Buying Ham

Having people over for dinner? Are you wondering how much ham to buy per person?

Rita: I’ve got a big party coming up. I’m trying to decide what to serve and I think that ham would be a good choice. It seems like its easy to prepare, but I’ve never done anything more than buy a pound of sliced ham at the deli! Can you tell me how much ham to buy for a party? Is there a rule as to how much ham per person? Thank you from a ham novice – Sam, Lexington

Sam, I think Ham is a great choice. Ham is easy to prepare, delicious, and it allows the host to spend time hosting, rather than slaving away in the kitchen.

“How much ham to buy”, is a common question I get – especially around the holidays. It seems that a lot of people only make ham once a year, and then forget how much they bought last year. I hear a lot of stories from people who had more guest than ham and ran out. But, just as often I hear of people having to eat left over ham sandwiches, ham salad and ham steaks for breakfast lunch and dinner.

In recent years we’ve seen a variety in the types of hams available to us. On-line sellers in far away places sell hams creatively cured, smoked and flavored. But, I’ve always been a fan of the classic holiday ham.

I like to have a little ham left over to use after the party. I’m sure you will to. With that in mind, here are my rules of thumb when buying ham.

If the ham has a bone, count on 2-3 servings per pound.
If the ham is boneless, you’ll get about 4-5 servings per pound.

Since most hams are sold fully cooked, all you need to do is heat it until the ham is hot throughout, or until it reaches 140-145.

Of course, the quality of the ham you buy is very important. Like most meat you buy, ham comes in a number of grades. The grades reflect the different ways a ham is prepared for sale.

Ham”: Interestingly, this grade isn’t the easiest to get and it certainly isn’t the most common. This grade is cured without adding any water unlike most common hams sold in supermarkets. The “Ham” grade has an intense flavor and for some, may be too salty. Many of the hams sold in specialty shops fall in to this category.

“Ham in Natural Juice”: This is the most common ham people buy for special occasions. It’s a great ham for a party or event. When these hams are cured, the makers will use a little water in the process. This makes for a ham that has a more mild flavor that won’t over power a meal.

“Water Added”: Much like the “Ham in Natural Juice”, a ham with this grade had water added when it was cured. But, when we start getting to this category, you start to see that the ham producer is adding weight to lower the price per pound. Many of the hams in this class are still good – they just may not be the value you are looking for.
“Ham and Water”: This is the type of ham you usually see on sale at the deli counter. It’s great for sandwiches because you can slice it super thin and stack it high on a sandwich. The reason is that the ham producer has added a great deal of water. Look at the label of the ham at the deli counter and you should be able to see the amount of added water to each ham.
Ham is a crowd pleaser as well – as long as you’re not expecting anyone in the crowd will have any dietary restrictions for health or religious reasons. I think an important part of being a good host is taking time early in your party planning to think about who you’re inviting.

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