Different Types of Hams

Types of Hams

Sliced hamHam generally refers to the hind legs of a pig. Hams can be whole, with or without skin (rind), partially boned or boned, rolled and tied into a neat, round shape. Ham from the front leg (shoulder) is called picnic ham or butt. Hams are available from other cuts of pork as well, such as loin. Ham hocks, or the lower trimmed portions of each ham, are cured and smoked like whole hams. Why so many varieties? Simply because there are hundreds of variations on curing and smoking techniques. Just remember that there are but two basic ways of curing - wet and dry curing.

Wet-Cured Ham - Most hams available in stores are wet-cured. This type of ham is created by submerging the ham in a salty brine solution or injecting the brine into the ham. Often, sugar and seasonings are added and sometimes, nitrates are added to improve color and help preserve the meat. In general, wet-cured hams are milder and less salty than dry-cured hams. They are also moister and have a finer texture. Most of these hams are fully cooked, but some are partially cooked, so pay close attention to labels and cooking instructions. Wet-cured hams have not been fully preserved and require refrigeration.

Dry-Cured Ham - In this broad category, the ham is rubbed all over with salt and then left to cure. Country hams, prosciutto, and Serrano hams are all dry-cured and have not yet been cooked. The salt acts as a preservative and helps ward off bacteria. Dry-cured hams often contain sugar and other seasonings to balance the saltiness and contribute flavor. These hams are always salty and the flavor is concentrated, while the texture is coarser and drier than in wet-cured hams.

Smoked Ham - All of the most popular American hams have been smoked. Hickory-smoked ham has always been an American favorite, but you can also buy hams that have been smoked over pecan, apple wood, maple, cherry, oak and other hardwoods. Some of the lesser-quality smoked hams are not smoked at all but bathed in vaporized smoke flavoring. You can buy whole, half or pieces of smoked ham. Most of these will be labeled 'fully cooked' or 'ready to eat'.

Country Ham - The hogs used to make country hams are usually raised on corn and then fed an expensive diet that can include acorns, peaches and peanuts which affects the flavor of the ham. All country hams are dry-cured, and most are smoked and un-cooked. They are extremely salty and have been preserved. To reduce saltiness, country hams must be soaked for at least 24 hours in cool water, changing the water three or four times. Older hams, which are even saltier, should soak for up to 48 hours. The ham is allowed to cool in the water for about 2 hours. It can then be sliced and eaten, or baked and glazed.

Spiral-Cut Ham - These fully cooked, wet-cured, smoked hams have been ingeniously sliced using a special spiral slicing machine that cuts the ham in a continuous motion from top to bottom. The result is a ham that retains its full shape, though the slices can be simply removed. Simply heat them through in a 325oF oven.

Supermarket and Deli Ham - These fully cooked hams are usually brine-injected and quickly wet-cured. They may be briefly smoked too, lending just a subtle smoke flavor. Deli ham is usually sold boneless or semi-boneless, but look for it on the bone for the best flavor.

Canned Ham - Ready-to-eat, canned hams are always wet-cured but not always smoked. They require refrigeration and can be stored at 40oF or colder for up to a year. Canned hams are boneless, skinless and often made up of several hams so that pieces will fill the can. In general, bake at 325oF for about 20 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature reaches 130oF to 140oF on an instant-read thermometer.

Prosciutto - Generally, these salty hams have been dry-cured and aged but not smoked or cooked. The curing process kills any harmful bacteria, so they can be eaten without cooking. This type of ham has also been pressed, so the texture is firm, making it easy to cut wafer-thin slices.

Serrano and Iberico - Spain produces two of the world's greatest cured hams. Serrano is the most popular, but Iberico is considered the very best. Serrano ham is made from Spanish white pigs, while Iberico ham comes from the wild, dark Iberico pig, which is allowed to forage for wild acorns and herbs. Use these Spanish hams as you would use prosciutto.

Tasso - This Cajun specialty is cured, heavily spiced and smoked. Pieces of ham are usually taken from the shoulder. Thus, tasso is sold in chunks rather than in whole hams. It is most often chopped and used as a seasoning in gumbo, jambalaya, stuffing, and other Louisiana regional specialties.

For Beef and Ham Roll Recipe, please visit here.

Note: Difference between ham and gammon.

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