A big baked ham is one of the easiest things to prepare for a holiday celebration. It's economical—even a half-ham can feed a dozen people with leftovers. Full hams typically go on sale the week before the holidays, bringing the per-person cost down even more.
There's very little in the way of actual cooking that needs to happen, which makes the prep a lot simpler, too.
How to Choose a Holiday Ham
You have a lot of different choices at the store for buying ham:
- Whole ham vs. half ham
- Shank vs. butt
- Unsliced vs. spiral cut
- Bone-in vs. boneless
- Fully-cooked vs. partially cooked or uncooked
For this recipe, and for most holiday occasions, we prefer an un-sliced bone-in half ham, preferably from the shank end. A half a ham will comfortably feed at least a dozen people, and cooking it un-sliced means that it's less likely to dry out. (Though see our tips below if you prefer to buy a spiral-cut ham.) Bone-in hams are more flavorful, and you can use the ham bone to make soup.
Half hams are also either cut from the shank end or from the butt end. The butt end may have more meat, but because of the shape of the bone at that end, is more difficult to cut. The hams pictured here are both from the shank end.
Most hams you buy at the grocery store are already fully cooked. If your ham is a partially cooked ham or an uncooked ham, it will say so on the package. Follow the cooking directions on the package to cook. The directions in this recipe are for a regular, fully-cooked ham.
How to Prepare Baked Ham
Since most hams you buy are already cooked, all you have to do is heat the ham, and if you want, apply a simple glaze.
Prepare the ham by scoring a diamond pattern into the fat and skin, taking care not to cut into the meat itself. This scoring will allow the glaze to soak into the meat and flavor it.
Apply the glaze just before putting it into the oven to bake. Remember, the ham is already cooked, so all we're doing here is warming it back up again with the glaze. Use a meat thermometer and warm it to 110°F to 120°F.
To finish, baste the ham with its juices and put it under the broiler to brown the skin. Then slice and serve.
One Recipe, Two Glazes
For this recipe, my friend Suzanne and I baked two hams, one with Suzanne's favorite sweet hot honey mustard glaze, and one with an intriguing honey thyme glaze from an old issue of Gourmet magazine.
We used regular non-spiral cut hams, scored them first in a diamond pattern, applied a glaze, cooked, basted with glaze, and finished browning in the broiler. Both hams turned out beautifully.
Tips for the Best Baked Ham
Ham is easy to cook, but here are some tips to keep in mind to ensure your ham turns out beautifully:
- Let it sit at room temp: You need to let the ham sit at room temp for a couple of hours before cooking, otherwise the inside will still be cool when the outside is properly heated.
- Don't over-cook the ham: Many package instructions say to heat the ham to 140°F. That's just asking for a dry ham. Remember, the ham is already cooked! You are just warming it up.
- If you are working with a partially cooked or uncooked ham, and not a ready-to-eat ham, follow the cooking directions on the package, most suggest cooking a partially cooked ham to 150°F.
- If cooking a spiral-cut ham, wrap tightly in foil: If you use an already sliced (spiral cut) ham and if you don't wrap it tightly enough with foil, the outer areas can dry out.
Ideas for Other Glazes
The two glazes we used are both honey-based, though you could use other things for a sweetened glaze, such as pineapple juice, marmalade, or maple syrup. Also try our recipes for Cranberry Glazed Ham or Brown Sugar Glazed Ham.
Do you have a favorite glazed ham glaze? If so, please let us know about it in the comments.
Storing and Freezing Leftover Ham
Leftover ham will keep, well wrapped, in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. You can freeze it, wrapped and put in a ziptop bag or airtight container, for 3 to 4 months.
Love Ham? Here Are 5 More Ways to Enjoy It:
- Ham and Asparagus Quiche
- Ham and Potato Hash
- Hawaiian Pizza with Cauliflower Crust
- Ham and Potato Soup
- Pineapple Glazed Ham Balls
Glazed Baked Ham
- For the ham:
- One half ready-to-eat, cooked ham, bone-in, shank end or butt end, about 9 to 11 pounds
- For the Sweet Hot Honey Mustard Glaze:
- 3 tablespoons sweet hot honey mustard (or brown mustard with honey)
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- About 50 cloves
- For the Honey Thyme Glaze:
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (or 2 teaspoons dry)
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Let ham come close to room temp:
Remove the ham from the refrigerator (still wrapped) a couple of hours before you intend to cook it so that it can get closer to room temperature. This will help it warm more evenly.
Score skin and fat (if using an unsliced ham):
Place the ham, fattier side up, in a foil-lined roasting pan.
Score a diamond pattern in the fat with a sharp knife, about 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch deep, and the parallel lines about 1 1/2-inches apart. (You won't need to do this if you're using a spiral cut ham.)
Do not score the meat itself, just the fat and any skin. You can score the fat as deeply as to where the fat meets the meat. If you want, you can first cut off any skin that might still be on the ham, but it isn't necessary.
Insert cloves (if using):
If using cloves (with the Sweet Honey Mustard Glaze), you can either put them in before applying the glaze or after. They look better if applied after, but it is easier to see the lines in the ham as a guide for placement if you put them in first.
Place the cloves in the center of the diamonds to form a nice pattern around the top and sides of the ham (or along the edges of some of the precut slices if using spiral cut). Some people put the cloves in the intersection points of the scores. Do as you wish. You just want a nice pattern.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
If using the sweet honey mustard glaze: Mix the mustard with the brown sugar in a small bowl.
If using the honey thyme glaze: Mix thyme in with the hot melted butter and let sit for a few minutes. In a small saucepan on high heat, let the cider vinegar reduce down from 1/4 cup to 1 tablespoon, and remove from heat. Whisk in the butter and thyme. Add the honey, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce.
Using a pastry brush, brush whichever glaze you are using over the ham. Only use about third of it (reserve the rest for later in cooking). Try to work the glaze into the scored lines.
Bake the ham:
Place ham in oven. (If using a spiral cut ham, first wrap tightly in aluminum foil so that the ham doesn't dry out while cooking.)
Cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours (check after 1 hour, will take longer if the ham is not at room temp to begin with), or about 10 minutes per pound, until the internal temperature of the ham is 110°-120° with a meat thermometer. (Note that the ham is already cooked when you buy it, all you are trying to do is heat it up for eating.)
If using a non-spiral cut ham, baste the ham with the glaze a couple of times during the cooking. If you check on the ham and think that the glaze is at risk of getting too browned (like on the way to burnt), you can cover with a piece of foil.
Baste and broil:
When the ham has reached the desired temperature, baste again. (If using a spiral cut ham, open up the foil to expose the ham before basting.)
Regardless of which ham you're using, place it under the broiler for few minutes to get some nice browning on the top. Take the pan out of the oven and brush the ham all over with pan juices. Cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.
To slice a bone-in ham, cut around the bone first. Then use a long, sharp knife to slice off pieces around the bone.
Another way to slice the ham is to make first a slice on wide end to get a flat lying surface. Then stand the ham upright on the wide end and make slices down the side, working around the bone.
Remember to save the ham bone for soup!