Contents: Curing | Dry curing
| Wet curing or brine cure
| Smoking and smoke
flavoring | How much to buy
| Ham glossary
ham means pork which comes from the hind
leg of a hog. Ham made from the front leg of a hog will be
labeled "pork shoulder picnic." "Turkey" ham must be made from the thigh meat of
Hams may be fresh, cured,
or cured-and-smoked. The usual color for cured ham is deep
rose or pink; fresh ham (which is not cured) has the pale
pink or beige color of a fresh pork roast; country hams
and prosciutto (which are dry cured) range from pink to
Hams are either
ready-to-eat or not. Ready-to-eat hams include prosciutto
and fully cooked hams; they can be eaten right out of the
package. Fresh hams and hams that are only trichina
treated must be cooked by the consumer before eating; in
most countries, these hams will bear a safe handling
Curing is the addition of
salt, sodium nitrate (or saltpeter), nitrites and
sometimes sugars, seasonings, phosphates and ascorbates to
pork for preservation, color development and flavor
Nitrate and nitrites
contribute to the characteristic cured flavor and
reddish-pink color of cured pork. Nitrite and salt inhibit
the outgrowth of Clostridium botulinum, a deadly
microorganism which can occur in foods. The nitrates and
nitrites create cancer-causing chemicals when overcooked,
so avoid eating ham that has been browned or blackened.
The two most-used methods
of adding solutions to pork are: injection into muscle by
needle; and tumbling or massaging into muscle to produce a
more tender product
In dry curing, the
process used to make country hams and prosciutto, fresh
meat is rubbed with a dry-cure mixture of salt and other
ingredients. Dry curing produces a salty product. In 1992,
FSIS approved a trichina treatment method that permits
substituting up to half of the sodium chloride with
potassium chloride to result in lower sodium levels. Since
dry curing draws out moisture, it reduces ham weight by at
least 18% -- usually 20 to 25%; this results in a more
concentrated ham flavor.
Dry-cured hams may be
aged from a few weeks to more than a year. Six months is
the traditional process but may be shortened according to
These uncooked hams are
safe stored at room temperature because they contain so
little water, bacteria can't multiply in them. Country
hams may not be injected with curing solutions or placed
in curing solutions but they may be smoked.
Brine curing is the most
popular way of producing hams. Contrary to popular
misconception, not all brine-cured hams are
"injected". Many traditional ham styles (such as
the English Wiltshire ham) are wet-cured hams. Brining
ingredients can be salt, sugar, sodium nitrite, sodium
nitrate, sodium erythorbate, sodium phosphate, potassium
chloride, water and flavorings. Smoke flavoring (liquid
smoke) may also be injected with brine solution. Cooking
may occur during this process.
After curing, some hams
are smoked. Smoking is a process by which ham is hung in a
smokehouse and allowed to absorb smoke from smoldering
fires. This gives added flavor and color to meat and slows
the development of rancidity.
When buying a ham,
estimate the size needed according to the number of
servings the type of ham should yield:
* 1/4 - 1/3 lb. per serving of boneless
* 1/3 - 1/2 lb. of meat per serving of ham
with little bone
* 3/4 - 1 lb. of meat per serving of ham with
Air dried ham from the Adour valley in S W France 'the
Basque country'. Salted, then air cured for a mimimum
of seven months.
Butt end, half,
or portion - the upper, meatier part of the
whole leg; a butt portion has had some center slices
removed for separate sale as ham steaks or center cut
ham slices. The half includes this meat.
Canned ham --
Canned hams come in two forms:
- store on shelf up to 2 years at room
temperature. Generally not over 3 pounds in size.
Processed to kill all spoilage bacteria and
pathogenic organisms such as Clostridium botulinum,
Salmonella and Trichinella spiralis. The product
is free of microorganisms capable of growing at
ordinary room temperature. However, high
temperature storage -- above 122° F (50° C) --
may result in harmless thermophylic bacteria
multiplying and swelling or souring the product.
- may be stored in refrigerator up to 6 to 9
months. Its weight can be up to 8% more than
original uncured weight due to uptake of water
during curing. It need not be labeled "Added
water" except for "In Natural
Juices." Net Weight is the weight of the
actual ham excluding the container. Processed at a
time/temperature sufficient to kill infectious
organisms (including Trichinae) but the ham is not
sterilized so spoilage bacteria may grow
Boneless pork shoulder butts which are dry cured; not
necessarily cooked., Ham capacolla is made
with ham instead of pork shoulder butts.
Cook before eating
- needs further cooking. Is not completely cooked in
the plant and should be cooked to 160-degrees F.
Cottage ham -
a ham made from the shoulder butt end.
Country ham -
uncooked, cured, dried, smoked-or-unsmoked meat
products made from a single piece of meat from the
hind leg of a hog or from a single piece of meat from
a pork shoulder. Smithfield and country hams are not
fully cooked but are dry cured to be safe stored at
room temperature. They should be cooked before eating
according to manufacturer's instructions. A ham
labeled "Smithfield Ham" must be processed
in the city of Smithfield, Virginia.
Fresh ham -
the uncured leg of pork. Since the meat is not cured
or smoked, it has the flavor of a fresh pork loin
roast or pork chops. Its raw color is pinkish red and
after cooking, greyish white.
Fully cooked -
needs no further cooking. Fully cooked in plant. Can
be eaten directly as it comes from its packaging or
about one-fourth ounce of dry gelatin is often added
before a canned ham is sealed to cushion the ham
during shipment. During processing, natural juices
cook out of the ham and combine with the gelatin. When
the ham cools, a jell forms. Gelatin is included in
the net weight statement on the label.
Ham - the
product is at least 20.5% protein in lean portion and
contains no added water.
Ham with natural
juices - the product is at least 18.5% protein.
Can weigh 8% more than uncured weight. Example: canned
Ham -- Water added
- the product is at least 17.0% protein with 10% added
solution; it can weigh 8% more after curing than
Ham and water
products - Product may contain any amount of
water but label must indicate percent of "added
ingredients." For example, "X % of weight is
added ingredients" for any canned ham with less
than 17.0% protein.
Ham steak -
another name for center cut ham slices.
- a cured ham which has been smoked by hanging over
burning hickory wood chips in a smokehouse. May not be
labeled "hickory smoked" unless hickory wood
has been used.
may be shown on the labeling of a cured product if
honey is the only sweetening ingredient or is at least
half the sweetening ingredients used, and if the honey
is used in an amount sufficient to flavor and/or
affect the appearance of the finished product.
ham - The term "lean" may be used on a
ham's label provided the product contains less than 10
grams fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and
less than 95 milligrams cholesterol per 100 grams and
Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC).
lean" ham - A ham labeled "extra
lean" must contain less than 5 grams fat, less
than 2 grams saturated fat and the same cholesterol as
allowed per the amount of "lean" ham.
shoulder picnic - a front shoulder cut of pork
which has been cured in the same manner as ham.
- An Italian-style dry cured raw ham; not smoked;
often coated with pepper. Proscuitti can be eaten raw
because of the way they are processed. Parma ham
is prosciutto from the Parma locale in Italy. These
hams tend to be larger than the U.S. produced product,
as Italian hogs are larger at slaughter.
formed or Chunked and formed - a boneless
ham that is made from different cuts, tumbled or
massaged and reassembled into a casing or mold and
fully cooked. During this process it is usually
Shank end, half,
or portion - the lower, slightly pointed part
of the leg. A "portion" has the center
slices removed for separate sale as "ham
steaks" or center cut ham slices. The half
includes this meat.
- A ham with all of the skin and the shank removed.
The leg bone and aitch (hip) bone remain.
Sugar cured -
a term that may appear on ham labels if cane or beet
sugar is at least half the sweetening ingredients used
and if the sugar is used in an amount sufficient to
flavor and/or affect the appearance of the finished
product. Most hams contain sugar in the curing
- A German-style dry cured ham that is similar to
Prosciutto; smoked, sometimes with juniper berries.
Also called Westfalischer Schinken.