I have to admit my brother, Aaron, is the ham maker in our family. He uses a hybrid version of my grandmother’s old fashioned ham, dotted with pineapple rings and cherries, and my cousin Edward’s approach of thoroughly rubbing the whole thing down with loads of brown sugar–no last-minute glazing required.
This ham is easy, loved by all, and requested every year for Christmas and Easter. That’s a winning recipe in my book! For this version, I added a little ground clove to the sugar, and I skipped the cherries, but feel free to add them if you want to go retro.
Video: How to Make Brown Sugar Baked Ham
Brown Sugar Baked Ham
Which Ham Is the Right Ham?
- Don’t buy a dinner ham. Those are usually a compressed version of ham, similar to deli meat. The flavors won’t penetrate, and you’ll be sad.
- Also, don't buy spiral-cut hams. Spiral-cut hams save slicing time, but the USDA recommends eating them cold because heating pre-sliced ham causes them to dry out.
- Go for the bone! Bone-in hams are more flavorful and tender than their bone-free or spiral-cut counterparts. They also make for a nice presentation.
How Much Ham Do You Need?
When selecting the proper size ham, keep in mind it’s nice to have some to send home with guests, as well has having enough for leftovers for yourself for a couple of days.
I prefer bone-in hams, as mentioned above. They taste better, cook nicer, and you can use the bone to make ham and potato soup. Remember, a bone adds weight, but you can’t eat it.
I like to estimate about 3/4 of a pound per person. With that as my guide, a 15-pound bone-in ham will provide a meal for 10 guests, with enough remaining for leftovers.
The USDA recommends:
- Bone-in ham: 1/3 to 1/2 pound per serving per person
- Boneless: 1/4 to 1/2 pound per person
Why Cook Ham at All?
Ham is the cured leg of pork. They can be fresh, cured, smoked, or cooked. If you are in the United States, most likely the ham you are buying for your holiday table has been cured and is labeled ready to eat. Hams that still need to be cooked will have safe handling instructions.
Our goal with cooking a cured ham is to warm it up and season it to create an enhanced dining experience.
How to Score Ham
Score the ham to allow the fat to render and for the flavor to penetrate into the meat.
Using a sharp chef's knife, cut slits through the skin of the ham only 1/4-inch-deep, crossing the entire ham. Make each row about an inch apart; then repeat the pattern across the original slits, so you have a diamond pattern.
Give Your Ham a Rest
This ham is best when it has 24 hours to sit in its brown sugar bath. The saltiness of the ham draws the sugar into the meat and creates a tender, sweet, and salty flavor explosion that is only enhanced by time.
If you don’t have an "overnight" to spare, then rub the ham with brown sugar at least eight hours before you plan to cook your ham.
If timing and a busy schedule dictates you must cook the ham right away without the additional curing time, then might I suggest our glazed baked ham.
How Long and at What Temperature to Bake Ham
Low and slow is the name of the game when it comes to creating a juicy, succulent roasted ham.
- Bone-in: 325°F allow for 15-18 minutes per pound
- Boneless: 325°F allow for 10-15 minutes per pound
How Do You Slice Ham?
Slicing a bone-in, whole, or half ham can take a little practice. Just remember, you’re feeding people who are happy you are feeding them. Ham slices need not be perfect.
- Transfer the ham to a cutting board.
- Use a carving fork to stabilize the meat as you cut it.
- Use a sharp knife.
- Start at one end, and cut thin slices until you reach the bone. Cut along it. Remove a large wedge of meat. Set it on the cutting board. Cut the wedge into slices.
- Cut the remaining wedge of meat away from the bone. Cut into slices.
- As you slice, put the slices back in the roasting pan with the warm juices. When everything is sliced, arrange it on a serving platter.
- Save the bone for broth or soup.
How to Keep Leftovers
Once you’ve high-fived your partner for pulling off a holiday dinner that will go down in holiday dinner history as the best one ever, eyeball the amount of ham you have remaining and determine your next pork-centric move.
If you only have enough for a small amount of leftovers, keep the sliced ham in the fridge for about three to five days, or you can keep in the freezer for one to two months. I like to pour the juices from the roasting pan over the sliced ham before I freeze it. That way, as I thaw and reheat it, it doesn’t dry out.
How to Use up Your Leftovers
- Dice and add to mac and cheese.
- Breakfast on the brain? Ham is a great in strata or potato hash.
- Ham sandwiches are always an easy sell.
- Ham and potato soup
Best Side Dishes to Go With Ham
Brown Sugar Baked Ham with Pineapple
- 15-pound bone-in ham
- 2 cups brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 5 (20 oz) cans of pineapple rings in 100% juice
- To Serve:
- Variety of high-quality mustard
Prepare your roasting pan:
Set your roasting pan on your counter and remove the roasting rack. You won’t need it. Place 6 to 8 pineapple rings on the bottom of the roasting pan. (You can also use a large casserole dish; if your ham fits, the dish is fine!)
Season the ham:
Remove the ham from its packaging and place the ham in the roasting pan. Combine brown sugar and ground cloves together in a small bowl. Massage the sugar mixture all over the ham, including the cut side. Really rub the sugar into the meat. It will turn into a paste as you rub it. That’s okay. If some sugar drops into the roasting pan, scoop it up, and keep rubbing it into the meat.
When finished, set the ham cut side down onto the pineapple rings.
Score the ham:
Score the ham 1/4-inch deep in a diamond pattern. If this is difficult to do in the roasting pan, then transfer the ham to a cutting board. Score it, and then return it to the roasting pan, putting the cut side down onto the pineapple rings.
Pour the juice from 1 can of pineapple into the bottom of the pan. Don’t pour the juice over the ham because it will wash off the brown sugar.
Let the ham rest for 24 hours:
Cover the ham with aluminum foil, secure it around the roaster, and let hang out in the fridge overnight, or for at least 8 hours.
Cover the ham with pineapple slices:
The next day, remove the ham from the refrigerator. Open the foil and spoon pan juices over the ham. Lay pineapple rings across the ham so they touch each other, and secure them with wooden toothpicks if necessary. Two toothpicks per slice is plenty.
Bake the ham:
Cover with foil. Make sure to seal the foil tightly around the edges of the roasting pan. Bake at 325°F for 15 to 18 minutes per pound of meat. (Roughly 4 1/2 hours for a 15-pound ham.)
Rest the ham before serving:
Let the ham rest, covered, for 15 minutes before slicing.
Slice and serve:
Transfer the ham to a cutting board. Remove the pineapple slices, and save them to fry and put on leftover ham sandwiches. Discard the toothpicks.
Slice the ham to your desired thickness. As you slice the ham, place the sliced pieces into the roaster with all of the juices. When everything has been sliced, transfer the slices to a serving platter. Serve alongside a selection of high-quality mustard and/or chutneys.