Should I cook my “fully cooked” ham?


This Sunday is Easter. All across the land, families will sit down to dinners featuring hams which were sold as “fully cooked” yet have been heated in a 350 degree oven according to a recipe like this one: “If the ham is labeled ‘fully cooked’ (does not require heating), heat for 8 to 10 minutes per pound, or to an internal temperature of 140°F.”*

Does this make sense? Is it a good idea? Is it remotely necessary? Let’s take a step back.

I am in possession of a beautiful fully smoked and cooked hickory ham on the bone sent to me by the folks at Jones Dairy Farm. I advise you to get such a ham if you possibly can. It’s sweet, not salty like a country ham, yet the hickory taste and smell pervades it. And because it’s cured on the bone it is firm and meaty throughout. Plus, you get a bonus hambone (hock) for beans and soup.

I am going to lightly trim the fat (which I’ll save for that aforementioned pot of beans) and then rub this ham all over with as much brown sugar it will absorb, same as if I was preparing a brisket for the smoker. I will not add any cloves or fruit juice because I want the hickory ham taste to come through undiluted. I will put this ham in a pan with a rack in a 350 degree oven and when it has reached a temperature where the fat has started to render then I will begin to baste it with the juices that drip off.

When it is fully heated through I will raise the oven temperature to 425 for 10 final minutes to caramelize the glaze, then I’ll remove it from the oven and let it rest half an hour before serving. (Be aware this is a fairly aggressive technique, and you should watch vigilantly so the glaze doesn’t burn. You may be happy keeping the oven at 350, and removing the ham when it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees.)

The result is a crispy, crackling, finger-licking crust similar to that in Honey-Baked Ham—a dish which, like revenge, is best served lukewarm, or even cold. It’s your reward for taking an extra measure of food safety precaution even if it may not be entirely necessary.

P.S. Watch the video for Philip Jones’ easy method to prepare a bone-in ham for carving. First, identify the side of the ham that has the majority of meat. Then, cut a slice off the other size, toward the hip, as a base the ham can sit on while you’re carving. Now carve out a wedge at the opposite end, by the shank, to expose the meat. You can now start serving up beautiful slices that won’t fall apart.

*140 degrees is barely hot enough to kill cooties. To be sure of food safety, cook to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.

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