Ham is a favorite at Christmas and Easter, as well as other big family dinners. When the feast is done, don't toss the ham bone or give it to the dog (experts say that's not safe). Instead, freeze the ham bone so you can use it later to add flavor to a soup or make homemade ham broth or stock.
A ham bone will keep in the freezer for at least a few months. That buys you some time to make full use of it and you have a few days to properly prepare it for long-term storage.
Keep the Ham Refrigerated
It's important that you keep any leftover ham refrigerated at all times. If you don't have the time to cut up the ham and separate the bone right away, place it in the refrigerator while you're cleaning up after dinner. The cooked ham will keep safely for three to four days in a sealed container, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's guidelines for meat leftovers.
Within those few days, cut the remaining ham from the bone. Cook with it or freeze the ham separately for later use. Don't worry if you aren't able to get all the ham off the bone because it will add flavor to your soup stock. If you're not going to make use of the bone immediately, freeze it.
How to Freeze a Ham Bone
Place the ham bone in a freezer bag and make sure the top is well-sealed. It's best to use a vacuum bag to get all the air out and ensure freshness. If you don't have that option, remove as much air as possible from the bag. Check to make sure the bag isn't punctured by any of the sharp edges remaining on the bone.
Label the package with the contents and date. This takes the guesswork out of what's inside and whether it's been in the freezer for months or years. Place the ham bone in the freezer with enough space around it to ensure it freezes quickly.
For best results, try to use your frozen ham bone within three months. There may be some loss of flavor if you keep it longer, and any bits of meat and cartilage remaining on it may get freezer burn or dry out.
Make Ham Bone Stock
When you're ready to use the ham bone, let it defrost in the refrigerator overnight before tossing it into the pot with the other ingredients. Otherwise, it is basically a large ice cube that will interfere with obtaining the proper cooking temperature.
Once the bone is thawed, use it to make ham broth or stock. Though they're nearly identical, technically broth is made with meat and bone while stock is just the bone. Both typically use seasonings and a few vegetables. They're both easy to make and using ham is just like making chicken stock.
For a ham stock, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add the ham bone and desired seasonings, then let it simmer for three to four hours. This can be done in a slow cooker as well. Once done, let it cool, then strain out the bone and any other solids. Refrigerate the stock. A layer of fat will solidify on top, which needs to be skimmed off and discarded.
The stock will keep in the refrigerator for up to four days in a sealed container. It can be frozen for three to four months as well. When using a glass jar, leave at least 1 inch of headspace to allow for expansion.