If you’re wondering how to cook a ham in the oven, it’s easier than you think. And basted with a homemade glaze, it’s a delicious and impressive festive centrepiece.
Whether it’s for Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas lunch or an Easter feast, baked ham has a special place in many family traditions. And because it’s so popular, there are lots of different flavours to glaze it with, and hundreds of recipes to show you how.
So to help make sense of it all, I’ve gone through twenty recipes for oven-baked ham. I’ve worked out what’s popular, and what’s not, to help you choose an approach, or a recipe, that suits you the best.
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What is baked ham?
If you haven’t had one before, it’s a precooked ham that is baked in the oven to heat it for serving. And it’s very popular to take the opportunity to baste the ham with a sweet-flavoured glaze. It can be served hot, or cooled, and is delicious as a main meal as well as in sandwiches, soups, frittatas and more.
Buying a ham
All of these recipes use a fully-cooked, ready-to-eat ham, so you need to make sure this is what you purchase. Because these hams have already been cooked, they only need to be heated thoroughly when you’re glazing one.
You can also buy gammon, which looks a lot like ham. Gammon is pork that has been cured and possibly smoked, but it must be cooked before being eaten. This means it’ll need to be heated to a higher temperature, so the glazing process could be a little different than described in these recipes.
Just over half of the recipes specify a spiral-cut ham. This is a pre-cooked ham which has been thinly sliced to the bone in a spiral. Spiral cut hams are very uncommon outside of North America (although Costco sometimes sell them in other countries). An unsliced cooked ham will give the same results, it will just take longer to heat through. In fact, some authors and their readers recommend an unsliced ham for better results. Pre-sliced ham tends to be drier, both because it’s been sliced for some time and because it dries out more in the oven. Interestingly, the US Department of Agriculture agrees.
Bone-in or boneless?
Most of the recipes here use a bone-in ham. They tend to be more succulent and have better flavour because of the connective tissue around the bone. That said, either cut will work with any of these recipes. Just be aware that a boneless cut will take less time to heat through than a bone-in cut. You don’t want to overheat it because that will dry it out.
How much ham do you need?
As a rough guide, several authors suggest the following:
- For a bone-in ham, allow for 12 oz (340g) per person
- For a boneless ham, allow for 8 oz (225g) per person
Keep in mind that ham is a salty meat, so even if it’s your only main, people will tend to eat less than they would if it were turkey or steak. Still, everyone loves leftover ham!
Glazing your ham
Nineteen of these recipes are for ham that is glazed while it’s cooked in the oven. A glaze is a coating, either sweet or savoury, that’s brushed on to the meat and then cooked on in the oven. The glaze not only gives the ham wonderful flavour, but also helps it develop a crispy, caramelised crust.
If you don’t want to glaze your ham, there’s one recipe, from Kay at Cooking with K, for a simple baked ham. This may sound dull compared to the other recipes, but done properly, with good quality ham, it’s delicious. Especially the crusty pieces on top!
Most of the glazes here are made up of varying mixes of sweet and sour flavours. Because ham is a savoury, salty meat, sweet and sour flavours are perfect complements to it. Spices are also a common inclusion.
Most of the authors declare their glaze by name, and there are several common themes:
- Five are brown sugar glazes.
- Another five are honey-based glazes.
- A couple are bourbon-based.
You can see each glaze by name in the list of links at the bottom of the page.
With these common themes there are a number of consistent ingredients as well.
All but two of the recipes use some sugar. The amounts vary quite considerably, from as little as a quarter-cup, to as much as three cups.
Brown sugar is used by every one of these authors, with only one using a mix of brown and white sugar. The brown sugar will give both colour and a more syrupy consistency to the glaze.
Fifteen of the recipes include some form of mustard, although almost all use the condiment/paste rather than powder or seeds.
Dijon mustard is overwhelmingly preferred, giving a little spice and some vinegary sourness to the glaze.
The amount of mustard varies from as little as a tablespoon to as much as half a cup, so you have plenty of leeway here depending on how much you enjoy mustard.
Fourteen authors use one or more spices in their glaze. There’s no dominant choice here, but some common themes are apparent:
- Seven recipes include whole or ground cloves. A traditional finish on a baked ham is to insert cloves into the fat or into the cuts in the fat. Several recipes do this, but two of the authors admit they do this more for tradition or presentation than taste. And keep in mind, on a large ham, it’s a slow process to insert cloves all over the surface!
- Six recipes use half to one teaspoon of cinnamon.
- Four use allspice and four use ground ginger.
- Three use a small amount of nutmeg.
- A couple use mustard powder, and another mustard seeds
- A few unique ingredients include thyme, cayenne, ground coriander and paprika.
Given that honey is a very well known glaze for cooked ham, I expected it to be more popular. Only eight authors use it, and half of these use just a quarter-cup.
The recipes for honey baked ham use similar amounts of brown sugar and honey in their glazes. The other recipes that include honey use smaller amounts to supplement their more dominant flavours, like mustard.
If you are a big fan of honey, you may want to check out Amanda’s recipe for honey glazed ham on I am Baker. She uses two cups!
Six of the recipes include fruit juice in the glaze, the roasting pan or both. Orange is the most common, although pineapple and lemon juice both make a couple of appearances as well. As you can imagine, any of these juices will give the glaze both sweet and tart tones.
One recipe, from Imma at Immaculate Bites, is for that classic old-fashioned ham with pineapple rings on the surface (you’ll recognise it when you see it). This one includes all three of these fruit juices.
Four of the authors add a bit of liquor or wine to their glaze, with a couple choosing bourbon and one each preferring rum and Riesling.
The alcohol will obviously cook off in the oven, but the drinks will each leave a nice flavour behind, especially the amber spirits.
Three of the recipes use Coca Cola or Dr. Pepper in their glaze. A bit like fruit juice, these add both sweetness and acidity.
If you haven’t come across Dr. Pepper before, you probably won’t! It’s very popular in the US, but very uncommon in most other parts of the world. It’s flavour is hard to describe, but it’s more complex than a cola.
One important point though. Because sugar is a key element of the glaze, don’t replace the soft drink with diet or Zero variants. You really want the sugar as much as the sweetness.
Three of the recipes include some apple cider vinegar, again adding that sour note to complement the saltiness of the ham and the sweet ingredients in the glaze.
There are also a few other ingredients worth mentioning, appearing in one or two recipes each:
- Preserves, one of peach and one of apricot
- Fresh cranberries
- Orange marmalade
- Apple cider
- Maple syrup
Making the glaze
Most of the glazes here are heated together first to ensure the sugars melt and the flavours combine well. For the bulk of these this simply involves bringing them to a boil and stirring for a few minutes, although some are a little more involved.
The other glazes are simply mixed together cold before being applied to the ham.
The heated glazes will cool and thicken as your ham bakes in the oven, so several authors recommend either briefly microwaving it or keeping it warm on the stove to ensure it’s thin enough to baste with.
Preparing your ham
A couple of authors recommend taking your ham out of the fridge an hour or two before your roast it, to allow it to come up to room temperature, but the majority don’t find this necessary. Given that the ham is already cooked and you’re just heating it through, the impact of the meat being cold going into the oven is not as big an issue as it is with raw meat.
Removing the rind
If your ham came with a rind you’ll most likely want to remove it. If you haven’t done this before, Nagi has a detailed description of removing ham rind on Recipe Tin Eats which will guide you through the process. And don’t worry, it’s simpler than you think (albeit a little messy).
Glazing your ham
The authors take one of two different approaches to glazing their ham:
- Eleven glaze their ham before it goes in the oven.
- The other eight don’t apply the glaze to their ham until towards the end of the baking time, typically with thirty minutes to go. This is at least in part to protect the glaze from burning.
There are still some variations here though. For example, the cloves may go into the ham at the beginning, but the glaze doesn’t go on until the last half an hour.
Cooking your ham in the oven
Many of the recipes guide you to bake your ham in a deep roasting dish (rather than on a baking sheet/tray) because you may get quite a lot of run-off from the glaze and drippings from the ham. In spite of this, only seven authors recommend setting your ham on a rack in the dish.
Covering the ham
Twelve authors recommend covering your ham for most or all of the cooking time. The majority of these use foil, with just one opting for an oven bag.
The most popular approach is to cover the ham until the last half an hour, and then remove the foil to allow the glaze to brown up nicely.
Nagi from Recipe Tin Eats has a unique approach. She doesn’t cover her ham, but instead only applies small patches of foil to any part that is over-browning. See the photos with her recipe if you’re interested.
Compared with some meats, when you cook a ham in the oven it’s typically done at a lower temperature. Several authors point out the importance of this:
- It’s not as drying on the meat
- The glaze is less likely to burn
The most popular oven temperature by far is 325°F/165°C, with just a few a bit higher at 350°F/175°C, and a couple a bit lower.
Sixteen of the twenty authors bake their ham at one temperature for the whole cooking time. The other four increase the temperature for fifteen or twenty minutes at the end, typically to 425°F/220°C. This helps ensure a beautifully caramelised crust, although the majority don’t find this necessary.
Because it’s precooked, the primary goal of baking your ham in the oven is to heat it through to a food-safe temperature. The USDA recommends 140°F/60°C for heating pre-cooked ham, and so do a number of the authors. You’ll need a meat thermometer to measure this if you want to be sure you’ve heated it well enough.
Once you’ve used a meat thermometer you’ll never go back. You can use a digital fast-reading meat thermometer, which you insert into the meat to read the internal temperature in about five seconds. But for a big piece of meat like this it’s much easier to use a thermometer that you can leave in the meat while it cooks.
I use this oven-safe meat thermometer, which I insert into the meat before it goes in the oven. Then, assuming I’ve kept my oven glass clean enough (not always a safe assumption!), I can monitor the temperature of the meat while it cooks without even opening the oven. You can also get fancier models with digital readouts, and even wireless models that readout on your phone.
How long does a ham take in the oven?
Cooking time will obviously vary based on the size of your ham, and also on whether it has a bone or not.
Some of the authors provide a rough guide to help you plan your meal, but there’s a fair bit of variance in their guidelines. Some recommend as little as 8-10 minutes per pound (450g), and some as much as 20-25 minutes per pound. The majority however suggest your ham will take 10-15 minutes per pound (about 20-30 minutes per kg).
Glazing and basting
There’s enormous variation in the recommended basting frequency, from every fifteen minutes for the whole cooking time to none at all. Of those that recommend basting, most increase the frequency, or only baste at all, in the last half an hour or so. This ensures there’s a thick coat of glaze for a delicious sticky crust.
Because the glaze can burn during the relatively long time in the oven, many of the authors use one of two tactics to prevent it:
- As mentioned above, some don’t apply the glaze until near the end of the time in the oven, typically the last thirty minutes or so.
- For those who apply their glaze before the ham goes in the oven, many cover it with foil for a significant part of the cooking time. With this approach, the foil usually comes off towards the end to allow the glaze to caramelise in the dry heat of the oven.
Resting your ham
Like all cooked meats, especially large pieces, your ham will benefit from a rest period after coming out of the oven. This allows the internal temperature to stabilise (and actually increase a few degrees). It also gives the moisture in the meat time to redistribute evenly.
Most of the authors agree this is a good idea, with fourteen recommending a rest of about fifteen to twenty minutes, loosely covered with foil, for best results.
Wondering what to serve with your ham? There are a number of great sauces or condiments to go with it, like mustard, cranberry sauce or fruit chutney.
A few authors recommend making extra glaze to serve as a sauce, or extending your glaze with the pan drippings for an extra-flavourful sauce. If you’re going to do this though, and want to add liquid to the pan to help catch the drippings, don’t use stock or broth. There’s already plenty of salt in ham. You’ll get better results with water, or as a couple of authors suggest, fruit juice.
Several authors also offer some great suggestions for sides to go with your ham:
- Mashed or roasted potatoes
- Green vegetables – green beans, asparagus, brussels sprouts, etc
- Dinner rolls or Yorkshire puddings
- Green salad
The essence of baked ham
If you’re planning on cooking a ham for a special meal, or just because you love its salty, smoky goodness, you won’t go wrong with the following in your glaze:
- Brown sugar
- Dijon mustard
- Some cloves, cinnamon or both
- And maybe some honey
Beyond that, let your imagination go wild! You can try fruit juices, liquor, preserves, even Coca-Cola if you like.
Cooking your ham in the oven is a fairly simple affair:
- Remove the rind if your ham came with one.
- Make your glaze, likely by simply heating the ingredients together on the stove.
- Glaze your ham generously and thoroughly.
- Cover the pan with foil and bake it at 325°F/165°C for 10-15 minutes per pound (about 20-30 minutes per kg).
- Half an hour or so before the end, remove the foil, and baste your ham.
- Baste it again once or twice during the last half an hour.
- Remove it from the oven, and rest it for fifteen to twenty minutes before carving.
So there you have it – the essence of oven-baked glazed ham. Hopefully this has helped you to choose an approach, or a recipe, that suits you the best.
Baked Ham FAQ
What oven temperature should I use for a baked ham?
How long should a ham take to cook in the oven?
About 10-15 minutes per pound (20-30 minutes per kg).
How do I know when my ham is done?
A baked ham is ready to eat when the internal temperature reaches 140°F (60°C).
How long should I rest my baked ham before serving?
For best results rest a ham for 15-20 minutes, loosely covered in foil.