Skip to main content

Your Spiral Ham Needs This Cider-Vinegar Caramel

This sophisticated glaze takes ham to the next level
By Published Dec. 2, 2021

One of the easiest and most impressive ways to feed a crowd is to serve a spiral-sliced ham. A bone-in half ham can feed as many as 14 people, and since it comes cured, smoked, pre-cooked, and pre-sliced, all it takes is some gentle reheating and a little knifework to separate the slices, and it’s ready for the table.

Warming the ham is also an opportunity to spiff it up with a glaze that can caramelize in the oven, giving this meaty helix a gorgeous mahogany sheen. But waiting for that transformation to happen can also dry out the meat. And while the glaze might look appealing, too often it tastes merely sweet and uninspiring. 

I found the solution: I created a complex, sweet-tart glaze by cooking a caramel on the stovetop and augmenting it with cider vinegar, pepper, and five-spice powder. Since the sugar in the mixture was already caramelized, when I brushed it on the ham after it was heated through (in a 250-degree oven sealed in an oven bag), the glaze needed only a few minutes in a hot oven to acquire a rich bronze luster.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Bring 1¼ cups sugar, ½ cup water, and 3 tablespoons light corn syrup to boil  over medium-high heat.
  2. Cook until mixture is straw-colored, 6 to 8 minutes. 
  3. Continue to cook over low heat until mixture is dark amber—colored and just smoking and registers 360 to 370 degrees, 2 to 5 minutes longer. 
  4. Off heat, add 1¼ cups cider vinegar (microwaved in a bowl first until steaming), whisking in a little at a time.
  5. When bubbling subsides, add ½ teaspoon pepper and ¼ teaspoon five-spice powder. 
  6. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 1⅓ cups, 5 to 7 minutes.

But I didn't stop there: Because a glaze only provides flavor at the edges of the ham, I thinned out some of the remaining caramel with ham juices to create a sauce for drizzling over the smoky, salty meat and enhancing every bite.

What spiral ham wouldn’t be better off with this treatment? Find the recipe here.

Sign up for the Cook's Insider newsletter

The latest recipes, tips, and tricks, plus behind-the-scenes stories from the Cook's Illustrated team.

0 Comments

Try All-Access Membership to Unlock the Comments
Don't miss the conversation. Our test cooks and editors jump in to answer your questions, and our members are curious, opinionated, and respectful.
Membership includes instant access to everything on our sites:
  • 10,000+ foolproof recipes and why they work
  • Taste Tests of supermarket ingredients
  • Equipment Reviews save you money and time
  • Videos including full episodes and clips
  • Live Q&A with Test Kitchen experts
Start Free Trial
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.