How to Cook a Perfect Holiday Ham

Impress your guests with a home-cooked ham. See more pictures of holiday noshes.

The holiday season is all about tradition. From the kind of Christmas tree you prefer to what style of menorah you light, many of those traditions revolve around food. If you're a holiday traditionalist at the dinner table, you're likely to have a turkey and a ham for the meat lovers. Both are staples of the holiday spread, and they can be prepared a number of ways. While it's easy to go to your local baked ham specialist to purchase one, it's actually pretty easy to bake your own at home for a lot less money. Plus, you can add your own personal touch to the recipe. Here are some tips for cooking the perfect holiday ham.


Picking out your ham is the first step to the process. Pre-cooked sliced hams are the simplest option because all you have to do is warm them up in the oven. You can also opt for a partially cooked ham, which requires more cooking time. But if you want the perfect holiday ham, you should buy it uncooked. You can also choose between boneless and bone-in. Choose one with the bone for extra flavor, and you can use that bone in a soup stock later on. You can thaw the ham in your refrigerator, but allow for a thaw time of about four to five hours per pound. The easiest thing to do is to just stick it in your fridge a couple of days before the meal so you know it gets a good, slow thaw.



The key to putting your own personal stamp on your ham is the glaze. You have all kinds of options here, but a traditional holiday ham has a sweet glaze. Honey, molasses and brown sugar are all great choices and can be mixed together for a sugary glaze. You can also opt for a beverage like champagne, or juices like orange, pear or apple. Cherry glazes are another classic choice, complete with pineapple and cherries speared into the skin for a lovely and tasty finishing touch. Celebrity chef Paula Dean's recipe includes Dijon mustard and orange marmalade. Experiment by mixing some ingredients together in a separate bowl until you get the flavor you're looking for.


Place your ham in a roasting pan. You can cover it in foil to avoid a messy cleanup. Score the fat side of the ham with a knife in a diagonal criss-cross pattern. Coat the ham in glaze and add any toppers you may have. This means the cherry and pineapple, skewered with toothpicks, or the traditional cloves, which can be pushed into the ham. To retain juices, bake the ham in a preheated oven set to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190.5 degrees Celsius), for about 25 minutes per pound. You should baste early and often to maintain the moisture. Some chefs can tell when it's done just by looking at it, but the home chef should use a meat thermometer. Insert it before the ham goes into the oven and leave it there while it cooks, making sure to avoid the bone. When it reads 160 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit (71 to 74 degrees Celsius), it's ready to sit out for the next 15 minutes. Then, slice and eat.



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  • Dean, Paula. "Christmas Ham.", 2007.
  • Silvers, Christie. "How to Cook the Perfect Holiday Ham.", November 3, 2006.
  • Vee, Angel. "How to Cook a Perfect Holiday Ham.", December 17, 2008.