A fragrant ham has few rivals as the centerpiece of a festive family meal. Spiral-sliced hams make it an especially easy meal as well. They're pre-sliced and pre-cooked, so they only need enough oven time to warm and caramelize the glaze. You'll still need to carve the slices from the bone, but it's quicker and simpler than working with an unsliced ham.
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A Quick Anatomy Lesson
When you look at your bone-in ham, you'll see that one side is naturally flat -- that was the inside of the thigh, when the hog was alive -- and the other is larger and more rounded. With the flat side on the bottom, that larger, rounder section is on top. The remainder of the ham, beneath the thigh bone, is divided into two smaller muscles. A whole ham can be very large indeed, ranging from 12 or 13 pounds to 20 or more. Spiral-sliced hams are usually no larger than 15 to 16 pounds, but that's still a lot of ham. They're often sold in half-hams instead, a more manageable portion for small- to medium-sized families.
Slicing the Whole Ham
If you're working with a whole spiral-sliced ham, start by transferring the ham to a cutting board or large serving platter. You'll need a relatively long, thin-bladed slicing knife for the best results.
Insert a carving fork into the thick butt end of the ham to hold it steady.
Locate the end of the ham bone at the narrow shank end with your knife, and turn the knife so it's horizontal and rests against the bone.
Slice the ham away from the top of the bone in a long, continuous stroke, until it meets your carving fork at the other end.
Move the carving fork so you can cut away the last few slices, then serve the ham or transfer it to serving platters.
Cut underneath the bone with your knife, and lift it away from the remaining ham. You'll see a natural seam dividing the two muscles underneath. Slice down through the seam, then plate and serve the remaining ham.
Alternatively, leave the bone in place and slice directly downward on either side. This separates the two muscles as well, but leaves a little more meat on the bone. If you use it afterwards to flavor soup or a pot of beans, that meat is a good thing.
Slicing a Half Ham
Half-hams might be either a thick butt end, or a tapered shank end. You can carve a half-ham in the same way as a whole ham, but there's an alternative method. Where the ham is cut in half, it's easy to see both the bone and the seams between the muscles. You'll simply use your knife to follow those natural lines.
Insert the tip of a thin, sharp knife into the ham, along one side of the bone.
Cut around the bone, loosening the meat from it on all sides. Slice away the large muscle from the top of the bone, transferring the slices to a serving platter or individual plates.
Cut through the natural seam between the two smaller muscles below the bone. Lift out the bone, and serve the remaining slices of ham.
A Word about Reheating
One potential downside to a spiral-sliced ham is that it's easy to overcook. The thin slices expose a lot of surface area to the oven's heat, and they can rapidly become dry and tough. The ham should be covered as it warms, to preserve as much moisture as possible. If it isn't pre-glazed, uncover the ham and apply the glaze during just the last few minutes of heating time.
As long as the ham is still factory-sealed -- which spiral-cut hams almost invariably are -- it's safe to eat at room temperature without any heating at all. If you opt to heat it, it only needs to reach a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit to discourage bacterial growth. Leftover ham, or hams that have been opened and cut into smaller portions by the retailer, should be heated to 165 F to guarantee food safety.