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Oven, smoker, and more: The many different ways to cook your Christmas ham

The best ways to cook your main course, the ham

Man cutting ham in the kitchen
Christmastime is here, and that means it’s the shopping season, time for gatherings with friends and family, and that it’s ham season. Yes, we said ham season.

Cooking a ham at home is the route to take, as it can be the main event for a large gathering like Christmas dinner or set you up for sandwich meat for weeks to come. Like a whole turkey or rack of lamb, ham has a way of stealing the table. It’s a large entree often reserved for special occasions and just having one around can lift spirits (consider it the Champagne of animal proteins).

We are by no means above a good old-fashioned honey-baked ham. The gods put sweetness on the pig for a reason. Yet, cooking a ham on your own tends to be even better, as you can customize the recipe and use a variety of different methods, from an oven or slow cooker to an open flame or smoker.

Let’s start with the basics of how to cook ham. You’re probably going to be launching into this task with a standard-size ham, say, 10 to 12 pounds. Take note of the weight, as you’ll want to adjust the below cooking times accordingly. Now, this can be a juicy, sometimes messy proposition, so get out your favorite apron to accompany your meat thermometer and favorite rub, glaze, or proprietary mix of herbs.

Snake River ham out of the oven.
Snake River Farms

How to cook ham in the oven

It’s tempting to treat a classic dish like ham with a classic cooking approach like popping it into the oven. It’s a great way to get even heat and a delicious end product. Your house will smell fantastic, trust us.


  • Whole bone-in ham

For the glaze

  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 3 ounces maraschino cherry juice
  • 6 ounces pineapple juice
  • 6 ounces orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons cloves
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 ounces water


  1. With a sharp knife score the fat cap in a 1-inch wide, 1/4-inch deep diamond pattern. Place the ham, fat cap up, in a large roasting pan. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Set the roasting pan in the lower third of the oven and roast for 2 1/2 hours.
  4. Meanwhile, combine glaze ingredients and cook over medium-high heat until reduced and syrupy.
  5. After the ham has baked for 2 1/2 hours, brush it with some glaze. Continue roasting and brushing with the glaze every 15 minutes until the ham is glossy and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the ham (without touching the bone) registers 140 degrees Fahrenheit, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours longer. Remove from the oven and let rest 20 to 30 minutes before slicing.
Tender ham cut into pieces.
Tender Belly

How to cook ham in a slow cooker

Low and slow, baby. That’s almost always the way to go with ham if you have the time. This approach to ham is foolproof and even throws in some root beer to impart some birch-y, brown sugar goodness. Try tinkering with the recipe a bit by adding some of your favorite herbs or specialty salts. But you’ll be pleased as punch with the end results, even if you just stick to the incredibly simple yet satisfying recipe below.


  • 2 liters of root beer


  1. Put ham in the slow cooker and set to low.
  2. Pour in just enough root beer to cover the ham.
  3. Cook for 4 to 6 hours.
Cooking a ham over fire
Fiorella Macor / EyeEm / Getty Images

How to cook ham on a fire

Is there anything more primitive and wonderful than campfire cooking? Not really. And you don’t have to be camping to enjoy this one, you just need flames of some kind. Feel free to work a raw ham into this recipe but a precooked option might be easier, at least for the first go at it.


  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced


  1. Build up a decent campfire. Let it burn down low.
  2. Meanwhile, lay out two three-foot-long strips of tinfoil side by side, with plenty of overlap, and place the ham in the middle.
  3. Partially wrap the ham in foil, then spread on the mustard.
  4. Pour in the juice, then sprinkle onions all around.
  5. Tightly wrap the ham in foil, then move aside the coals. If possible, use a shovel to dig down about four inches into the soil, but this isn’t necessary.
  6. Place wrapped ham in the coal bed, then move the coals back atop and build the fire back up to a smaller two- or three-log size. Keep a modest fire burning for about 1 hour.
Southern sympathy baked ham
Southern Sympathy

How to cook ham in a smoker

Sure, many of the hams you buy at the store have already been smoked (at least the good ones have), but if you’ve got a smoker, you should definitely be using it to give your ham some extra flavor and color. It’s simple to do and trust us, you’ll wow your Christmas dinner guests when you bring out this platter of smoky ham perfection. This recipe is from Sunday Supper Movement.


  • Boneless ham (the recipe is scaled for a 4-pound ham so adjust your ingredients if yours is larger)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup bourbon


  1. Preheat your smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place a cooking rack on a baking sheet and place the ham on it. Be sure to remove all packaging and twine from the ham.
  3. Put the ham on the baking sheet into the smoker and cook for 3 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. About 15 minutes before the 3-hour cooking mark, put the brown sugar, maple syrup, and bourbon into a saucepan and simmer it for 10 minutes.
  5. Pour the glaze over the ham as soon as it comes out of the smoker and use a basting brush to cover the entire surface of the ham.
  6. Slice and serve.

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Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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