Playfully coined the "bacon of the holiday season", ham is the star dish at countless festive gatherings across the country. With so many varieties to choose from, it can be tough to tell which one is worth buying. Feeling the pressure as your holiday party inches closer? Find out more about the different varieties of ham so you can make an educated choice and check out Chef Roblé Ali's ham label guide so you can shop like a pro. Read to take your holiday meal to new heights? Keep reading.
Fresh ham is essentially a large joint of fresh pork that has not been cured. If you want to surprise your guests by cooking it yourself, just make your own simple glaze and bake it for about three and a half hours.
Dry Cured Ham
Curing the ham requires the process of osmosis to draw the moisture out. It’s a process used for preservation and flavoring by adding a combination of salt, nitrates, or sugar in two forms: wet or dry. Dry cured ham is often called "country ham" or "Virginia ham" and it's a southern staple. To make dry-cured ham, you take fresh ham and add a dry-cure mixture of salt and other seasonings. Be sure to soak it for 4 to 12 hours to get rid of that saltiness and rehydrate it since the dry cure removes a lot of the moisture. Dry cured ham has a more subtle flavor than other varieties.
Wet Cured Ham
A wet-cured ham is usually pre-cooked and cured in a mix of salt, water, preservatives, and a medley of sweet or savory flavors. It's usually smoked over hardwoods like maple or hickory to give it a balanced and smoky flavor. Some wet-cured hams are ready to serve while others need a little time in the oven, so make sure to read your packaging since they are not one-size-fits-all.
Canned ham is boneless and is usually made up of a whole piece of meat if it's a large container or a bunch of little pieces pushed together if it's a smaller can. The meat typically comes from the shank of a pig and it's pre-cooked. It's prepared by adding dry gelatin which is sealed and steamed, so when it cooks, the juices merge with the gelatin to create a salty barrier that protects the ham during shipment. Canned ham typically tastes blander than other types so you may want to dress it up with a sauce or a flavorful side dish. Conveniently, you can serve this meat at room temperature, straight out of the can.