5 Mistakes to Avoid When Baking a Whole Ham

updated May 1, 2019
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Spiral ham with brown sugar glaze, partially sliced
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

In my opinion, if you’ve decided to make a holiday ham for Easter, you’ve certainly made the right choice. It’s my favorite main dish for any large gathering! But even though there isn’t much cooking involved, there are a couple of things to avoid when buying and preparing the ham so that you can have the perfect centerpiece for your special meal.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

1. Buying the wrong type of ham

There are two kinds of cured whole hams: country hams and city hams. Country hams are uncooked hams like prosciutto, and they are not the kind you usually see pre-cooked and/or spiral-sliced. And stay away from canned hams, which are not whole pieces of meat but smaller pieces pressed together.

Follow this tip: Holiday hams are city hams, which are pre-cooked and sometimes smoked and pre-sliced cured legs of pork. If you’re not sure, look on the package for reheating instructions or the label “ready-to-eat.”

2. Buying an artificially plumped ham

Even after you’ve located a smoked city ham, some of these may be injected with water or solutions that dilute the flavor.

Follow this tip: Buy hams that have no added juices or water. The label should just read “ham” — not Ham, water added or Ham with natural juices.

3. Baking the ham uncovered

Ham is best reheated low and slow, and heating it uncovered means that the moisture in the ham evaporates, leaving it dry and unappetizing.

Follow this tip: Place the ham cut-side down in a baking pan. Cover the ham with foil or use a baking bag to heat up the ham until it’s time to glaze. You can also add a little bit of liquid, like wine or water, to the bottom of the baking pan for some additional moisture.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

4. Not glazing the ham

Since most of the cooking is already done for you and you’re basically just reheating the ham, leaving it unglazed means it’s just not as tasty or attractive.

Follow this tip: You can use the packet of glaze that may come with the ham, but it’s just as easy to make your own. Here are five easy glazes to choose from that will make your ham seem more homemade!

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

5. Glazing the ham too early

A big ham needs a few hours to reheat properly since it’s so dense, but if you heat it uncovered and glaze it right from the beginning, the ham will dry out.

Follow this tip: Heat the ham covered first until it’s about 120°F, then kick the heat up to high. Brush the ham with the glaze and bake for about 10 minutes. Glaze again, then broil until the outside is caramelized and the skin crisps (watch out for burning though!). The whole glazing process should only take about 15 minutes total.