Ham probably cooked, but read the label

We’re having ham for Christmas dinner this year. I believe ham is already cooked, but when I was growing up, I remember my mother always put a glaze on it and baked it in the oven for several hours. Do I have to do that, or can I just warm it up before serving? 

Most ham sold in the U.S. is cured and fully cooked, but even in that case, it can still take several hours to warm in the oven. At 325 degrees F, a 6-pound bone-in cooked smoked ham would take nearly 2.5 hours to heat to an internal temperature of 140 degrees. That’s the temperature recommended for reheating most precooked ham sold in the U.S.

But be forewarned: There are many different types of ham. Your best bet is to always follow the preparation guidelines on the label. Some types of ham might have all the looks and appearances of being ready-to-eat, but aren’t. In that case, the label will prominently say “Cook thoroughly” or something similar and will have cooking instructions. You don’t want to miss that.

Most products labeled as “ham” come from the hind leg of a hog, anywhere from the middle of the shank bone (that’s the round leg bone you might see — and have to cut around — in some hams) up to the hip bone, which is called the “aitch” on hogs and cattle. The upper part, the butt end (which is exactly what you think it is), has more fat and so it’s often thought of as more flavorful.

If you find yourself with a “picnic ham,” you’re really eating pork shoulder that’s been cured so it tastes much like regular ham. If you ever buy a whole hog for the freezer, you’ll get two whole fresh hams, which is ham meat that hasn’t been cured and is more like pork than traditional ham. And, of course, you might also see turkey ham at the store, which is a bird of another feather altogether.

Most ham sold in the U.S. is “city ham,” which is wet-cured with brine and often smoked or injected with smoke flavoring. Cooking may occur during this process, but, again, it’s important to check the label. Country ham, on the other hand, is dry-cured with salt, then is hung to dry for several months and often smoked as well. Country ham is much saltier than city ham and requires soaking in water for hours to let some of the salt leach out before cooking.

A spiral-sliced ham is safe to eat without reheating. If you do want to serve it warm, be careful not to dry it out. Cover it with heavy foil and heat it at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes a pound, until it reaches 140 F. Leftovers, or spiral ham that has been repackaged outside of the original facility, should be heated to 165 degrees F.

A boneless ham is a product that undergoes more processing than other types of ham. It is made by chopping or sectioning the meat into smaller pieces, and, like other types of processed meat, it is tumbled and massaged to allow the pieces to stick together in a particular shape.

Any ham that’s not ready-to-eat needs to be cooked to reach at least 145 degrees F internal temperature, and allowed to rest at least three minutes before cutting and serving.

For more details, go to fsis.usda.gov and search for “Ham and Food Safety.”

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, specialist in Food Safety for Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

With alcohol, stopping at one or two is best

During the holidays, I have to admit that I tend to drink more alcohol than usual. I think I could use a reality check. When you’re out with friends or at a party, how much is enough?

The science is pretty clear on this one: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

Unfortunately, some people interpret that as an average, but it’s not. If you consume alcohol only on Saturday night, it’s not OK to imbibe seven drinks all at once — or 14 if you’re a guy. It’s not even recommended to partake in that second or third drink (again, depending on your gender). “Moderate drinking” has defined limits, and that’s what they are. Note that pregnant women, anyone under age 21, and people who have certain medical conditions or who are taking certain medications are among those who should not drink alcohol at all.

It’s also important to know what constitutes “one drink.” It can be 12 fluid ounces of beer (5 percent alcohol), 8 ounces of malt liquor (8 percent alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol) or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (40 percent alcohol, or 80 proof).

For many people, the one or two drink per day maximum might seem overly restrictive. But there are good reasons for the recommendations, and the CDC does a good job explaining them (cdc.gov/alcohol). Alcohol consumption above these limits is associated with a variety of short-term risks that most people are aware of, including car crashes, acts of violence and sexual risky behaviors. It’s also linked with an increased risk of chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and cancers including mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon and breast cancer. For some conditions, the risk increases even with very low levels of alcohol consumption — in fact, the CDC says, for breast cancer and liver disease, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. And, although past research indicated moderate drinking might be good for the heart, more recent studies suggest maybe not.

The lower limit for women is not simply because women normally have a smaller body size than men. Differences in body chemistry and composition also play a part. Muscle is better at metabolizing alcohol (breaking it down and removing it from the body), and men typically have more muscle mass than women. So, given the same drink, women may experience the effects of alcohol more quickly and for a longer time than men, and it’s more likely that drinking will cause long-term health problems in women.

If you think you can’t have a good time at a party without three, four or more glasses of alcohol, then you’re right, it’s time for a reality check. Try enjoying a glass or two of sparkling water with a twist before pouring that glass of wine. At the very least, space out drinks to enjoy no more than one per hour, sipping water, iced tea or other non-alcoholic beverage in between. And focus more on the friends and family that you’re gathering with instead of what’s in your glass. You’ll feel better, and without all of the empty calories that alcohol provides, you might look better, too.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, specialist in Community Nutrition for Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.