Can’t decide whether to get a country ham or a city ham?
Compared to turkey, ham contains more protein and may come with more mouthwatering flavors.
Before you head to your local deli, though, you would want to decide what type of ham to get.
Read ahead and choose from the different ham categories and varieties.
Types of Ham
Do you want your ham aged, or do you want it pre-cooked?
With so many choices, they are categorized based on the different ways of cutting, curing, cooking, smoking, or aging.
Some tend to cost more than others because they undergo a combination of these processes.
You can find hams that are sold whole or sliced.
Whole variations can be partially deboned, boneless, or bone in hams. A spiral cut ham is usually taken from bone-in cuts.
Other retail hams are cut hams and are already either thickly or thinly sliced and in sealed packaging.
The manner of smoking can classify some hams. A cold smoked ham goes through smoking over relatively low temperatures.
Some are typically smoked for several days, and others are smoked for several weeks.
Hams can also be categorized by the type of cure applied to them. A chunk of ham can either be wet-cured or dry-cured.
Wet curing involves putting it in a liquid-salt brine and then smoking it.
On the other hand, dry curing requires coating the meat with salt, herbs, and spices and then storing it until the ingredients get infused into the meat.
Curing is one of the oldest methods used for meat preservation.
Hams are also categorized by how they are cooked. It can either be partially or fully cooked and sold fresh or uncooked.
You only need to reheat a fully cooked ham. Partially cooked and uncooked hams, however, have to be baked or cooked before eating.
Curing and smoking involve a shorter amount of time compared to aging.
Aging involves heavy curing, smoking, and hanging. Its time in storage before it reaches the market can last several years.
After the aging period, the ham is covered with mold, which should then be removed and washed off before consumption.
Aged ham possesses an intense, distinct flavor and aroma, which is why it can be costly.
Varieties of Ham
Now that you know how to classify different hams, you can assign each of the following varieties into groups.
Black Forest Ham
Black Forest Ham is famous for its dark-colored exterior caused by heavy seasoning, dry curing, and cold-smoking.
This ham variety originates from Germany, where it is seasoned with salt, coriander, pepper, garlic, and juniper berries.
More commonly known as maple-glazed ham, maple ham belongs to the group of wet-cured and smoked hams.
The curing mixture heavily uses maple syrup as a sweetener. Maple hams are usually pre-cooked and only need reheating.
Named after the southwestern port city of Bayonne in France, Bayonne ham is a boneless ham that is salty.
Bayonne ham is a type of aged ham that is dry-cured for at least six months.
Culatello is an aged Italian ham that is wet-cured in wine.
It makes an excellent Italian appetizer platter component because of its rosy red color, delicate flavor, and lean meat.
Country hams are uncooked, dry-cured in salt, air dried, sometimes smoked, and aged hams famous in the southern portion of the United States.
Air-drying country hams usually take 70 days, and aging sometimes takes up to six months.
Unlike country hams, city hams are wet-cured and usually smoked.
It is pre-cooked and is the most common ham sold in most US grocery stores.
York ham comes from the butchers and ham makers of York in England. It is similar to country ham but has a milder flavor and delicate, pink meat.
York ham should be cooked before consumption, like the country ham. It is traditionally served with Madeira sauce.
Fresh hams are seasoned with salt, herbs, and spices and then cooked by boiling or steaming.
The lack of curing, smoking, or aging makes it somewhat bland in flavor.
Initially made in Scotland, American-sold Scotch ham now refers to mildly cured and uncooked bones hams. Scotch hams are usually sold in casings.
You can season and boil fresh hams to make a boiled ham.
Because it also doesn’t undergo any curing, smoking, drying, or aging, the meat can taste bland.
Gammon refers to the hind legs after it has been cured with dry-salting or brining. It may or may not be smoked, depending on its source.
Like bacon and Virginia ham, gammon has to be cooked before it can be eaten.
Serrano Ham or Jamón Serrano
Serrano ham is one of the two famous salt-cured country hams from Spain.
It is a dry-cured, cooked ham that can be eaten after a little reheating and paper-thin slicing.
This ham comprises 90 percent of Spain’s total annual ham production.
Prosciutto is the Italian word for “ham.”
It comes from the buttocks or thighs of a pork carcass, which is then seasoned, salt-cured, air dried, and machine-pressed to form a dense ham with a firm texture.
Smoking seldom takes place in the production of prosciutto.
Thinly sliced prosciutto doesn’t have to be cooked before consumption.
The famous Prosciutto di Parma from the Parma region of Italy is one of the most prized hams.
The unique flavor of Irish ham comes from brining and smoking over peat fires.
Irish ham comes from Belfast’s pickling and brining vats in Ireland, where they have to be wet-cured before smoking.
Before eating Irish ham, it has to be soaked, scrubbed, simmered and then baked.
Capicola, sometimes coppa or capocollo, is another type of Italian cured ham that is very similar to prosciutto.
The difference is that capicola is taken from the shoulder or neck of a pork carcass.
Westphalian ham comes from the acorn-fed pigs of the Westphalia forest in Germany.
It is a prized ham that goes through curing and smoking over beech and juniper wood.
Westphalian hams have a dark brown color and dense meat that has a light, smoky flavor.
Jamon Iberico Ham
Ibérico ham, or jamón Ibérico, is the pride of Spain. It is sourced from the same lineage of free-range pigs in the Iberian Peninsula.
Jamón Ibérico is a cured ham with an incredibly complex taste and distinct marbling.
Smithfield-labeled hams are the prized hams from Smithfield, Virginia.
These hams are deep red in color, salty, and savory. They are also expensive and are usually a gastronome’s choice.
Like maple ham, honey ham heavily uses honey as a sweetener in the wet curing mixture.
It is another sweet and savory ham that is typically pre-cooked and only requires reheating.
Italian speck is a type of prosciutto that is cured and smoked.
Made using deboned hind thighs from a pork carcass, it has mass-produced variations.
It also has a specialty version called the speck alto Aldige, which holds a protected designation of origin (PDO).
Canadian bacon is a type of smoked meat that is more akin to ham than bacon.
Although it is a pre-cooked lean cut from the loin of a pork carcass, it is traditionally fried in skillets and served for breakfast.
A picnic ham comes from the lower shoulder or upper foreleg of a pork carcass.
Picnic hams are less expensive than other hams because they are usually just bought fresh or smoked.
Primal Cuts of Pork – Ham Cuts
A butcher divides a pork carcass into several primal cuts. Pork primal cuts include the head, shoulder, loin, legs, and sides.
Although ham is traditionally taken from a pork carcass’s leg primal cuts, today’s different hams can come from other primal cuts.
The following is a list of pork primal cuts that are used as ham cuts.
Most hams come from the legs of a pig. However, some varieties only come from the hind legs of a pork carcass.
Homemade ham can be easily made from the loin, where the meat is leanest and most tender.
Ham from pork loin is usually prepared by cooking, boiling, or steaming.
A pork carcass has a primal cut called the side, which is more popularly known as the belly.
Canadian bacon is one of the ham varieties taken from this primal cut.
When you hear or see “pork butt,” it doesn’t refer to a pig’s buttocks. Meat cuts often have confusing names, and the pork butt is one such to confer.
Hams made using the pork butt sub-primal cut comes from the upper portion of the primal shoulder cut.
Like the shoulder butt, the shoulder picnic is also a sub-primal cut from a pig’s shoulder.
It extends from the upper portion of the forelegs to the bottom part of the shoulder.
The shoulder picnic is typically used to make a cooked ham called picnic ham.
What is the best cut of ham?
The bone-in shank end portion of the legs are the best cuts for making any ham.
Curing and aging allow the marrow to blend with the meat and ingredients, making a spiral cut ham the most flavorful of all the types.
What is the healthiest type of ham?
The acorn-fed variety of the Ibérico ham called jamón Ibérico de Bellota comes from pigs that produce meat with monounsaturated fats.
Their fats are almost as healthy as extra virgin olive oil.
Jamón Ibérico de Bellota is considered the world’s finest and healthiest ham. A whole ham costs a staggering $2,000.
We hope this list of ham classifications and varieties can assist you in your choice of a flavorful centerpiece for your special occasion.
Ham is a versatile food choice, and it is easier to prepare and cook than other meats, such as turkey.
Additionally, any of the ham varieties can provide a better iron and protein dose than any white meat.