(Dec. 23, 2022) What to serve on Christmas Day is a dilemma that repeats itself with each passing year.

I am a huge fan of turkey but I must confess, I am turkeyed out. I would love to serve prime rib, but my guest list is quite large and my budget cannot support such a feast.

Ham is one of the most popular proteins during the holidays and is very affordable.

Sometimes ham gets a bad rap because it is not cooked properly. With that thought in mind, let us delve into ham cookery 101.

A ham is the rear leg of the hog, all the way from the shank to the rump. It is usually cured, which means it is preserved with sugar, salt, nitrates, and/or smoked.

There are generally three types of ham that you can buy.

The first, and most common, is called a city ham. There is nothing particularly urban about city hams; the name simply indicates it is not a country or fresh ham.

City hams are cured in saltwater and then smoked. They are fully cooked and all you have to do is reheat them.

The second type of ham is called a country ham. Country hams are dry-rubbed and then air-dried or cured for months.

Country hams need to be cooked and are very salty.

The last type of ham is a fresh ham. Fresh hams are completely raw and you can either roast or cure them yourself.

Ham comes in one of two different cuts, the shank end or the butt end.

The shank end of the ham is the end closest to the hoof, which tends to be less tender, has more fat, and is easier to carve because there’s only one bone to deal with.

The butt is more tender, has less fat, but is harder to carve because the pelvic bone is still intact.

When you purchase a city ham at the supermarket, it is fully cooked and technically ready to eat.

What you are doing at home is actually “warming” it up as opposed to cooking it. As a result, one’s goal is to minimize the amount of time the ham spends in the oven.

Another point that needs to be addressed is the subject of “water-added.”

Look for hams with as little water content a possible.

“Ham” means no added water. “Ham, with water added” means 7 – 8 percent of the total weight is water.

“Ham, water added” means as much as 10 percent is water weight. Hams with water added might sound juicy, but these hams are lacking in flavor.

The use of “water baths” is not just meant for custards.

Placing a cold roast straight from the refrigerator into the oven is going to take a considerable amount of time to warm the center. Either bring the ham to room temperature before cooking or soak it in its packaging in warm water for 90 minutes.

The temperature of the oven is also very important.

Using a low temperature (250 degrees) reduces the heat differential between the exterior and interior of the meat which yields a juicier ham.

In addition, roasting a ham in a plastic bag traps the heat and further reduces the cooking time.

Another common mistake is to put the glaze on the ham when one starts the cooking process.

The sugars in the glaze will burn and dry the ham. Once the ham reaches an internal temperature of 100 degrees, increase the heat to 350 degrees, and cover the ham with your prepared glaze.

Another common mishap when preparing ham is not allowing the meat to rest. Ham is no exception to the rule and must rest for 15 minutes when it comes out of the oven.

Keep in mind, the muscle fibers need time to relax so they can preserve the coveted juices.

Ham smothered in a cherry port glaze is a delectable twist on traditional ham.

The following recipe is easy to make, which frees the host to mingle and have a merry time. Enjoy and have a Blessed Christmas!


1 (7- to 12-pound) spiral-sliced bone-in ham

1 large plastic oven bag

Cherry-Port Glaze

1 cup ruby port

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

3/4 cup cherry preserves

1 cup dried cherries

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon crushed dried rosemary

¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1. Bring ham to room temperature.

2. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

3. Follow instructions on oven plastic bag and place ham in the baking bag.

4. Place ham on a sheet pan and bake until internal temperature reaches 100 degrees.

5. Combine cherry port ingredients in a medium heavy bottomed pan. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Using a hand-held immersion blender, puree the mixture.

6. Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees

7. Remove ham from oven and discard the cooking bag. Baste ham with juices from the ham.

8. Coat ham with 2/3 of the cherry port glaze and continue cooking until internal temperature reaches 140 degrees.

9. Allow ham to rest for 15 minutes. While resting, add the remaining cherry port glaze and serve.

Secret Ingredient – Christmas. “Santa Claus is anyone who loves another and seeks to make them happy; who gives himself by thought or word or deed in every gift that he bestows.”

– Edwin Osgood Grover

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