What is Bone in Ham?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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 sandwich made from bone in ham.
A sandwich made from bone in ham.

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.

Pork shank is from the lower half of the leg.
Pork shank is from the lower half of the leg.

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.

Pork shank is taken from the lower half of the leg.
Pork shank is taken from the lower half of the leg.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Can I use a regular honey ham recipe with a bone in ham, or do I need to modify it? Also, when making bone in ham, what glaze should I use?

Thanks, this is my first time making it -- cross your fingers for me!


Yay -- it makes me so happy that you mentioned that you can use the bone to make soup after you eat the ham. So many people just chuck it, along with their leftovers, which is really wasteful.

Besides, you can get a truly amazing soup with a good ham bone. It's really easy if you know how. If you're interested, heres a really simple ham bone soup recipe that works great with the leftovers of a bone in ham:

Take the ham bone (leave a little meat on it when you carve it) and put it in a pot of water. Bring it to a boil and let it boil for about ten minutes. This gets rid of all the manky tasting stuff. Then drain off the water, take out the bone and meat, and put it aside.

Wash your pot thoroughly (or use another pot) and place your vegetables in it. I use carrots, potatoes, onions and beans, but that's just me. Really a lot of different things work, so you can tailor it for your own taste.

Put the bone in on top, and fill the pot with water. Let it simmer for anywhere from 2 to 5 hours, adding a little salt right near the end. You can also add ginger if you want a particularly warming soup.

And that's it! Voila, awesome ham bone soup.


So my family wants to try having a bone in ham this year (we're usually spiral ham people), and I somehow got chosen to be the ham specialist.

Two things I need to know: First, can somebody tell me how long to cook a whole bone in ham? I'm talking the full monty, the whole leg, minus the trotter. We have a huge oven, so I'm sure that we can do it; but I know that meat with a bone in it tends to take longer to cook, so I want to ask around before I start.

Second, can somebody tell me how to carve a bone in ham? I have never really carved anything with a bone in it of that size before, and I'm really not sure how to go about it.

Is there some special technique that I should know about?

Oh, and if anybody has a bone in ham recipe, I'm all ears -- I'll take all the help I can get!

Thanks all.


My mom is looking for a ham that has the bone in but cooks more like a roast and just "falls apart" after cooking, instead of being tight and easily sliced. Is she dreaming?

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