to use it! For a bone-in ham from the shank end, cut a slice off the bottom so it won’t wobble. Starting at the tapered end, cut down with the knife perpendicular to the bone. Once you hit bone, twist the knife to remove the slice. A butt-end ham is best cut in half along the bone, and each half sliced against the grain of the meat. For spiral hams, just cut around the bone to dislodge the slices; for smaller pieces, cut along the seams of the meat.
Ham is intensely flavoured, so choose condiments that complement its salty, smoky notes. Fruit chutneys are terrific with ham, whether they’re store-bought or homemade, like our Cranberry& Pear Chutney. Mustard is another excellent choice, either on its own or in our three-ingredient Maple Mustard Dipping Sauce. And Easy Cranberry Sauce is not just for turkey—it works just as well with ham!
A beautifully glazed ham doesn’t need much dressing up. Springs of hearty fresh herbs, such as rosemary and sage, always look nice, and cranberries will give it a festive touch. Or arrange the sliced meat on a platter and tuck in small ramekins of condiments.
Leftover ham is a beautiful thing. Keep it covered in the fridge for up to four days or freeze it for up to two months. If you’ve cooked a bone-in ham, save the bone and use it to flavour Big Batch Split Pea Soup. Slice the cold meat thinly for a Potato & Eggs Skillet for breakfast the next morning, and chop up scraps to make Savoury Ham and Cheese Bread Pudding.