Preparing a Perfect Easter Ham  

By Kelly Visser, Iowa Food & Family Project

Easter is a time for families to gather and celebrate the blessings of the season.

The holiday also brings a variety of traditions, taking shape as crisp white lilies, pastel-colored treats and joyous egg hunts – and of course, the iconic Easter ham.

To help you prepare a delicious Easter ham the whole family will enjoy, we talked with Kelsey Byrnes, consumer outreach director at the Iowa Pork Producers Association. In the Q&A below, she shares cooking tips, glaze ideas, fun historical facts and leftover recipes.

Photo credit: National Pork Board

Photo credit: National Pork Board

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Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP): What cut of ham is best for a family’s Easter meal?  

Byrnes: It’s all about preference, but there are three common kinds of ham served for Easter: bone-in, boneless and spiral cut ham. All three are typically cured and smoked. 

A whole bone-in ham is large and perfect for a big group. You can also get half bone-in hams if you don’t need as much meat. Boneless hams are great for smaller groups and are easier to slice. Spiral cut ham is pre-sliced, so it’s very convenient. For more details and visuals, I suggest watching this informational Meat Counter Basics: Ham video created by the National Pork Board.

If you opt for bone-in ham, the bone can be used to make a delicious soup broth after your Easter feast… but we’ll get to leftover ideas later!

Iowa FFP: Is there a ratio of pounds of ham to guest? 

Byrnes: The National Pork Board says to expect 2-3 servings per pound for a bone-in ham. And I’d expect about 3 servings per pound for a boneless ham.

Iowa FFP: How long does it take to cook a ham?

Byrnes: The National Pork Board recommends baking a 5-6 pound fully cooked, cured ham 20 minutes per pound at 350 degrees F or until the ham reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees F.

A 16-17 pound fresh, uncured ham should be baked 15 minutes per pound at 350 degrees F or until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. 

Iowa FFP: When should you glaze? 

Byrnes: You want the glaze to be on the ham long enough for it to caramelize, but not burn. It’s best to glaze the ham about 30-45 minutes before taking it out of the oven when cooking at 350 degrees F. You can either glaze just once or a few times in the last 45 minutes of cooking to apply more flavor.

Iowa FFP: How long should the ham rest before carving? 

Byrnes: Once the ham comes out of the oven, transfer it to a cutting board and let it rest before carving. A ham under 2 pounds should rest 5-10 minutes; 2-5 pounds should rest 15-20 minutes; and 5 or more pounds should rest 20-30 minutes.

Iowa FFP: When and why did spiral cut ham become such a hit? 

Byrnes: Harry Hoenselaar, the founder of HoneyBaked Ham in Michigan, invented and patented the spiral slicing machine in 1952. Once the patent expired in 1981, several other brands used the concept with their ham products. The convenience of spiral cut ham has made it so popular.

Iowa FFP: There is a perception that spiral cut hams are drier than ham that isn’t pre-cut. Thoughts or tips related to this? 

Byrnes: Both whole and spiral cut ham can be delicious and juicy if cooked properly! To help keep a spiral ham from getting dry, I suggest covering it with tin foil while baking, so the juices don’t evaporate throughout the cooking process. Remove the foil cover when you glaze the ham and let it cook the last half hour without foil to get a nice caramelized crust.  

Iowa FFP: Do you have any glaze recommendations?

Byrnes: Oh, the possibilities! It ultimately depends on your preference. To get a caramelized glazed texture, it should include some sort of sugar. Most commonly, brown sugar and honey are used. You can then start layering flavors with ingredients such as fruit juices, herbs and spices or mustards. 

If you aren’t interested in a “do-it-yourself” recipe, there are a variety of recipes online or you can buy a ham that includes a glaze packet.

Iowa FFP: It seems like there’s always leftovers after a family gathering. What are your favorite leftover ideas?

Byrnes: There are so many ways to enjoy leftover ham beyond the ham sandwich. Scalloped potatoes and ham, ham and bean soup, baked potatoes with ham and cheese, breakfast casseroles or salads. The list is endless! I especially like this Ham & Cheese Puff Pastry recipe.

If you have a meat grinder, you can make ham salad or Cristen Clark’s Iowa Ham Ball recipe.

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 7 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Iowa FFP: Why are bone-in ham leftovers best for making ham and bean soup?

Byrnes: The bone helps develop great ham flavor. To make the simple soup, soak great white northern beans, add vegetables (carrots, celery, onion) and herbs and spices. You can then add the ham bone to simmer for another hour, which is when the real flavor develops! Here’s a simple Ham and Bean soup recipe.