Types of Hams, Purchasing and Cooking Times for Hams
Hams: They can be fresh, cook-before-eating, fully-cooked, picnic and country types. There are so many kinds, and their storage times and cooking times can be quite confusing. This background information serves to carve up the facts and make them easier to understand.
The word HAM means pork which comes from the hind leg of a hog. Ham made from the front leg of a hog will be labeled “pork shoulder picnic.” “Turkey” Ham must be made from the thigh meat of turkey.
Hams may be fresh, cured, or cured-and-smoked. The usual color for cured ham is deep rose or pink; fresh ham (which is not cured) has the pale pink or beige color of a fresh pork roast; country hams and prosciutto (which are dry cured) range from pink to mahogany color.
Hams are either ready-to-eat or not. Ready-to-eat hams include prosciutto and fully cooked hams; they can be eaten right out of the package. Fresh hams and hams that are only trichina treated must be cooked by the consumer before eating; these hams will bear the safe handling label.
Curing is the addition of salt, sodium nitrate (or saltpeter), nitrites and sometimes sugars, seasonings, phosphates and ascorbates to pork for preservation, color development and flavor enhancement.
Nitrate and nitrites contribute to the characteristic cured flavor and reddish-pink color of cured pork. Nitrite and salt inhibit the outgrowth of Clostridium botulinum, a deadly microorganism which can occur in foods.
The two most-used methods of adding solutions to pork are: injection into muscle by needle; and tumbling or massaging into muscle to produce a more tender product.
In dry curing, the process used to make country hams and prosciutto, fresh meat is rubbed with a dry-cure mixture of salt and other ingredients. Dry curing produces a salty product. In 1992, FSIS approved a trichina treatment method that permits substituting up to half of the sodium chloride with potassium chloride to result in lower sodium levels. Since dry curing draws out moisture, it reduces ham weight by at least 18% – usually 20 to 25%; this results in a more concentrated ham flavor.
Dry-cured hams may be aged from a few weeks to more than a year. Six months is the traditional process but may be shortened according to aging temperature.
These uncooked hams are safe stored at room temperature because they contain so little water, bacteria can’t multiply in them. Country hams may not be injected with curing solutions or placed in curing solutions but they may be smoked.
Wet Curing or Brine Cure
Brine curing is the most popular way of producing hams. It is a wet cure whereby fresh meat is injected with a curing solution before cooking. Brining ingredients can be salt, sugar, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate, sodium erythorbate, sodium phosphate, potassium chloride, water and flavorings. Smoke flavoring (liquid smoke) may also be injected with brine solution. Cooking may occur during this process.
Smoking & Smoke Flavoring
After curing, some hams are smoked. Smoking is a process by which ham is hung in a smokehouse and allowed to absorb smoke from smoldering fires. This gives added flavor and color to meat and slows the development of rancidity.
These organisms are associated with ham:
* Trichinella spiralis (trichina) - worms sometimes present in hogs. All hams are specifically processed to USDA guidelines to kill trichinae. * Staphylococcus aureus (staph) - is destroyed by cooking and processing but can be re-introduced via mishandling; the bacteria can then produce a toxin which is not destroyed by further cooking. Dry curing may or may not destroy S. aureus, but the high salt content on the exterior inhibits these bacteria. When the ham is sliced, the moister interior will permit staphylococcal multiplication; thus sliced dry-cured hams must be refrigerated. * Mold - can often be found on country cured ham. We believe most of these are harmless but some molds can produce mycotoxins. Molds grow on hams during the long curing and drying process because the high salt and low temperatures do not inhibit these robust organisms. DO NOT DISCARD the ham. Wash it with hot water and scrub off the mold with a stiff vegetable brush.
Quantity to Buy
When buying a ham, estimate the size needed according to the number of servings the type of ham should yield:
* 1/4 - 1/3 lb. per serving of boneless ham * 1/3 - 1/2 lb. of meat per serving of ham with little bone * 3/4 - 1 lb. of meat per serving of ham with large bone.
Cooking or Reheating Hams
Both vacuum-packaged fully cooked and canned hams can be eaten cold just as they come from their packaging. However, if you want to reheat these fully cooked hams, set the oven no lower than 325Â°F and heat to an internal temperature of 140Â°F as measured with a meat thermometer.
For fully cooked ham that has been repackaged in any other location outside the plant or for leftover fully cooked ham, heat to 165Â°F.
Cook-before-eating hams must reach 160Â°F to be safely cooked before serving. Cook in an oven set no lower than 325Â°F. Hams can also be safely cooked in a microwave oven, other countertop appliances and on the stove top. Consult a cookbook for specific methods and timing.
Country hams can be soaked 4 to 12 hours or longer in the refrigerator to reduce the salt content before cooking. Then they can be cooked by boiling or baking. Follow the manufacturer’s cooking instructions.
BUTT END, HALF OR PORTION - the upper, meatier part of the whole leg; a butt portion has had some center slices removed for separate sale as ham steaks or center cut ham slices. The half includes this meat.
CANNED HAM – Canned hams come in two forms:
* Shelf stable - store on shelf up to 2 years at room temperature. Generally not over 3 pounds in size. Processed to kill all spoilage bacteria and pathogenic organisms such as Clostridium botulinum, Salmonella and Trichinella spiralis. The product is free of microorganisms capable of growing at ordinary room temperature. However, high temperature storage -- above 122Â°F (50Â°C) -- may result in harmless thermophylic bacteria multiplying and swelling or souring the product. * Refrigerated - may be stored in refrigerator up to 6 to 9 months. Its weight can be up to 8% more than original uncured weight due to uptake of water during curing. It need not be labeled "Added water" except for "In Natural Juices." Net Weight is the weight of the actual ham excluding the container. Processed at a time/temperature sufficient to kill infectious organisms (including Trichinae) but the ham is not sterilized so spoilage bacteria may grow eventually.