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Ham is a great alternative to turkey over both the holidays and special occasions — a large ham can easily feed a big crowd and is fairly foolproof to cook. Ham is less fussy than a turkey, largely because they’re all at least partially cooked and basically just need to be glazed and heated through before serving. That said, with different kinds of ham available in store, it can be hard to figure out exactly what to do with a ham after purchasing it. Here is a guide to cooking the perfect ham for your big dinner:

Cook a Ham

  1. Choose a ham
    While uncured and uncooked hams (often labeled as “French” or “Country” hams, respectively) are available, if you’re looking for an easy meal (and traditional ham flavour) you’ll want one that is both cooked and cured. Even in this category, however, there are some choices to be made. Bone-in hams are often larger, look more dramatic on a dinner table, and can be more flavourful. Boneless hams have been reformed to hold that ham-like shape without the bone and tend to be easier to carve. Spiral-cut hams, which have been pre-sliced for more convenient serving, are another popular choice, but do dry out more quickly than an unsliced ham. When choosing a ham calculate for one pound for every three people with a bone-in ham and one pound for every four to five people with a denser boneless ham.
  2. Choose a glaze recipe
    It’s not necessary to glaze your ham — they tend to be juicy and delicious on their own — but a nice glaze will add some sweetness and flavour to the meat. Search for a glaze recipe that works for you, they typically include something sweet (brown sugar, fruit, molasses, or even cola) as well as savoury ingredients like mustard, soy sauce, garlic, or cloves. The glaze is best brushed on towards the end of the cooking time, usually in the last 20 minutes, to prevent the sugars from burning.
  3. Prepare the ham for baking
    Unwrap the ham and put in a roasting pan cut-side down. Use a sharp knife to score your ham — a crisscross pattern is traditional as it lets the glaze sink in a bit and looks nice when it comes time to serve. Be careful to only cut into the skin and not all the way through to the meat.
  4. Bake the ham
    Even though the ham is already cooked, it is a fairly substantial piece of meat and will need to bake for several hours to warm through completely. Heat your oven to 325° F. Cook the ham for about 20 minutes per pound. A five-pound ham should take about 1-3/4 hours, an eight-pound ham should take about 2-1/2 hours. Use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat, being careful not to touch the thermometer to the bone if cooking a bone-in ham. The ham is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 140° F.
  5. Slice and serve the ham
    Boneless hams are easy to carve — simply hold it in place with a carving fork and slice with a good knife. Bone-in ham is a little trickier, but if you slice down to the bone then carve around the bone to release the meat you’ll end up with nice uniform slices. You may have to cut a bit off of the bottom so the ham sits straight for easy slicing. Serve with a high-quality mustard, scalloped potatoes, and your favourite veggie side-dishes.
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