A ham is a wonderful main dish to serve at large dinner parties and on holidays. Busy hosts need only to heat the ham on the day of the event, which means that they can better concentrate on the guests and the side dishes. Most hams come pre-cooked because they are smoked or cured, but even fresh hams can be cooked on the day before serving.
Most hams bought from supermarkets in the United States come fully cooked through a curing process, smoking, or both. These cooking methods give the ham its salty, smoky and distinctive taste, which means the host don't have to worry about serving undercooked meat. The flavor of a pre-cooked ham depends on the cooking method, on whether the meat comes from the rump end of the pig or the shanks and on whether there is a bone in the meat or not. Purchase a ham with a uniform, bright pink color and without any marbling.
A raw piece of meat from the rear leg of the pig is known as a fresh ham. Fresh hams must be completely cooked after being purchased, although you can still do the cooking a day in advance. One cooking method involves simmering the ham in water for 3 hours and then finishing it in a 300-degree oven for 2 to 3 hours more. Another method is to cook it entirely in a 325 to 350 degree oven for about 5 hours total. The resulting meat should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees and will taste different than a pre-cooked ham because you are using a different cooking method.
Heating to Serve
Hams can be served cold, especially for luncheons and daytime meals. However, if you want to serve the ham hot, you will need to reheat or finish it shortly before serving. Coat the ham with honey or glaze before reheating if you'd like additional flavor. Pre-cooked hams should be heated in a 325-degree oven to 140 degrees, unless the directions on the package advise differently. Reheated fresh hams may not taste as good as those cooked on the day of serving, but they are still safe to eat provided the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees at the time of the initial cooking.
What to do with Leftovers
A pre-cooked ham will keep in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days after being reheated. During this time you can use it in sandwiches or salads. Afterwards, turn any remaining leftovers into a savory pea soup. If your ham had a bone, toss it in the soup for extra flavor.