Everything You Need to Know About How to Cook a Ham

updated Oct 24, 2020
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Ham is one of the quintessential holiday dishes that everyone loves. Whether you’re serving it as part of a Thanksgiving feast or an Easter brunch, spiral-cut, honey-glazed ham is one of the easiest ways to feed a hungry crowd.

Seeing as most of us are buying a ham just once or twice a year, we all occasionally need a quick refresher on what to buy when it comes to whole hams, how much to buy, and how to cook your ham. Here’s everything you need to know about ham — all in one place!

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Buying a Ham

When it comes to buying ham for a holiday feast, most of us think of a spiral-cut ham known as city ham. City hams are fully cooked and often spiral-cut and packed with a glaze for baking the ham just before serving. We suggest you look for a bone-in city ham — spiral-cut or not is up to you.

Plan on buying 3/4 pound of ham per person for a bone-in ham and 1/2 pound per person for boneless.

Prepping Your Ham for Cooking

You’re home with your ham — now what? Because a city ham is fully cooked, it can be served cold or it can be glazed and reheated for serving. But we suggest you ditch the glaze packet that came with your ham for a homemade glaze — more on those below.

If your ham is spiral-cut, find a roasting pan (or pull out your slow cooker) that it can sit comfortably in and pat it dry. Uncut hams benefit from a quick score of their skin before glazing.

Make a Glaze for Your Ham

Here’s the best thing about making your own glaze: You get to decide exactly how the ham tastes after cooking. You can make it sweet as a honey-baked ham, herby, or even deeply savory. The glaze will go on partway through cooking — so you can get the ham started before you mix up the glaze.

Lots of glaze ideas here: 5 Easy, 3-Ingredient Glazes for Ham

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Cooking Your Ham

There are two very solid ways to cook your holiday ham: oven-bake it or slow-cook it. Oven-baking takes less time and gives you a little more control over the viscosity of the glaze, while slow cooking leaves room in your oven for other holiday meal prep and makes for a ridiculously tender ham — but it does take about twice as long to cook.

  • Oven-baking takes 20 to 30 minutes per pound for a total for 1 to 21/2 hours depending on the oven temperature.
  • Slow-cooking takes 4 to 5 hours depending on the weight of the ham.

Our Favorite Ham Recipes