How to Cook a Ham Perfectly Every Time
Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.
Our Test Kitchen experts share their best tips and tricks for how to cook a ham for holidays and special occasions. You've got this!
Looking to make a picture-perfect glazed ham for your Easter dinner? Good idea! Ham is less stressful to prepare than many other roasted meats because most are sold already cooked (and they’re usually smoked, which adds succulent flavor).
All you need to do is reheat and finish it off with a tasty glaze. Our Test Kitchen pros show you how it’s done, with their best tips and a recipe, to boot.
How to Choose a Ham
Before you even step foot in the kitchen or start scoping out the best ham recipes, you’ve got to choose the right ham for your celebration.
There are several types of ham available at the grocery store or butcher. For the best flavor, you’ll want to opt for a bone-in ham. The bone inside will keep the ham moist and provide extra flavor.
If you’re newer to cooking and carving, our Test Kitchen recommends the shank cut of ham because it’s simpler to carve. The other option—the butt—is a bit more tender but is trickier to navigate with a carving knife.
And when all else fails, ask your butcher for some advice! They are there to help you find the right cut of meat to suit your needs.
How to Cook a Bone-in Ham
Taste of Home
This recipe makes enough for a party or a family dinner with plenty left over—about 10 to 14 servings.
- 1 fully cooked bone-in ham, from 5 to 7 pounds
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons prepared mustard
- 1 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Test Kitchen-Recommended Tools
- Thermometer: Yes, your ham is already cooked, but using a quick-read thermometer will help you gauge when the ham is hot inside and ready to serve.
- Roasting pan: This dishwasher-safe roasting pan from Cuisinart is one of our Test Kitchen’s favorites. It’s easy to clean and is spacious enough for a large ham or turkey (depending on the holiday).
- Carving set: A ham is a large cut of meat to slice. Make sure you have a knife and carving fork that can help you do the job right.
Step 1: Score the Ham
Taste of Home
The first step in making the perfect ham for your holiday celebration is to score it. Use a sharp knife to slice 1/4-inch deep cuts in a diamond pattern across the ham.
Scoring opens up the outer layer of the ham, allowing your glaze (that comes later) to really soak into the meat and give the ham more flavor.
Step 2: Bake
Next, place the ham on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Cover with foil and bake at 325ºF for 90 minutes or so—until a thermometer reads 130ºF.
Step 3: Glaze and Finish the Ham
Taste of Home
While the ham bakes, prep your glaze. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, mustard and just enough vinegar to make a thick paste.
When the ham reaches 130ºF inside, remove it from the oven. With a heatproof spatula, spread the glaze over the ham. Be generous! Then finish baking, uncovered this time, for 15 to 30 more minutes. You want the ham to reach 140ºF inside.
Editor’s tip: You might be wondering why the ham is glazed halfway through the process. That’s to prevent the sugar in the glaze from burning and ruining the flavor of your ham. This last 15 to 30 minutes in the oven lets the flavor permeate the meat and form a nice crust on top without cooking too much.
How to Carve a Ham
Taste of Home
Carving a ham can seem like tricky business, but with only one large bone to work around you’ll likely find that this is a much simpler process than slicing up your Thanksgiving turkey (or even that roast chicken you make for Sunday dinner). Follow our guide for best results and then break out your favorite serving tray for a perfect presentation.
More Tips for Making the Best Ham
- Buy the best ham you can afford: For the holidays, our Test Kitchen recommends ordering from a local butcher shop rather than grabbing a mass-produced grocery store ham. The flavor and texture tend to be more robust and meatier.
- Opt for a bone-in ham: Our pros look for semi-boneless. The bone prevents the ham from drying out and adds flavor. Don’t toss your leftover bone! Add it to pea soups, throw it into broth or add to a pot of beans. (This secret ingredient makes a huge difference in soups, too.)
- Don’t overcook the ham: Remember, it’s already cooked. You’re only gently reheating it in the oven, so keep the temperature on the low side. Your ham may come with specific instructions for re-heating.
- Customize your glaze: This brown sugar glaze is pretty traditional (and tasty), but it’s by no means the only option out there! Try brown sugar and pineapple, apricot and ginger, apple cider or honey and chipotle.