Having to carve ham can get a little messy—especially when you never really learned how to carve a spiral ham in the first place. Ham is the part of a pig’s leg that has been cured, which is to say it has been preserved by smoking or salting.
Some hams come fully cooked and brined. Brining a ham is done by infusing a mixture of salt and spices into it, giving the ham a richer and more flavorful taste. When it comes to preparation, knowing how to carve a spiral ham is only necessary when your ham has a bone still in it. If you do find yourself needing to slice a ham for a family dinner or any other special event, then fret not, because I’ve got you covered.
Know Before You Carve Ham
Before taking up the knife and using it on your ham, you might want to stop and ask yourself some pretty basic questions like: is it pre-sliced? is it a bone-in or a boneless ham? Where’s the butt? Where is the shank at?
You might have even more questions, depending on your level of ham-ducation (it sounds lame but let’s pretend it’s the cool way of saying “how to carve a spiral ham”).
- Boneless ham: If yours came without a bone, that means you there’s not much work you have to do. It also means there’s a really good chance the ham is fully cooked, but just to be sure, check out the label. For this type of ham, you don’t need to do any carving since there’s no bone—great news, huh? Assuming it didn’t come pre-sliced, this boneless version is still a lot less stressful to carve.
- Bone-in ham: Going with the bone-in variation is more appropriate if you’re planning a special treat for your family and friends. The reason for this is the bone itself, which provides flavor, moisture, and a little bit of beauty. Moreover, you could always use the leftover bone to make jambalaya or ham stock. The only stressful part about opting for a bone-in ham is that slicing it isn’t as easy as with boneless ham, especially if you don’t know how to debone a ham.
- Spiral sliced ham: Most times, these come pre-sliced and this is specified on the label, so make sure to check that label before purchasing. For your spiral cut ham, instead of actually carving first, you cut the sliced meat perpendicularly to the bone. It should seem like you are peeling the meat off the bone.
One benefit of buying a ham that has not been sliced is having total control over how thin or how thick you want your slices. When you spiral-slice it yourself, you also get total control over the flavor and you don’t need to have an industrial spiral-cutting machine—a few common kitchen wares will do instead.
- Shank: The shank is the lower part of the ham. This part is actually thicker and bigger than the butt (more info on the butt coming up). Some chefs prefer this half because it has less fat and gristle, and there are fewer connective tissues between the bone and meat, thus making it easier to carve.
- Butt: This part is the top part of the ham hock and it’s not as big as the shank. It’s fattier and considered tastier by many ham-lovers. Unfortunately, it’s also more difficult to carve.
- Semi-boneless ham: This type, unlike the bone-in, has the aitchbone and tailbone removed. The only bone you need to deal with is the thigh bone.
How to Carve a Spiral Ham
If you’re not sure how to carve a spiral ham, rest easy. Most spiral hams you buy have been sliced, and all you have to do is to debone. If yours doesn’t come pre-sliced, read the steps below to learn how to spiral cut a ham. Since it’s pre-sliced, you’ll only need some basic equipment to accomplish this:
- carving board or cutting board
- carving fork to help you hold the meat as you slice
- paring knife for easily cutting around the bone to free the attached slices.
- slicing knife so you can cut the meat perpendicular to the bone and through the attached spiral slices.
Most people like to have their ham glazed and heated before slicing it, and this is definitely worth doing.
Though labeled as “pre-sliced,” the bottom part of this ham sometimes doesn’t come sliced. Other ham hocks don’t come pre-sliced at all, in which case you’ll need to slice it yourself. These steps will work fine in either case:
- Place the ham on its side over the carving board (after roasting or baking) and using the paring knife, nimbly cut around the bone. The bone tends to be in the center or just shy of the center of the meat.
- After step 1, the attached slices should be free from the bone. With a slicing knife, cut perpendicular to the bone. You could also find the lines of fat the meat has and cut along those fat lines. There should be about 3 or 4 lines.
While on step 2, your carving fork helps a lot to steady the meat as you cut through.
- Now that there’s a huge chunk of spiral-sliced meat, cut this into smaller pieces. This step will come in handy if your meat isn’t pre-sliced.
Tip: For pre-sliced ham, you can just use the fork to remove the slices. However, if the bottom of the meat is not sliced, you can slice it to any desired thickness.
- Serve your slices on a plate and enjoy!
And that’s how you carve a ham with bone—nice and easy.
Carving a Ham Butt and Shank
Carving a ham shank is actually easier than carving the butt end, which is a little tougher, but both are quite possible to conquer.
To carve the shank half:
- Create a flat surface for your ham to rest on by cutting 3 slices off its side. You should do this on a cutting/carving board.
- With the meat resting on its flattened side, use your fork to hold it firmly in place while you cut the slices according to your preferred thickness (a carving knife works for this). Once finished with that, cut perpendicular to the bone to release the slices from the bone onto a plate.
- Turn the ham over and cut more slices. Once done cutting the slices, make a perpendicular slice to the bone to detach the slices from the bone.
- For the sides of the ham, cut a few slices off one side to have a flat surface you can rest the meat on. Make your slices and detach them by making a cut above the bone.
- Serve all your slices on a plate and enjoy
Carving a ham butt:
- Let the butt-half face you while sitting on a carving board. Cut above the bone to release a huge chunk of boneless meat.
- While cutting or slicing, use your fork to steady the meat. This will also serve as a means of protecting your fingers from the sharp knife.
- Slice up the boneless half and serve it on a plate.
- Turn the half with the meat onto its flat side, cutting the slices downwards.
- Make a cut just above the bone to release the slices from the bone.
- Serve the slices on a plate.
Glazing ideas to try out
If you’re thinking of going ahead and slicing your meat without glazing or heating it first, I would advise you to think again. Glazing your meat brings extra flavor and richness. Nothing beats a glazed ham! Here are a few ideas you can try out:
- Honey glaze
- Bourbon glaze
- Maple syrup glaze
You may get hit with the urge to devour your ham slices the moment you’ve served them onto a plate, but try to subdue that urge at least long enough to do a little dressing up, especially if you’re having guests over. Sure, you can serve the ham just as it is with your slices neatly stacked on a plate, but what better way to make an unforgettable meal than by playing dress-up?
You can spruce up your serving plate with parsley, carrots, cherry tomatoes, baby corn, or pineapple slices. You can even pour a drizzle of syrup over your ham.
There you go! That’s just about everything you need to know about how to carve a spiral ham. Hamazing!