Be sure you understand the kind of ham you purchase so you know how to store it properly. Consumers may purchase fresh ham (uncured), dry cured, wet cured or cured and smoked ham. You must fully cook fresh ham before consuming it, and you must keep it chilled in the refrigerator. The curing processes preserve the meat and add flavors and seasonings. Consequently, cured ham generally does not require further cooking unless you want to warm it before serving.
Read the label on the ham before purchasing to determine its type. If the ham has a label that warns you must cook it before consuming, it is a fresh ham. You must refrigerate these hams. If the ham has a curing label, determine whether it is a dry curing or a wet curing.
Dry cured hams can be stored at room temperature in the original packaging for at least one year. The ham will still be safe to consume after one year, but the quality will begin to deteriorate.
Wet cured hams can be stored in the original packaging at room temperature for up to two years as long as the package does not specify refrigerating it.
The cured hams you typically find in the grocery store are wet cured hams. Dry cured hams are often only available by special order. Some people know dry cured hams as “country hams,” and they typically are aged for up to a year to allow the seasonings and chemicals to fully penetrate the meat. These hams are much less moist than fresh hams, and they tend to be much saltier. Some people call wet cured hams “city hams,” and they are aged for a much shorter time than country hams. Wet cured hams are moister because the curing process involves injecting the hams with chemicals, seasonings and preservatives. Meat producers often smoke these hams during the curing process.
Follow the storage and preparation instructions on ham labels to ensure you store and prepare your hams safely.