Instructions for Cooking a Spiral Ham

Instructions for Cooking a Spiral Ham. (Image: GMVozd/E+/GettyImages)

Eating a ham is the easy part of a meal. It has the perfect balance of sweet and savory flavors, and you can eat far too much of it without really noticing. Carving one can be a bit trickier, and it's time consuming even when you know how and have a decent knife. That's why many meat packers offer spiral hams, which are presliced. They're ready to eat, so spiral ham recipes mostly come down to the glaze and the heating instructions.

What Is a Spiral Ham?

A spiral ham is what's otherwise known as a "city ham." Those are cured in a wet brine rather than dry-cured like country hams, and they're fully cooked. Then they're put through a machine that slices them thinly into a continuous spiral, so carving is a simple matter of cutting your slices from the bone. You can carve one and eat it cold without any further preparation at all if you wish.

If you opt to heat it up, the USDA considers a fully cooked ham to be food safe at 140 degrees Fahrenheit as long as it's still in its original packaging from the factory. If it has been opened and portioned at the store, the USDA recommends heating it to 165 degrees instead just to be extra safe.

Cooking Spiral Ham in the Oven

The most conventional way to cook — or rather, reheat — a spiral ham is in the oven. Because you're just heating the ham rather than actually cooking it, you can use any temperature you choose. With spiral-sliced hams, the big risk is that the slices will begin to dry at the edges before the middle is fully heated, so as a rule, low temperatures are best. The Smithfield ham company suggests setting your oven to a gentle 275 degrees and allowing 10 to 12 minutes per pound.

To keep your ham moist, it should be wrapped tightly in foil along with its juices, which will create steam and keep the ham from drying. You can also opt for a baking dish or roasting pan with a tight-fitting lid, which will have the same effect.

Heating Spiral Ham in a Countertop Roaster

You can use much the same technique to warm your spiral ham in a countertop roaster oven. The roaster itself traps moisture pretty well, acting like a baking dish with a lid, so you don't necessarily have to wrap the ham itself in foil. Just preheat the roaster to a temperature between 275 and 325 degrees — because there's less risk of the ham drying in a roaster — with the juices from the ham and enough added water to make up at least 2 cups of liquid. Bake with the lid on until the ham is heated through.

Heating Spiral Ham in a Slow Cooker

Your slow cooker provides another forgiving, moisture-preserving option for heating your ham. Slow cookers are smaller than roasters — 6 quarts is a common size as opposed to 16 or 18 for the roaster — so not all hams will fit, but it's a good option for anything up to about 10 pounds. Slow cookers retain moisture really well, so the ham's own juices are all the liquid you'll need. Just plunk the ham into your slow cooker, set it on low for three to five hours, and your work is done.

Glazing the Ham

Most hams are pretty tasty without any further preparation, but they're certainly showier and tastier when they're covered with a baked-on glaze. Some hams come with a small packet of glaze, or you can make one from your favorite recipe. If you're going to glaze your ham, you should take it out of the oven while it's still eight to 10 degrees below the final temperature for which you're shooting. Crank the oven up to 425 or 450 — the glaze seals and protects the ham, so heat isn't an issue at this point – and pop it back in for another eight to 10 minutes.

If you opt for the countertop roaster or the slow cooker, you can still glaze the ham. One way is to finish the ham in your oven. In a slow cooker, pour the glaze over the ham right at the start and turn the ham halfway through its cooking time for even coverage. In a roaster, baste with the glaze for the last hour of cooking time and then again during the last few minutes. You may need to turn up the temperature to make it caramelize properly.

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