What Is Fat Side Up On A Ham? The Full Guide

Ham is a classic dish that graces many tables during special occasions or holiday gatherings. But have you ever wondered what the “fat side up” on a ham means?

Does it really make a difference in the taste and texture of the meat?

In this article, we’ll explore the science behind cooking ham and whether or not placing the fat side up is truly the best method.

From understanding the different cuts of ham to learning how to properly cook a fully cooked ham, we’ll cover everything you need to know to make your next ham dinner a success.

So, let’s dive in and uncover the mystery of the fat side up on a ham!

What Is Fat Side Up On A Ham?

When it comes to cooking ham, you may have heard the phrase “fat side up” before. But what does it actually mean?

Simply put, the fat side of a ham is the side that has the most fat on it. This can be either the shank end or the butt end of the ham, depending on which cut you choose.

Placing the fat side up means that during cooking, the fat will melt and drip down onto the meat, basting it as it cooks. This can result in a more tender and flavorful final product.

However, there is some debate over whether or not this method is truly the best way to cook a ham.

Understanding The Different Cuts Of Ham

When selecting a ham, it’s important to understand the different cuts available. The three most common cuts are the butt end, ham shank, and center slice.

The butt end is the upper part of the ham and is more fatty, which can result in a richer flavor. However, it also has a T-shaped bone inside that can be tricky to carve around.

The ham shank is the lower end of the ham and is more leg and less fatty. It has just one bone, making it easier to slice. This cut is a good choice for a picture-perfect table as it sports that classic ham profile.

The center slice is a bone-in cut that includes both the butt and shank cuts of the leg. This cut is great for those who want a mix of lean and fatty meat.

It’s also important to note that there are other cuts of pork that are sometimes referred to as “ham” but are not actually from the back legs of the pig. For example, picnic hams are cut from the front shoulders of a hog and are pork shoulders cured in ham fashion.

When selecting a ham, consider whether you want bone-in or boneless, as well as whether you prefer wet-cured (brined) or dry-cured. Fully cooked hams just need to be heated, while uncooked and partially cooked hams require baking before serving. Smoked hams offer a distinct flavor and aged hams have a stronger, more developed flavor but tend to be more expensive.

Understanding the different cuts and preparation methods can help you choose the perfect ham for your next meal.

The Science Behind Cooking Ham

From a scientific perspective, cooking ham with the fat side up can have both advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, the fat on the ham can act as a natural basting agent, keeping the meat moist and imparting flavor. As the fat melts and drips down onto the meat, it can create a self-basting effect that results in a more tender and juicy ham.

On the other hand, cooking ham with the fat side up can also lead to uneven cooking. The heat from the oven may not penetrate the thick layer of fat as effectively, causing the meat underneath to cook more slowly. This can result in an overcooked exterior and an undercooked interior.

To avoid this issue, some chefs recommend scoring the fat layer on top of the ham before cooking. This allows the heat to penetrate more evenly and ensures that the meat cooks through properly.

Additionally, it’s important to consider the type of ham being cooked. Different cuts and varieties of ham may require different cooking methods and temperatures. For example, a bone-in spiral ham may require less cooking time than a whole ham weighing between 10 to 14 pounds.

Does Placing The Fat Side Up Really Make A Difference?

Advocates of cooking with the fat side up argue that the fat will melt into the meat, making it moist and juicy. However, this is a myth. Meat cannot absorb fat, so instead, the fat will melt and run off the meat into the drip pan, taking any seasoning you may have put on the meat with it. This can leave your ham looking less appetizing as well.

Furthermore, while the fat may baste the surface of the meat as it melts, it cannot penetrate deep inside to affect juiciness. The fat cap is oily, while the inside of the meat is mostly water, so they won’t mix. When the fat melts, it will remain on the exterior of the meat but won’t penetrate deep inside. In fact, cooking with the fat side up can even decrease the flavor as it washes off any seasonings that you have rubbed on the exterior.

On the other hand, cooking with the fat side down can protect the meat from drying out and yield a more evenly cooked ham. This method also ensures that any seasoning on the exterior stays intact and can develop a beautiful bark.

Properly Cooking A Fully Cooked Ham

If you have a fully cooked ham, the most important thing to keep in mind is to avoid overcooking it. Overcooking can result in a dry and tough texture, which is not desirable.

To properly cook a fully cooked ham, first check the label for cooking instructions. It should be labeled either “fully cooked” or “cook before eating.” Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Place the ham on a rack in a large baking pan and add about 1/4- to 1/2-inch of water to the pan. If the ham is labeled “fully cooked” (does not require heating), heat it in the oven for about 10 minutes per pound, or until an internal temperature of 140 F is reached.

If the ham is labeled “cook before eating,” heat it in an oven set no lower than 325 F until an internal temperature of at least 145 F is reached.

When cooking a fully cooked ham, it is not necessary to place the fat side up. In fact, some experts recommend placing the ham cut-side-down in the pan for even cooking and to prevent drying out.

Regardless of which side is facing up, be sure to baste the ham every 30 minutes with any glaze or juices in the pan. This will help keep the meat moist and flavorful.

Once the ham has reached the desired internal temperature, remove it from the oven and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat and results in a more tender and flavorful ham.

Tips For Serving And Storing Ham

If you have leftover ham, it’s important to store it properly to ensure it stays fresh and safe to eat. Here are some tips for serving and storing ham:

1. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly: Leftover ham should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking. Store it tightly wrapped in your refrigerator at 34-38 degrees F for up to three days. If you’re not sure you’ll finish your leftovers before then, it’s a good idea to freeze them for later. Leftover cooked ham can be stored in the freezer for 1-2 months.

2. Use a purpose-made ham bag: To store your ham on the bone, use a purpose-made calico ham bag, pillowcase, or even a large tea towel. Whatever you use, make sure the bag or case completely covers the ham. Mix together 4 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar and wet the bag, making sure it is completely soaked through. Wring it out slightly so it’s not dripping and place the ham inside or wrap it completely in the tea towel. Store in the coolest part of your fridge (usually at the bottom). Repeat every 2-3 days or when the wrapping dries out.

3. Carve only what you need: The biggest challenge with storing leftover ham is keeping the meat from drying out. For this reason, it’s important to only carve as much ham as you need during your meal, because meat left on the ham bone will stay juicy for longer than slices of carved meat.

4. Label and date your packages: If you slice or cube your leftover ham, be sure to label and date each package so you can monitor its freshness easily.

5. Consider alternative preservation methods: If you have a whole cooked ham that you won’t be able to finish within a few days, consider cutting it into cylinders, cubes, or pieces and putting it in an airtight jar together with chopped parsley, oregano, or other aromatic herbs. This method can last up to two months in a cool, dark, and dry place. Alternatively, you can slice or cube your ham and use a vacuum packing machine or cover with kitchen paper and aluminum foil to retain all the humidity of the meat.

By following these tips for serving and storing ham, you can ensure that your leftovers stay fresh and flavorful for as long as possible!