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Ham it up! A guide to the ultimate Easter food.

No Easter celebration is complete without a juicy slice of ham. Here's your complete primer on how to choose, buy,  and prepare your ham for Easter Sunday. 

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    Grandma Odom's fresh ham with cloves and brown sugar in Concord, NH.
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It's common knowledge that no Easter celebration is complete without a juicy slice of ham. But this Easter marks the first time I'll have to cook my own, and if I want to get it right, I have a lot to learn.

First things first, I was not aware of just how many different kinds of hams exist in the world. Cured Ham, Honey Ham, Country Ham, Irish Ham: frankly there are far too many  ham varieties out there. How am I supposed to know which kind is acceptable for the Easter table? And where do I buy it? And how much does it cost? And then how do I cook it once I've acquired the right kind? With so many questions and so little time until the great Easter pig-out (see what I did there??) of 2015,  I turned to the one place I knew had all the answers: the Internet. Hold on to your hams, guys, cuz by the end of this you'll be craving a salty slice.

Choosing the Right Ham

As previously noted, there are a heck of a lot of hams out there, but for our purposes, I'll focus on the two kinds most often consumed at Easter celebrations: Country Ham and City Ham.

Most of the hams you'll find at your local grocer are City Hams.

City Hams are wet-cured and salt-brined, and are by far the most prevalent and popular ham variety here in the States. They're usually sold fully cooked and are often smoked for additional flavor. They are available in both bone-in and no bone varieties, but the bone-in hams are generally more juicy and flavorful, so if given the choice, I'd go with the bone.

When you're choosing between two City Hams, you should always go with the one that has less water added. Often City Hams are infused with extra brine before they're sealed and sold as a way to sneakily increase the price based on weight. If you don't want to pay more for excess water, look at the ingredients: if the label says nothing but "Ham," you're probably good to go. If it says something like "Ham with Natural Juices," "Ham with Water," or "Ham and Water Product," you might want to reconsider, because in addition to the inflated price, the more added water a ham takes on, the less delicious it becomes. This test by Serious Eats confirmed the phenomenon: "Tasters nearly unanimously placed the hams with the least added water at the top, and the most added water at the bottom."

Country Hams are dry cured, which means they're rubbed with a salt and seasoning combo, smoked and then hung up to age in a temperature and humidity controlled environment for anywhere between a few months to a few years.

While Country Hams are certainly the more flavorful (read: SALTY) of the two, due to the length and complicated nature of the aging process, they're significantly more expensive than City Hams. Country Hams are also more difficult to prepare as they require several days of soaking to make them moist enough to eat. Still, some people go crazy over a good Country Ham, so if you've got the time, patience and cash required to make this an Easter Dinner reality, I say go for it.

(As a ham baking newb, I'm going with a nice, juicy bone-in city ham.)

Finding a Deal

If you're serving ham as the main course, you'll want to plan accordingly. My queen, master of chic prison style and harsh Justin Bieber roasts, Martha Stewart, says that you should allocate at least 3/4 lb of bone-in ham for every person at your table, and 1/2 lb per person if you're getting boneless--so the price of your ham can really vary depending on your guest list.

For example, if you're feeding a family of four, you'll need either a 3 lb bone-in ham, or a 2 lb boneless ham. If you're feeding a family of 10, you'll need a 7.5 lb bone-in ham or a 5 lb boneless ham.

So where should you buy your ham? With just a few days left until Easter, you're sure to find a good bargain at your local grocery store or butcher shop or at big box retailers like CostcoSam's Club,Walmart and Target.

Of course you can always order online, which might be the most frugal way to go. We've currently got three promotions for Easter ham live on Brad's Deals, including 5.5 percent off HoneyBaked Ham gift cards and a free ham/up to 60 percent off your next order with meat maven Omaha Steaks.

Let's Cook the Ham!

So you've got the ham in hand, what now? It's roasting time, baby!

Recipes for City Ham: 

Recipes for Country Ham:

Tips & Tricks:

  • Always add at least 1/2 cup of wine, water or stock to the pan and make sure to cover the ham while it cooks to avoid drying it out.
  • Don't apply any glaze until 15-25 minutes before the ham is to come out of the oven for good. This is the perfect amount of time for the glaze to harden without burning.
  • Just like a good steak, ham needs to rest for at least 15 minutes between the oven and the table to seal in the juices.

Leftovers

A quality roasted ham is a gift that keeps on giving long after everyone at the table has fallen into their respective Easter meat comas. Play your cards right and you could have weeks worth of delicious meals at your fingertips. Here are some of my favorite options:

With a just a touch of creativity, the possibilities for ham-based meals are truly endless!

What's your favorite recipe for Easter ham?

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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