How to store and select ham

Choose the right cut for your recipe

Baked Ham
Baked Ham. Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

Ham storage

Fresh ham can be stored in the refrigerator up to five days before cooking.

Cured ham should be refrigerated in the original packaging for up to a week.

Check labels on country-style hams. Some can be stored in a cool place for one to two months, but keep in mind that over time, evaporation shrinks and toughens country ham.

Some canned hams require refrigeration even before opening. Be sure to check the label.

All ham should be refrigerated after cooking or opening of the can and used within five days.

Whole hams can be frozen for up to three months, but if they are country-style, this rather defeats the purpose. Country-style hams can be stored in a cool, dark place at 72 degrees F. for up to two months. Once cut, the country ham is highly perishable.

Leftovers can be frozen for up to a month. If frozen too long, the ham will lose its rosy color and turn greyish-brown, as well as lose texture.

Unopened canned hams can be kept in the refrigerator up to one year. Freezing unopened canned ham is pointless since it will not extend the storage life.

Once opened, canned ham can be tightly wrapped and frozen for up to one month.

Raw, dry-cured ham such as prosciutto should be tightly wrapped and stored in the refrigerator up to five days.

Selecting ham for cooking

Fresh ham should have a well-marbled lean section, with a firm white layer of fat.

Young pork will have a grayish-pink color while older pork will be rosy.

Cured hams should be firm and plump, rosy pink with a fine grain to the meat. You will mostly likely have to depend on upon dating codes on the ham and the reputation of the producer to judge the quality of uncut hams.

Read labels carefully on canned hams.

Some require refrigeration, even before opening. Those that do generally have a better flavor and texture than canned hams which can be stored at room temperature. Shelf-stable processing requires very high heat affecting not only flavor but also aroma, texture, and nutritional value. Also keep in mind that higher quality meat is reserved for more expensive products. Basically, you get what you pay for.

Hams can range from 6 to 24 pounds depending on the cut and whether boneless or not, giving rise to the old adage, "Eternity is a ham and two people."

More About Ham and Ham Recipes

Ham History
• What is trichinosis?
What is the rainbow sheen on ham?
Is moldy country ham safe to eat?
• Ham Selection and Storage
Ham Varieties and Terminology
Top 10 Leftover Ham Recipes


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