Before you buy another spiral sliced holiday ham, ask yourself when was the last time you had a good one, if ever. The spiral sliced ham is ubiquitous. It is a terrible fraud that has been perpetrated on us by advertising and the pork industry. If ham is part of your holiday meal you owe it to yourself and your family to try something new this year.
If you love ham, really love ham; rich, juicy, fatty, salty, unctuous ham, then don’t fall for the hype of spiral sliced ham, which is none of those things. Well it is salty. Would you buy a pre-sliced rib roast, or turkey? And if you would why would you do such a thing? What they offer in the convenience department they sacrifice in every other category. If I can talk you out of ever getting one again my mission today will be a success.
I Googled images of spiral sliced ham and the images from all the producers (and some from producers of high quality pork products like Neuskes, and Nodine’s Smokehouse) are missing the fat that you’ll find on a good ham. If you like that fat (I don’t judge) it will protect the meat, baste it and keep it juicy. A smoked ham is already kind of dry as a result of the smoking process, and without a nice cap of fat it will dry out even more.
Another problem with a spiral sliced ham, is the slicing. That too leaves the ham vulnerable to drying out as it cooks. I find that the slices are difficult to separate. I don’t like uniform slices, I prefer variety. What if you want a chunky piece, or a super thin slice? You’re out of luck, you will eat your ham their way, not yours. Do you really want someone else telling you how thick your ham should be sliced?
These hams have taken over the holiday ham market. It’s hard to find a ham that isn’t pre-sliced. In the past I bought my hams from a guy named Randy Murcer who lived in Kentucky and had the best ham I ever tasted. He had a tri-fold brochure full of typos, and when you called (no online ordering) Randy himself answered the phone. The last time I tried to get a ham from Randy I found he had passed away, and the business closed. I was sorry to hear about Randy, he seemed like a nice guy. I went on search of a new ham, and the one I found was pretty good, but alas not as good as Randy’s.
If you begin a search for a holiday ham you need to know some things before you start. Hams come in three types. Fresh ham, which is the uncured, un-smoked leg. Then there are city hams and country hams. Country hams are dry and very salty, typically served with biscuits, and a southern staple. City hams are wet cured, and tend to be sweeter and juicier. These are the type of ham you’ll find on most holiday tables. Here is a great article that includes sources for buying a ham. If you can find a farmer who raises their own pigs, and makes their own hams spend a little more for a truly great ham. Get one that is bone in, and plan to make some terrific split pea soup. Once you’ve had a real ham you won’t be satisfied with anything less.
These days almost every pork product you buy, regardless of the brand label is from Smithfield. Originally Smithfield was famous for their Smithfield country hams. Now they are owned by a Chinese company and are the largest a pork processing conglomerate in the world. It’s hard to avoid Smithfield pork products and if you do you can buy at places like Whole Foods Market or from a butcher who will tell you where he/she gets her products, like Kensington Quarters in Philadelphia. Or you can check out Eat Wild a site that will direct you to local purveyors. There’s still time to rethink your holiday ham.