Your Ultimate Guide to Christmas Ham

This year, go ham for the holidays with the only recipe you'll ever need. Learn how to choose a Christmas ham, how long to bake it and how to carve for beautiful results—plus choose from four incredible glazes.

Ham on a platter beside a salad, cheesecake and side of vegetablesPhoto: Taste of Home

Salty, smoky and glistening with glaze, nothing in the world beats ham for the holidays. Here’s all you need to know to bake up your best Christmas ham recipe yet.

1. Select your ham

How much do you need?
For bone-in ham, allow about 1/2 pound per person. Going with boneless? Buy 1/3 pound of ham per person. So, for a party of 12, you’d need a 6-pound bone-in ham or 4 pounds of boneless.

How much should it cost?
Many stores offer Christmas ham as a loss leader, so you’re sure to find one that fits your budget. One year, my parents splurged on a magnificent spiral-sliced bone-in ham from Nueske’s, which was a joy for me to carve and an absolute delight for the family to eat. You can find very good hams for an eighth of this price, and everything in-between, during the holiday season.

Should you get boneless or bone-in?
The ham bone contributes moisture and flavor as the meat bakes, but it makes the ham a bit tricky to carve. (I’ll show you how to master this technique later, so keep reading.)

What are the different cuts?
Bone-in full hams are the largest, consisting of the butt (upper portion) and shank (leg) halves. Shank half hams are smaller than butt half hams, and they give you a meaty, flavorful bone ideal for making bean soup. Coming from a larger cut, butt half hams weigh more and yield large slices. Center-cut ham steaks and packaged ham slices sold in the store come from the butt half. The different cuts taste similar, so choose based on your preferred size and brand.

2. Prep the ham

Place the ham on a roasting rack in a baking pan. Using a sharp knife, score surface of ham with 1/4-in.-deep cuts in a diamond pattern. This helps the yummy glaze soak into and infuse the ham with flavor.

3. Clove it…or leave it

Cloves are optional, but they add a lovely aroma as the ham bakes, as well as an old-fashioned appearance. If you like the idea, insert a whole clove into each diamond point of the ham. The cloves also make handy hooks for adorning the meat with pineapple rings and maraschino cherries (if you’re looking for a retro holiday ham recipe like this one).

4. Bake away

Cover the ham with foil and bake at 325° until a thermometer reads 140° for fully cooked ham. Whole bone-in fully cooked hams need about 15-18 minutes per pound. For boneless fully cooked, plan on baking for 18 to 20 minutes per pound. (Partially cooked and uncooked hams, which are less common, should bake to 145°, so allow a bit of extra time for these). In total, a 7- to 9-pound bone-in half ham will take around 2-1/4 to 2-3/4 hours to reach 140°.

Hunk of ham on a white platePhoto: Taste of Home

5. Choose your ham glaze

This shimmery beauty features a Citrus-Molasses Glaze. To prepare it, simmer these ingredients in a sauce pan until reduced by half:

1/2 cup grapefruit juice
1/2 cup orange juice

Then stir in these ingredients and return it to a boil:

1/4 cup molasses
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 teaspoons coarsely ground pepper

For a simple Sugar Glaze, combine in a bowl:

1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

For Bourbon Glaze, combine in a bowl:

2/3 cup bourbon
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground mustard
1 tablespoon orange marmalade
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

For Cranberry Glaze, bring to a simmer:

1 can (14 ounces) whole-berry cranberry sauce
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons ground mustard

6. Check the ham about 45 minutes out

When the ham reaches around 130°, you’re closing in on final doneness. And the fun is ready to start!

7. Get glazin’

Carefully remove the ham from the oven and brush it with glaze. Bake ham, uncovered, for 30-45 more minutes, basting and brushing occasionally with the glaze.

Carved hamPhoto: Taste of Home

8. Carve up that juicy perfection

Here’s a step-by-step tutorial for carving up that crave-worthy ham.

9. Ready to savor the leftovers?

Try these fabulous leftover ham recipes.

Have leftover ham? Make these next!
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Christine Rukavena
Christine loves to read, curate, sample and develop new recipes as a book editor at Taste of Home. A CIA alumna with honors, she creates cookbooks and food-related content. A favorite part of the job is taste-testing dishes. Previous positions include pastry chef at a AAA Five Diamond property. Christine moonlights at a boutique wine shop, where she edits marketing pieces and samples wine far higher than her pay grade.