Classic smoked spiral ham recipe: perfect holiday centerpiece

When it comes to holiday centerpieces, a spiral ham is an absolute classic. It's difficult to find a more impressive main for your Christmas dinner than this recipe, complete with a homemade bourbon glaze that makes for the perfect tangy-sweet compliment to our moist ham. While this centerpiece may seem daunting, don't worry—with our top tips, you'll have a perfectly moist ham with caramelized edges ready to go on time. Pair this with our favorite holiday sides for a complete, classic dinner everyone will remember.

Table of Contents

The Spiral Ham Glaze

Making your own glaze is super easy, and so much more delicious than a store-bought packet. Our recipe below only requires a handful of pantry ingredients and a mixing bowl. We think it’s the best, but if you’re not a fan of bourbon, feel free to omit it, or try this classic brown sugar glaze instead.

How Long Should I Cook My Spiral Ham?

Since spiral hams are already cooked, you’re really just warming it through, infusing it with flavor, and crisping the edges. You're going to want to bake until it’s 140°F in the center (this should take 10 to 12 minutes per pound).

Here are a few of our other top tips for cooking your spiral ham:

  • Add water to your roasting pan. To avoid drying it out, add water to the bottom of your roasting pan, place the ham on a baking rack above the water, and cover it with foil.
  • How to get caramelized edges. Uncover your ham in the last 30 minutes when you’re glazing it, so those edges get caramelized.
  • Make it in the slow-cooker. Another option for an extra-moist ham is to cook it in a slow cooker. Simply cook on low for 4 to 5 hours or on high for 2 to 3 hours, basting with the marinade every 45 minutes.

How to Cut a Spiral Ham

It might sound tough to cut into a bone-in ham, but it’s actually very easy. Just turn the ham on its bottom and cut around the bone. The ham on the outside will fall away in slices. Check out our guide on how to carve a ham for step-by-step instructions!

Serving Ideas

If you're serving this as the main to your holiday dinner, you can't go wrong with a classic potato side, from creamy mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, or even mashed potato casserole. Paired with garlic-Parmesan roasted carrots, cranberry bacon green beans, and cheesy baked asparagus for the ultimate holiday spread.

Storage & Leftover Ideas

Leftover ham is basically refrigerator gold. Try making a croque madame for your next brunch, use it to amp up a batch of crescent rolls with our ham and cheese pinwheels, or chop it up and throw it in your next batch of scalloped potatoes. Whatever you do, save that bone! It’s great for flavoring broths, soups, or a big pot of collard greens. Still hungry? Here's our favorite leftover ham recipes.

Should You Soak a Spiral Ham Before Cooking?

Deciphering between uncooked, cured, and ready-to-eat varieties of ham is often an arduous task. And because a mismanaged ham can turn out dry and flavorless, knowing how to prepare each variety will ensure your holiday feast is one to remember.

It’s important to know what kind of ham you’re cooking. Depending on the level to which the ham has been cured (if at all), the cooking process will vary greatly.

Fresh Ham

Fresh ham is a raw uncured rear leg of a pig. The cut usually comes with the skin still on. The meat is typically pale pink to beige—the color of raw pork. This type of cut is perfect for roasting or smoking. Because it hasn’t been cured, it’s important that an internal temperature of at least 145°F is reached during the cooking process.

Dry Cured Ham

This type of ham is cured by burying it in a mound of salt or by rubbing the skin with salt. In some cases, sodium nitrite is also added to quell the spread of harmful bacteria and protect the ham during the curing process. It’s usually hung and air-dried for 6-18 months at cool temperatures. Often a dry-cured ham is smoked at low temperatures to help enhance the flavor.

Dry cured hams, like prosciutto and jamon serrano, can be eaten uncooked and at room temperature.

Fully Cooked, or Ready-To-Eat

When the process of smoking a cured ham raises its internal temperature to 150°F, the ham is labeled “fully cooked or “ready-to-eat. Although these hams are safe to eat without further cooking, roasting them further will help to develop richer flavors and give you an opportunity to add and caramelize a sweet glaze.

When it comes to preparing a moist and flavorful ready-to-eat ham, no one does it better than the folks at America’s Test Kitchen (ATK). Their army of chefs have tested several recipes and have come up with one in particular that guarantees to be a family favorite.

How to Reheat a Fully Cooked Ham

ATK recommends a bone-in spiral sliced ham with natural juices added, rather than “water-added.” Natural juices will produce a more savory and less salty ham.

To start, soak your ham in a warm water bath (100°F). Be careful not to remove the original packaging before you immerse the ham in water. A water bath will bring the ham up to room temperature (68-72°F) faster than simply letting it sit on the counter. With the internal temperature at, or near room temperature, you’ll ensure that (when roasted) heat is distributed evenly throughout, as well as limit the time the ham is exposed to the hot and dry environment of the oven.

Soak for 45 minutes, then dump and replenish the water and continue to soak for 45 more minutes. After 90 minutes, remove from the water and cut away the original packaging. Move the ham to an oven bag. Using an oven bag will shave time off of the cooking process and help preserve the juice inside of the ham.

Place in the bag (cut side down), tie off the top and poke a few holes in the top of the bag. This is an important step! If you forget to poke holes in the bag, it may explode while in the oven.

Move the ham to a 13x9 inch pan and place in a preheated oven set to 250°F. Roasting at a lower temperature will allow for a more gentle heat transfer that will not squeeze too much moisture out of the meat. Monitor the internal temperature using a leave-in oven probe thermometer. Remove from the oven when the internal temperature reaches 100°F. Always verify the temperature of the thermal center of your meat by spot-checking in multiple areas with an instant-read thermometer like the Thermapen ® Mk

While the ham is heating up, prepare your glaze. Combine 3/4 cup maple syrup, 1/2 cup orange marmalade, 2 TBS unsalted butter, 1/4 TSP cinnamon, 1 TBS dijon mustard and 1 TSP of ground pepper. Mix all of the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until the mixture reduces by half.

Once you’ve pulled the ham from the oven (100°F), peel down the oven bag and coat with 1/3 of the glaze. Return to the oven (set to 350°F) and let cook for 10 minutes. This last blast of high heat will help to caramelize the glaze and build up a nice crust on the outside of the ham.

Remove from the oven after 10 minutes, coat with another 1/3 of the glaze then tent with foil and let rest for 30 minutes. The internal temperature should creep up to near 120°F—perfect for serving with your favorite sides and a batch of homemade buttermilk biscuits.

A few tablespoons of the drippings can be mixed with the final 1/3rd of the glaze to make a delicious gravy. Drizzle some over the ham, or enjoy some on a biscuit.

If you’ve got your heart set on a Honey Baked Ham™, disregard the recipe above. Honey Baked Hams are made to be enjoyed at room temperature. Any further heating might dry out the meat and ruin a costly dinner. If you really want a warm ham, we believe the ATK method is the best way to heat this ham too. But, we like this brand served according to the processor’s recommendation—room temperature. The company recommends allowing the ham to stand at room temperature one half hour before serving. Up to one hour is probably ok but we recommend that the uneaten portion is refrigerated as soon as possible after the meal.

Buyer’s clubs sell other brands of bargain-priced spiral sliced ham. Instructions included with these hams often advise heating in an oven set to 325°F for 10-12 minutes per pound. While there’s no indication of a desired internal temperature, instructions simply dictate that you “not overheat.” Our experience is that simply popping one of these buyer club hams into the oven will leave you with chewy, dried out, separating slices of ham and a pan full of liquid. If the processor’s instructions that come with the ham advise heating, we strongly recommend that you not eat the ham at room temperature. Doing so could be a food safety issue.

However, if your ham is fully cooked and ready-to-eat, we agree with ATK and suggest you ditch the packaged instructions and go with the recipe above. The low-heat process and homemade glaze will trump anything included with the packaging and will guarantee this year’s ham is moist and flavorful.

Can I make the glaze without bourbon?

Absolutely! If you're not a fan of bourbon, you can omit it from the glaze recipe or try using a classic brown sugar glaze instead. The glaze will still add a delicious tangy-sweet flavor to your ham.

How long should I bake the ham per pound?

You should bake the ham for 10 to 12 minutes per pound, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 140°F. This will ensure that the ham is warmed through and has caramelized edges.

Can I cook the ham in a slow cooker?

Yes, cooking the ham in a slow cooker is another option for an extra-moist ham. Simply cook on low for 4 to 5 hours or on high for 2 to 3 hours, basting with the marinade every 45 minutes.

How do I carve a spiral ham?

Carving a spiral ham is easy. Just turn the ham on its bottom and cut around the bone. The ham on the outside will fall away in slices. For step-by-step instructions, check out our guide on how to carve a ham.

What are some serving ideas for spiral ham?

Spiral ham pairs well with classic potato sides like creamy mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, or mashed potato casserole. You can also serve it with garlic-Parmesan roasted carrots, cranberry bacon green beans, and cheesy baked asparagus for a complete holiday spread.

What can I do with leftover ham?

Leftover ham is versatile and can be used in many recipes. You can make a croque madame for brunch, use it to make ham and cheese pinwheels, or chop it up and add it to scalloped potatoes. Don't forget to save the bone for flavoring broths, soups, or collard greens.

Have you tried this smoked spiral ham recipe? Let us know how it went in the comments below!

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