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How To Choose the Perfect Cut of Ham for Your Holiday Meal

How To Choose the Perfect Cut of Ham for Your Holiday Meal

Ham is one of those traditional holiday meats that often steal the show. Their savory-sweet flavor and tenderness make it easy to see why it’s been a holiday staple for so many years. To make your next feast extra special, don’t just pick any ham, learn how to choose the perfect cut of ham for your next holiday meal.

City, Country, or Fresh Ham?

Part of what makes ham the reigning champion in the annual ham versus turkey debate is its versatility. But all those different types of ham can make it hard to choose, so let’s break it down. Ultimately, there are three general forms of ham: city, country, and fresh.

  • Fresh hams are, well, fresh! They’re raw, uncured, and uncooked and are typically the pig’s rear legs.
  • Country hams are cured, can come smoked or unsmoked, and typically sold raw. The curing process involves dry rubbing and hanging the meat for months. While it’s dryer, it will have a much more concentrated flavor.
  • City ham is probably the ham you’re most familiar with. It’s the kind that’s injected with or, for weeks, submerged in brine. This type of ham will often come already smoked and cooked.

Pro Tip: if you see “water added” on the label, know that the more water added, the less concentrated the flavor will be.

Bone in or Boneless Ham?

Part of why many meat lovers like to keep the bones in is that the bones have collagen and marrow that melts and acts like butter, adding moisture to the meat. And while boneless hams are much easier to cut, many will tell you that boneless ham just doesn’t taste as good. Ultimately, it’s up to your preference. Just know that boneless hams are typically heavily salted and pressed into their oval shape. If you can’t decide, choose a semi-boneless ham!

Shank Versus Butt

If you decide to go bone or semi-bone in, you have two choices: butt or shank. Both the shank and the butt come from the leg of the animal, but the shank is closer to the hoof, while the butt is closer to the tail. Again, this is one of those things that comes down to preference:

  • Shanks, in general, are much easier to cut. And although it can be a little chewier, it does have a richer, more intense flavor.
  • Butts will give you much bigger pieces and is generally softer, but there is a pelvic bone that makes it difficult to cut if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Now that you know how to choose the perfect cut of ham, you’re ready to make your next holiday meal one for the books. Just remember, stay away from hams with added water!

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