How to Cook a Spiral Ham (& Enjoy It for Days)

Learn to make a centerpiece-worthy spiral ham that keeps on giving.

March 30, 2022
Photo by Rocky Luten

Spiral sliced ham is, in fact, an American invention. Harry Hoenselaar, the founder of the HoneyBaked Ham Company, built the world's first spiral-slicing machine in 1924. The idea, he said, had come to him in a dream, and his prototype was assembled from "a tire jack, a pie tin, a washing machine motor, and a knife." If you're as enamored by the idea of this gorgeous meat helix as we are and wondering how to cook a spiral ham at home, you've come to the right place. Let's cut the fat, and get right down to the bone of how to treat your ham right, so you and your guests can properly feast on this succulent American classic.

What Is a Spiral Ham?

A spiral ham is, in a nutshell, a bone-in ham that's been sliced with a special spiral-slicing machine, which carves the meat into perfectly thin slices while allowing it to retain its show-stopping centerpiece shape for optimal presentation. All spiral sliced hams are pre-cooked, so there is actually no need to cook a spiral ham—it's ready to eat. Nonetheless, there are two additional steps to take in order to get the most enjoyment out of your ham: heating and glazing.

How to Heat a Spiral Ham

Your ham is already cooked, so it only needs to be brought to a suitable serving temperature, which is about 140°F. Since it's a large piece of meat, warming should go low and slow because it takes time for heat to penetrate all the way to the bone. You don't want to dry out the surface in the process; however, and heating too aggressively will rob the ham of its succulence (to the point where neither a maple syrup glaze nor mustard could improve the situation).

The most important tool to help you properly heat a spiral ham isn't an oven—it's a thermometer. Yes, you need an oven, too. But being able to measure your target is the best way to avoid overshooting it. You don't want to miss Juicytown and end up in Jerkyville.

Next you'll want some kind of covering. Foil is the easiest vapor barrier to apply, and it's foolproof. Loosely wrap the ham with foil, set it in a roasting pan, and you'll have everything you need to keep your ham nice and moist. If you don't have foil, you can use a cooking bag, or even a large oven-safe pot with a lid set ajar.

Some folks like to add liquid or lemon slices to the bottom of the pan, but this isn't necessary. As long as you use a thermometer and don't set your oven too high, your ham will reach serving temperature without drying out.

Many ham preparation guides will tell you to heat your ham for X minutes per pound at Y temperature. The X is usually somewhere between 10 and 20, while the Y is generally 250°F to 300°F. Don't worry so much about the time, and just check the ham's internal temperature periodically with the meat thermometer. When it hits 135°F or so, pull it out, and it will continue cooking to reach the recommended 140°F. For a large ham, this can take several hours, so plan accordingly.

You can use a Crockpot instead of an oven to heat your ham, provided, of course, the Crockpot is spacious enough. In a Crockpot set to low, an 8- to 10-pound ham will warm through in 4 or 5 hours, depending on the ham's initial temperature.

How to Glaze a Spiral Ham

Many spiral hams will come with a little packet of glaze. Everyone loves to advise you to throw the packet away, but we'll leave that decision up to you (to be certain, there's nothing especially wrong with the glaze packet). If you're making your own glaze, feel free to take the flavor profile in just about any direction, although traditionally most glazes are made with a combination of brown sugar, honey, mustard, fruit juice, and spices like clove or cayenne pepper. Maple and bourbon are also popular flavorings.

In terms of timing, it's best to apply several applications over the course of reheating. That way the glaze has time to drizzle in between the slices, and help seal in the moisture throughout the warming process. If you like, you can put the ham under the broiler for a couple of minutes at the end in order to get those crispy, caramelized edges with sizzle and shine announcing the presence of a formidable centerpiece. Crispy edges can also significantly boost leftover ham's value, adding a pleasant texture even days later.

How to Carve a Spiral Ham

Now that your ham is hot, glazed, and ready to serve, you'd better photograph it, because next you'll need to carve it. Simply slice along the bone and watch those perfect slices fall like autumn leaves or the petals of spring flowers onto your platter or plate. Drizzle with a few glaze-infused pan drippings, and enjoy. Don't forget to save that ham bone; it's perfect for collard greens, pasta fagiolei, or red beans and rice.

Spiral Ham Recipes

Glazed Spiral Ham With Apricot Jam & Dijon Mustard

You only need three ingredients to make this Easter showpiece—bone-in, spiral-sliced ham, apricot jam, and Dijon mustard. The combo of sweet fruit and punchy mustard has all the makings of our new favorite glaze for holiday ham.

Super-Simple Glazed Ham

Our readers voted this their all-time favorite baked ham recipe. Despite the lengthy ingredients list, it really couldn't be easier to put together. Smear the ham with a combination of whole-grain mustard, honey, nutmeg, and cloves. Then mist (yes, mist!) the roast with a brown-sugar bourbon glaze and bake until the ham is crispy and shimmering on the outside and thoroughly cooked on the inside (about 20 minutes per pound).

What to Serve With Spiral Ham

Scalloped Potatoes in Cast Iron

Scalloped potatoes, in all their crispy, creamy glory, will always, always go well with spiral glazed ham on Easter or other holidays. Some recipes for scalloped potatoes call for cheese and others omit it altogether; but who would we be to deny you and your guests the pleasure of eating cheesy potatoes?

Diane Morgan's Classic Mashed Potatoes

When in doubt, served mashed potatoes. We like using russets because they make a super fluffy side. The other trick for preventing gummy mashed potatoes is heating the milk and butter separately before adding them to the hot cooked spuds.

Homemade Green Bean Casserole

This classic holiday side dish is destined to be served alongside a spiral glazed ham. For a casserole that’s way better than anything you’ve tasted from a can, use a combination of mushrooms, such as shiitakes or portobellos, plus really good French green beans.

What are your go-to tips and glazes for a juicy spiral ham? Let us know in the comments.

This article was updated by our editors in March 2022 to include more cooking tips for spiral ham.

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Pete Scherer

Written by: Pete Scherer

1 Comment

flitcraft November 13, 2022
What I do to raise the temperature without worrying about drying out is to place the ham, still factory sealed, in a very large pot of very hot water. Water is a much more efficient conductor of heat than the air of an oven, so the ham warms up much faster than it will in the oven. I swap out some of the water about two or three times as it cools. If I had a sous vide unit, I'd use that to keep the temperature up. Once I think the ham is at serving temperature, I remove it from the package, take its temperature just to be sure, and then glaze it and run it at about 450 degrees to get the glaze bubbling.