Ham is one of the easiest meats to prepare in the oven but not all hams are the same. There are several types of ham and each requires different cooking times. Hams are either ready to eat or not. Read the label before buying to know the type of ham you’re getting; smoked, cooked and ready to eat, smoked and cook before eating, fresh ham, or country ham.

* Cooked hams can be eaten cold, right from the package, or baked in the oven to heat all the way through. Heating time can be from 10 to 30 minutes per pound.

* Uncooked smoked ham must be cooked before eating. Oven times are from 18 to 40 minutes per pound.

* Fresh ham will have the word fresh on the label. It must be cooked 22 to 40 minutes per pound.

* Country ham is usually very salty and needs to be soaked in cold water for a minimum of 12 hours before cooking to remove some of the salt.

How to bake

Set the oven to 325 degrees. Place ham in pan fat side up to allow the fat to act as basting. Some cooks like to turn the ham halfway through cooking for more even salt flavor through the ham but it’s difficult to turn a large ham so this is a personal taste choice. If the ham is turned, try not to pierce it with sharp utensils as this will release desired juices.

A meat thermometer is a handy tool to check meat for doneness and to prevent under cooking which can result in harmful bacteria. Insert it in the thickest part of the meat, being sure that it’s not touching any bone. Though pork is safe to eat at 137 degrees internal temperature, the USDA (http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Ham/index.asp) recommends 160 degrees as a safer temperature. Ham can be removed from the oven when the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees because it will continue cooking for a few minutes and will reach the proper temperature. Never partially cook ham planning to finish cooking at a later time. Pork must be completely cooked at one time.

The label on the ham will have the desired baking time per pound. After the ham has baked the required length of time, remove from the oven and let it stand for 15 minutes for easier slicing.

Country ham

Country ham has a long curing and drying process and needs to be cooked a bit differently. Mold may appear on the ham but don’t throw it away. The mold will not harm the ham or you. Use a stiff brush and hot water to wash off the mold. Cover the ham with cold water to remove some of the salt. Soak the ham for 12 to 36 hours in the refrigerator. Longer soaking will result in a less salty taste. Change the water several times as salt crystals appear on the surface.

The preferred cooking method for country ham is to cover it with cool water and simmer, not boil, it on top the stove for 20-25 minutes per pound until it reaches an internal temperature of 163 degrees but it can be baked entirely in the oven after soaking. Place ham in baking pan and add water to come half way up the ham. Tent foil over the ham and bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes per pound or according to label directions.

Top it off

Baked ham is great tasting on it’s own but adding a glaze gives ham an added zip. Brush or pour glazes during the last thirty minutes of baking.

* Score the ham (cutting very lightly) in a criss-cross pattern with a knife and add whole cloves at each knife crossing. Mix one half cup honey, one half cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, and 1 tablespoon orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.

* Mix 1 cup sweet preserves with one half cup corn syrup.

* Mix equal amounts of brown sugar and honey.

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