Of all the cuts of meat on the market today, slicing a ham is probably one of the easiest, most forgiving tasks. There are so many varieties of ham, and the meat itself is so tender it’s not hard to develop an easy knack for carving them.
Additionally, most hams are uniformly shaped, either by the pig or by the producer. Also, compared to other larger cuts of meat (like turkey and prime rib), ham is more likely to be on your menu throughout the year instead of certain occasions.
Chances are, you’re already familiar with slicing them. Nonetheless, here at F.N. Sharp, we believe there is more than one way to slice a ham – and this guide will show you the best way to achieve the most ‘hamazing’ results!
How to Carve a Ham Like a Pro
In this article, we will discuss the best ways to cut the three most popular styles of ham. But, first things first! Prepare your workspace by choosing a cutting board that’s big enough to set the entire ham on. For plastic or acrylic cutting boards, place a damp towel underneath to prevent it from sliding around while you cut. You’ll be exerting some pressure here, so having a stable workspace is critical.
Choose Your Weapons…uh, Tools!
The key to carving a ham safely and successfully always starts with the right tools. Electric knife? Don’t even think about it. It’s common sense to make sure your knives are freshly cleaned and sharpened. If you’re an F.N. Sharp customer, your knives are always ready to work thanks to our unique sharpening service.
Now here’s what you’ll need:
Chef’s Fork: Used for securing meat while it is being carved, a chef’s fork has two long tines and measures about 11 to 13 inches long with a handle that features a base to rest your forefinger and thumb. Whether you’re left or right-handed, a chef’s fork is absolutely necessary for holding the meat down while you slice with your other hand.
The Chef’s Knife: The most important tool in the kitchen, the chef’s knife is used for slicing, mincing, and chopping. With its long blade, usually measuring between 8 and 14 inches, and its hefty heel and pointed tip, the chef’s knife is the perfect tool for slicing through that ham.
A Santoku Knife: Another multipurpose chef knife, the Japanese Santoku knife, is also a great option for slicing that ham. Its Granton edge allows tiny air pockets to get between the blade and your ingredients to prevent sticking between slices – making it perfect for that heavily glazed ham.
A Boning Knife: A solid boning knife will help you get pieces of meat that are closer to bones and joints that can’t easily be detached with your fingers. Its long, semi-flexible blade makes it perfect for getting into tight spaces, and its many other uses make it an essential for any kitchen.
Now onto the carving!
How to Carve a Whole, Bone-In Ham
First, let’s define what a whole ham is. A whole ham consists of the entire cured leg of pork, including the thigh bone or part of the pelvic bone. These hams can feed up to 20 people.
The best way to carve a whole ham is to place it so the shank (or lower leg) is to your right. Secure the ham with the chef’s fork and cut a few slices from the thin side of the leg. Doing this will create an even base for you to turn the ham onto in order to steady it while you continue slicing.
At this point, the bone will be horizontal. Make perpendicular slices to the leg bone, cutting across the grain of meat. If you’re left-handed, reverse the direction of the ham and proceed accordingly. Use a boning knife to cleanly slice off any remaining pieces. Save the bone for ham broth, stock, or for a batch of Split Pea Soup!
How to Carve a Spiral Ham
Most spiral hams are pre-cooked and pre-sliced when they are sold, so carving these is a cinch. However, it can get a little messy, and since spiral hams are often the centerpiece of a holiday table, carving them to maintain their presentation takes a bit of know-how.
Place the ham on the cutting board, exposing the bone on one end. The bone should be horizontal to the cutting board. Using your boning knife, pierce the flesh close to the bone and cut around the bone in a circular fashion. At this point, the outer spiral slices should start to fall open. Take your chef or Santoku knife and gently cut away the slices from the bone as they start to fall away. It should look like the meat is peeling off the bone – save that bone for stock or broth!
How to Carve a Ham Shank
The ham shank (also called a ham hock and pork knuckle) refers to the section of the hog just below the pork shoulder (if it’s in the front) or the hip (if it’s in the back). With the bone horizontal to the cutting board, place the ham shank on its side. Steady the ham with the chef’s fork and insert your chef knife just above the top of the bone.
Gently scissor the knife from the open end where the bone starts all the way to the very end of the ham shank. You will have two equal pieces. Place the cut side down on the cutting board and slice into uniform pieces. Repeat for the other side of the shank. Use your boning knife to cut any remaining pieces of meat away from the bone and again, save that bone for stock or broth!
Final Ham Carving Tips to Remember
Always cut across the grain to maximize the tenderness of any style of ham, and be sure to practice safe cooking and handling instructions, even if it comes pre-cooked. And if you have any leftovers or need a creative way to serve it, then dress up that ham with some hollandaise and asparagus for a delish open-faced ham sandwich!
P.S. Need some ideas for drinks, appetizers or desserts? Here are 11 holiday pie-inspired cocktails and a delicious White Christmas punch, 13 appetizers to keep mouths busy, and 11 desserts to make family time sweeter.