For many people, a smoked country ham is the taste of the holidays. But you may wonder if there’s a country ham, does that mean there is a city ham? Yes. The difference is in how the meat is cured and aged (dry aged or wet aged) and for how long. Both the curing and drying method, as well as time, will determine both the taste and texture of your ham.
The country ham is dry cured. Think of the dry curing process as similar to the process of dry-aging prime beef. First the ham is rubbed with salt and seasonings and hung to dry cure in a smoke house. These hams are aged anywhere from 30 days to a year or more. The longer drying and curing process results in a denser, meatier, more richly flavored, and, yes, saltier ham. The time-intensive nature and rich flavor of the country ham makes it a favorite at holiday meals.
By contrast, the ham many of us are most familiar with is “city ham” or just ham—the type of mild ham you find in your grocery store, or you enjoy thin-sliced and piled on a sandwich. This type of ham is wet-cured, which means the pork has been either submerged in or injected with a brine made of salt, sugar, seasonings, and curing agents, and then fully cooked. This gives the meat a milder, juicy flavor. The wet cured city hams are what you see most often in the grocery stores around the holidays, and that’s why they are appreciably less expensive.
What Are Spiral Cut Hams?
Spiral cut hams are also known as “party hams” because these pre-cut hams make it easy for guests to serve themselves. Spiral hams are pre-sliced to the bone in one continuous spiral. This leaves the meat on the bone in its original shape, and saves you the trouble of carving the ham. This results in consistent slices of ham. Some argue whole, unsliced hams are less prone to drying out when cooked, but we’ve found spiral-sliced hams remain just as juicy when heated through.
Country Smoked Ham
A quick word on smoked country hams: Hickory smoke may be too strong for some palates. Some say hickory smoked ham has the lingering scent and taste of a smoky campfire. Cherry and apple woods and corn cobs produce milder smoke. If “smoke” or “liquid smoke” is listed in the ingredients, the ham has been injected with smoke flavor, not smoked. No worries. You won’t find any injected flavor in the options below.
Estimating serving sizes: Country hams are denser and richer in flavor than city hams so 4 to 5 ounces per serving should cover you. And of course plan a little extra to enjoy ham on a warm country biscuit or ham with your eggs in the morning.
Here, for your convenience, are some of the best country holiday hams to order online.