Ham is derived from the hind leg of the hog and is relished in a variety of ways: cooked, cured or smoked. It is a relatively large cut of meat that makes up around 24 percent weight of the pork carcass. Fresh ham meat consists of large leg muscles with a few connective tissues that taste great when cooked as roast meat. Ham cuts are available as leg, shank butt, center slice and spiral sliced portions.
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The leg is the whole cut of the ham and weighs between 10 to 20 pounds. It is generally sold in halves and is made up of the butt and shank cuts of the pork leg. The leg is low in fat, though it has high sodium content, and is sold in bone-in, semi-boneless or boneless portions.
The shank half is a pointy, slightly sweet flavored ham cut. It is produced from the upper portion of the pork leg and has a lower fat and meat content compared to other ham portions. According to the Recipe Hut, the shank is easier to carve as it contains only one leg bone. A ham product with the label "shank half" implies that the cut includes the center slice of the ham. If the product is labeled “shank portion" it means that the center slice is not included as part of the ham.
The round cut of the ham, the butt is produced from the bottom half of the pork leg. It is meaty and has a high fat content. The butt portion, however, is difficult to carve as it is made up of the hog’s hip and pelvic bone. Butt cuts that are labeled "butt half" has the center ham slice removed; while "butt portion" labels mean that the center is included in the butt cut.
The center slice is also known as the center cut of the ham steak, and can be found boneless or with a small circular bone included. It is cut from the center of the ham, at the place where the butt end and shank end are separated. This cut is the best cut from the ham, and is sliced around ½ to 1-inch thick. While the center slice is available as a fresh meat cut, it can be cured or smoked and ready to serve.
A spiral slice ham is cooked with the bone-in, and around which the spiral is pre-sliced. The spiral is cut in a single, continuous cut around the ham, and commences at one end, and moves to the opposite end creating the same slice thickness all through. Spiral slice hams should be consumed within four to five days. If not, they must be frozen, as pre-sliced pieces dry out faster. Dry-cured hams cannot be spiral sliced because the slices cannot be cut thin enough and dry out fast.