Hosting family at the holidays can be a bit stressful for the home chef.
One easy way to wow your guests is to make sure the centerpiece of the meal is one they won’t forget. And at Easter, that traditionally often means a picture-perfect, mouth-watering ham.
The first step, according to Kansas State University food safety expert Karen Blakeslee, is to determine if you’re going to choose a ready-to-eat ham or an uncooked ham.
Choose your ham
“Package labels will state if it is uncooked or ready-to eat,” says Blakeslee, who also is coordinator of K-State’s Rapid Response Center for Food Science. “Always read the package label and instructions to be informed on how to safely handle the ham.”
Cooked hams can be marketed as canned, vacuum
Uncooked hams may be labeled as fresh, cured
, or smoked, and can be with or without the bone, according to K-State. Blakeslee warns chefs to always read the label and package instructions, because some uncooked hams may appear ready-to-eat but are not — and they require cooking.
When cooking a ham (whether it is precooked or uncooked) Blakeslee said chefs must make sure to use a food thermometer to measure that the ham reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F, and to make sure that the ham is cooked in an oven at a minimum temperature of 325 degrees.
If your ham was repackaged outside of a processing plant, or if you’re reheating leftovers, make sure that the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees for added safety, she advises.
For advice on cooking times for ham, USDA has an online timetable.
The National Pork Board offers recipe inspiration and cooking advice at its website, pork.org.
- Easter inspiration. Looking for a new Easter ham or pork dish to try? The Pork Board has an Easter recipes with pork (and ham) page.
- Cooking methods. Pork is a very versatile protein. Many home cooks might have learned roasting and smoking methods from their mothers and grandmothers. Recently, many cooks have adopted new appliances like Instant Pots and air fryers. The Pork Board offers advice to match cuts to cooking methods.
- Planned leftovers. To stretch your family food dollar, plan to use your leftover Easter ham in dishes that your family will love. The Pork Board has a video and recipe ideas.
If you’re planning for leftovers, be sure to safely store them by either refrigerating for use within seven days, or freezing for later consumption. The Pork Board has a chart with guidelines on safe methods and storage timelines as well. In general, the length of time you can store ham at home depends on if it was fresh, cured, or cooked and if you’re going to freeze or refrigerate it.
Whether you buy your ham from the grocery store, or prefer to purchase it direct from the farmer, there are many different recipes and preparation methods to fit your tastes and budget, and all are sure to wow your guests.
K-State Research and Extension and the National Pork Board contributed to this article.