The Best Hams for Christmas

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A ham is a wonderful main dish for a Christmas feast.
A ham is a wonderful main dish for a Christmas feast. (Image: Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Serving ham for Christmas dinner is a tradition in many households. When you look for a Christmas ham, you'll find many choices and each choice has its benefits. The best ham for Christmas depends on different factors, such as how many people you will be feeding. You must also consider what you plan to serve the ham with and how long the ham will take to cook.

Spiral-Sliced

Spiral-sliced hams are convenient and easy to serve. These hams are precooked so all you have to do is reheat the ham and apply the glaze, which is often included with the ham. Depending on the size of the ham, it will take about 1 1/2 to 3 hours to heat. The glazing is spread over the ham about 10 minutes before serving. However, the risk with a spiral-sliced ham is that it may dry out if you heat it in the oven for too long.

Country Ham

Country ham has been cured with salt and then dried. Some country hams are smoked and some are not. The salting and curing give country ham a hearty, rich flavor; many people love its rich, salty taste but most can only eat it in small portions. To prepare a country ham for a Christmas dinner, scrub all the mold off the outside of the ham and soak it for about 12 hours before heating. The soaking reduces the saltiness of the meat. Another tactic for reducing the saltiness of country ham is to serve it with plenty of gravy, such as red-eye gravy, which is traditionally served with country ham. The disadvantage of country ham is that it's time-consuming to prepare.

Baked Ham

Baked hams come partially or fully cooked and have already been soaked in brine and smoked. Brine for baked hams is usually made of honey or sugar, salt, spices and nitrates or nitrites to give the ham more flavor. In addition to the flavor from the brine, many cooks add a glaze to their Christmas hams. Search cookbooks or the Internet for a glaze that appeals to you. Many people like to mix sweet and salty flavors with their baked ham glazes.

Fresh Ham

Unlike the other types of ham, fresh ham has not been precooked, brined, smoked or altered in any other way before purchase by the consumer. Buying a fresh ham for Christmas allows you to infuse it with whatever flavors you like, but fresh ham tastes more like pork tenderloin than the other cured hams you may be used to. Instead of 1 1/2 to 3 hours of heating time, plan on spending at least 5 hours cooking a fresh ham. That's a lot of cooking time on Christmas day, but for many people, the time is worth the result.

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