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Spiral-Sliced Ham Done Right

Our spiral ham is moist and juicy—and every bite benefits from the flavors of the glaze.
By Published Oct. 1, 2019

My Goals and Discoveries

Evenly cooked ham from edge to edge

Warming the ham in a 250-degree oven guarantees that the interior and exterior of the meat heat gently and evenly.

Moist, juicy meat

Heating the ham in an oven bag traps juices, creating a moist environment that efficiently heats the ham in less time and leads to juicier meat.

Full flavor in every bite

Most spiral hams have glaze just on the very edge of each slice. We not only glaze our ham with a tangy-sweet mixture but also turn some of the glaze into a sauce to pass at the table.

Many recipes for spiral-sliced ham—which has been injected with or immersed in a brine of water, curing salt, and a sweetener; fully cooked; and smoked by the manufacturer—call for heating the ham in a roasting pan covered in foil in a 325-degree oven. But I found this approach to be flawed: By the time the center of the meat is warm, the exterior is certain to be parched.

Then there is the sweet glaze that is traditionally painted onto the ham. It’s a great contrast to the smoky, salty meat, but I’m always disappointed that it flavors only the very edge of the thin slices. What’s more, many recipes call for returning the ham to a hot oven for 20 to 30 minutes to help the sugary glaze caramelize and set, a surefire way to further desiccate the exterior.

I had a better way: I slid the ham into an oven bag and placed it in an oven set to just 250 degrees. The gentle heat warmed the interior and exterior of the ham at a similar rate. Meanwhile, the bag trapped juices, creating a humid environment that transferred heat more efficiently than dry air. In fact, when we compared two hams heated at 250 degrees—one in an oven bag and one covered in foil—the bagged ham came to temperature 25 percent (or 1 hour) faster than the foil-covered one. (That’s not just because an oven bag speeds cooking; since foil reflects heat, it actually slows down cooking.)

Two spiral-sliced hams are portioned as we test different cooking methods for this holiday centerpiece.

To fix the issues with the glaze, I started by making a generous amount of caramel on the stovetop; augmenting it with cider vinegar, pepper, and five‑spice powder; and brushing some of it onto the ham. With the caramelization step taken care of in advance, the ham needed only 5 minutes in a 450-degree oven for the glaze to develop a mahogany sheen. (I pulled the ham from the 250-degree oven when it registered 110 degrees, knowing that the final blast in a hot oven would cause the meat to climb to the desired 120 to 125 degrees for serving.) Next, I stirred some of the meaty ham juices that were trapped in the oven bag into the remaining caramel. This sweet, tart, savory sauce could be drizzled onto the slices so that every bite—not just the ones on the edge—would taste just right.

Instead of a traditional glaze, we brush a caramel sauce spiked with cider vinegar and five-spice powder onto the ham.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.