Home Cooking: Ham Varieties

There are a lot of ways to prepare and cook ham

Honey Baked Ham
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Ham is one of the go-to dishes for big family celebrations and holidays in the U.S. But you don't need a special occasion to try a new way of cooking ham. Here are some descriptions and varieties of ham and a little about how each one became popular.

Aged Hams   

These are heavily cured, smoked hams that have been hung to age from one to seven (yes seven!) years. They are covered in a mold which must be scraped and washed off prior to eating.

Bayonne Ham   

This French ham hails from Bearn or the Basque region, most simply cured with Bayonne salt. These are raw, uncooked hams. Afficionados enjoy raw slices on buttered peasant bread.


The meat is soaked in brine and then smoked. This is the most common variety at standard grocery stores. They can vary widely in quality.

Canadian Bacon   

A lean cut taken from eye of the loin of the middle back. It is precooked smoked meat. It is much more akin to ham than to bacon. Also referred to as back bacon in some areas.

Canned Ham   

Can consist of a whole piece of meat or bits and pieces pressed together into a form and fused with a gelatin mixture.


Hogs are generally fed on nuts and fruit to produce a more flavorful and tender meat. Must be cured, aged and dried at least 70 days. They are usually dry-cured in salt, then smoked over fragrant hardwoods and aged at least six months. The meat may be drier, depending on the length of aging. A mold will most likely form, which is simply scraped and washed away. Also known as country-style ham. These are also called "old hams" in Kentucky. Most country-cured hams are uncooked and need to be cooked using a special process. 


This Italian ham is cured and soaked in wine during aging. It is lean and rosy red, with a clean, delicate flavor. A popular component of antipasto platters.

Cured Ham   

Pork which has gone through and of a variety of curing processes to preserve the meat.

Dry Curing   

The entire surface of the meat is thoroughly covered with salt and then stored until the salt permeates the meat, thereby preserving it.

Fully Cooked  

In order to be considered fully cooked, a ham has to be heated to an internal temperature of 148 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Need not be heated prior to serving. Can be eaten right from the wrapper or reheated to an internal temperature of 130 degrees F. to release a richer flavor.


From an Old Northern French word "Gambe" for hind- leg of the pig or ham; popular in Great Britain.


The process of injecting brine into the meat. This method may also be combined with other curing techniques.

Irish Ham    

Belfast is famous for their pickled or brined hams, but what gives them their own unique flavor is the process of smoking over peat fires. Like country-cured hams, they must be soaked, scrubbed, simmered and then baked before eating.

Picnic Ham 

Meat from the upper part of the foreleg of the hog, including a portion of the shoulder. It is not a true ham, but a less expensive substitute for regular ham, although less tender in texture. It is also referred to as picnic shoulder or pork shoulder. They can be fresh or smoked. Smoked picnic hams are very similar to traditional hams.

Prosciutto  (Italian ham) 

The meat is seasoned, salt-cured, and air-dried. It is not smoked. The meat is pressed into a dense, firm texture. Parma ham is true prosciutto. Other varieties are now made in the U.S.

Italian prosciuttos include prosciutto cotto (cooked) and prosciutto crudo (uncooked, but cured and ready to eat). Others are named for the region in Italy in which they were made. Prosciutto is generally eaten as-is or added during the last cooking stages. Extended cooking of prosciutto toughens the meat. 

Scotch Ham   

Once made in Scotland, this term now refers to uncooked, boneless, mildly cured hams sold in casings.

Smithfield Ham 

A variety of country-cured ham made in Smithfield, Virginia. It is coated with salt, sodium nitrate, and sugar, refrigerated for five days, salted again, refrigerated again for one day per pound of meat, washed, refrigerated for another two weeks, smoked for ten days, and then aged six to twelve months.

In order to be labeled a Smithfield, the ham must be cured in the described manner within the city of Smithfield, VA. The meat is deep red in color, dry, with a pungent flavor. Considered a gourmet's choice, they are rather expensive and need to be cooked long and slow before eating.

Sweet-Pickle Curing   

The meat is covered in a seasoned sweet brine, sometimes referred to as sugar-cured where brown sugar or molasses is added to the cure mix.


This is the style used by commercial manufacturers to produce mass quantities, usually using an injection-curing method. Also known as city hams. The meat is less expensive because the processing is shorter and less complicated. The end result is invariably much blander in taste than country-style.

Westphalian Ham   

Made from pigs fed with acorns in the Westphalia forest of Germany. It is cured and then slowly smoked over a mixture of beechwood and juniper woods, resulting in a very dark brown, dense ham with a light smoky flavor. It is considered one of the best and as such is on the expensive side. It's similar to Black Forest ham.

York Ham   

From England, this mild-flavored ham has delicate pink meat and must be cooked like country-cured ham before eating. It is traditionally served with Madeira sauce.