What Are the Best Tips for Cooking a Ham?

Lori Kilchermann

Cooking a ham is a straight-forward process which requires little prep work and few culinary skills. Best tips for working with a ham include maintaining proper oven temperature and cooking time and applying a flavorful glaze near the end of the cooking process. Ham is easily over-cooked and tends to be salty, so care should be taken to ensure proper cooking times and appropriate seasoning.

Honey is a popular ham glaze.
Honey is a popular ham glaze.

Hams should be cooked fat-side up in an uncovered roasting pan. One tip is to remove all but a thin layer of fat, about 1/4-inch (6.4 mm) thick. A knife can be used to score a shallow, diamond-shaped pattern on the ham's surface. Spicing the ham can be achieved by poking rows of whole cloves onto the ham's surface. When cooking a ham, it's best to turn it over at the half-way point in order to evenly distribute juices and salt throughout the meat.

Many people spice a ham by studding it with whole cloves.
Many people spice a ham by studding it with whole cloves.

It is usually best to keep the oven at a low temperature when cooking a ham and bake it for a longer period of time in order to avoid drying it out. Preheating the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (163 degrees Celsius) will ensure a crisp surface on the ham. For hams which are not pre-cooked, cooks should allow approximately 20 minutes of cooking time per pound or kilogram. Undercooked pork may contain a parasitic disease called trichinosis, therefore the United States Department of Agriculture recommends cooking the ham until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F (71 degrees Celsius) in order to kill dangerous bacteria.

During the last hour of cooking a ham, a glaze coating can be applied to add flavor. A glaze is often a better choice than basting the ham in its own drippings, as they are likely too salty to use. Glazes are a thick, spreadable mixture applied to the ham to help keep it moist and tender and to enhance its flavor. Common glazes are made from a variety of ingredients such as honey, fruit, brown sugar and mustard. After cooking a ham, it's best to let it stand for 15 minutes before slicing.

In addition to baking, cooking a ham can also be accomplished by boiling, broiling, grilling and frying. Boiling a ham is a healthy option because it does not require the addition of any fat. Grilling is best for thinner and smaller pieces of ham because the outside can easily become over-cooked while bringing the internal temperature up to the correct point. Frying and broiling are also best for thin slices of ham as the outsides will be crisp and insides will be moist, if cooked properly.

Ham is typically baked in an oven at a low temperature to avoid it drying out.
Ham is typically baked in an oven at a low temperature to avoid it drying out.

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Discussion Comments


Having a good glaze can be crucial for cooking a good ham. Many people opt for a sweet glaze and these can be great. But there are also some sweet and smoky glazes that can give the meat an amazing flavor.

The key is to not go overboard. The glaze is a compliment but the meat should be the dominant flavor. Baste one on before you begin cooking and then repeat several times through the baking process.


I love to eat ham and eggs and I always keep a ham steak in the fridge for Sunday breakfast. I know that this is not the most delicate way to cook it, but I make mine by simply frying it in a pan in oil with a little salt and pepper. I cook it until I have a little dark color on both sides.

I love the taste of a greasy piece of ham. And when it has a big pile of cheesy scrambled eggs next to it I am in heaven. Thinking about it honestly, I think Sunday breakfast might be my favorite meal of the week.


One of the best tips for making great cooked ham is to start with the highest quality ham you can. A good general rule of thumb for meat is that the less it is processed the better. So if you can, buy ham from a local organic farmer that uses ethical and sustainable farming practices. You are sure to get better tasting meat this way.

I have had decent ham that comes frozen from the grocery store but it is really not the same. The flavor is dull and the texture is chewy. A good fresh ham can be a transcendental experience.

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