Ham is a cut of meat from the rear leg of a pig. It is sometimes sold with the bones of the leg left in as “bone in ham.” This cut tends to be more juicy and flavorful, although it will also have a longer cooking time. After the ham is cooked, the bone can be used in cooking projects like soups and stews for extra flavoring. Some butchers offer bone in ham, and the cut tends to be especially popular during the holiday season, leading grocery stores to carry it as well.
A bone in ham can come in a number of forms. A classic one can be quite large and extremely heavy, since it consists of the entire upper fleshy portion of the leg, with the ankle and foot removed. A bone in ham is also available as a pork butt, meaning that it is the upper portion of the leg. Pork butt tends to be more fatty, and also slightly more difficult to cut, since it includes the pelvic joint. A shank end is from the lower half of the leg, and it will be leaner and easier to handle.
In some cases, when a ham is cut in half, a section called the “center slice” is removed. The center slice is a particularly tender, flavorful cut of meat, and it tends to be highly sought after. Pork butt and shank cuts which include the center slice are known as “halves.” A butt or shank marked as a “portion” will not typically include the center slice.
Once ham is divided into cuts, it can be left whole with the bone in, or it can be further processed. A wide assortment of ham cuts can be made with the bone removed, and they tend to be smaller and more manageable. Leaving the bone in, however, will yield a meat with a more complex, rich flavor. A bone in ham also has a substantial amount of meat, making it a good choice for a large gathering.
A number of forms of bone in ham are available. Fresh ham is exactly what it sounds like, ham without any cure applied. Fresh ham needs to be kept under refrigeration, and it will need to be used promptly. You can also purchase brined or salt cured ham, and smoked hams. Brined ham is also known as “wet cured” or “city” ham, and it tends to have a mild flavor and color with a hint of sweetness from sugar in the brine. Dry cured or “country” bone in ham will be more salty and assertively flavored.