When it comes to planning the ham for Easter or Christmas dinner (or any meal where a large-format pork will be the hero), a number of questions present themselves almost immediately: Where should I buy the ham? What type of ham should I buy? Bone-in or boneless? How much ham per person? and so on. Odds are your holiday meal has been a bit smaller in recent years, but intimate gatherings with family and friends are starting to get back to normal. These questions remain just as important when serving your household of three as they were when you were hosting 20. It’s intimidating enough to host a larger-than-normal group of loved ones and the cost of food, wine, and festive décor can add up fast. You don’t want to spend more than you need to, so, let’s break down exactly how many pounds of boneless or bone-in ham you need per guest.
How much ham per person?
The best rule of thumb for ham is to plan about 1/2 pound per person when picking a bone-in ham (it’s heavier) and 1/3 pound if boneless. Look, at the end of the day, some people will eat more than expected, some will eat less—it’ll even out. If you’re making a lot of side dishes, err on the smaller side; if you texted your roommates "ham party at 3 p.m. on Sunday," consider buying more. And if you definitely want leftovers for ham sandwiches, breakfast omelettes and quiches, or mini ham croquettes, then go for an extra pound or two.
To make your shopping experience even easier, make note of these quantities for both a bone-in and boneless ham:
- 4 people: 2-3 pound bone-in ham
- 6 people: 3-4 pound bone-in ham
- 8 people: 4-5 pound bone-in ham
- 10 people: 5-6 pound bone-in ham
- 12 people: 6-7 pound bone-in ham
- 4 people: 1.5-2 pound boneless ham
- 6 people: 2-3 pound boneless ham
- 8 people: 2.75-3.5 pound boneless ham
- 10 people: 3-4 pound boneless ham
- 12 people: 4-5 pound boneless ham
Buying the ham
Once you’ve decided how many people you’re serving and have a vague idea of how much ham you want, head to the store. Consider whether you want to buy a fresh ham (totally raw, with pale pink flesh), cured (brined dry or wet, with pinker flesh; might be ready to eat or may require some cooking—they’ll be marked), or smoked and cured (same as a cured ham, with the addition of a smoky flavor). Hams can be bought whole, halved, or spiral-cut (meaning pre-sliced), and either boneless or bone-in; bone-in and smoked tends to have the most flavor. Plus, you can amp up all that hammy goodness with your own brown sugar and bourbon or apricot glaze.
to cook or not to cook
Some cured hams, like the paper-thin shavings of Italian prosciutto you’d put on a sandwich, are edible the moment you take them out of the package. Same goes for some of the big guys, too. For example, meat manufacturer D’Artagnan has a smoked, bone-in ham half that's fully cooked and “can be served cold, at room temperature, or heated, with or without glaze.” (Though I’d still recommend foil-wrapping the ham and heating it up in the oven at 300°F, until it registers 140°F on a thermometer.) Yes, fully cooked hams offer convenience for less experienced or busy home cooks, but the downside is you can’t control how sweet or salty they will taste. For two winning recipes, read on.
Okay, so how the heck do I cook ham?
If going from raw, check out the glazed ham recipe from community member Kayb (winner of Your Best Baked Ham contest); for a lower lift, try Food Editor Emma Laperruque’s apricot and Dijon-glazed spiral ham (aka precooked!) recipe.
Eating the ham
I’ll be honest: I think sliced ham on a plate is fine, but it won’t tear me away from the appetizers. A ham sandwich bar, on the other hand, absolutely will. Lay out potato buns, pickles, all the mustards you can find, mayo, Swiss cheese, apricot or strawberry jam (yes, jam! on ham! try it!), and a pile of sliced ham for one of the best sandwiches this side of a PB&J.
And For All Those Leftovers...
You probably can't eat a whole ham, but why make a small portion if going through the whole ordeal? Considering that there are so many salty, fatty, porky recipes for leftover ham, you really shouldn't not do up the large-format meat. After all, isn’t that exactly why you purchased a few extra pounds of ham in the first place?