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Canned Ham Unveiled: Your Ultimate Guide to Preserved Pork Delights

Editorial Team
Updated May 16, 2024
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What Is Canned Ham?

Canned ham, a staple in pantries worldwide, offers a practical solution for those seeking a long-lasting protein source. This form of pork undergoes a curing process, is neatly pressed into a can, and is then steam-cooked to ensure preservation. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), canned ham can be shelf-stable for up to two years when stored properly. 

While it may not boast the rich flavors of traditional ham, its convenience and affordability make it a popular choice. In fact, SPAM®, a brand often synonymous with canned ham, has sold over 8 billion cans since its introduction in 1937. Despite its name, SPAM® isn't pure ham; it's a blend of various pork cuts, contributing to its accessible price point and widespread appeal as a versatile ingredient in numerous cuisines.

Most commonly, canned ham is mixed with other ingredients to ensure that they do not go to waste. These ingredients are also cheaper than ham, a cut of meat from the back leg of a pig that is in high demand since it is flavorful, rich, and highly versatile. To make canned ham, these ingredients are de-boned and mixed with desired spices before being pressed into the can and steam cooked. Often, gelatin is added to help retain the juices and flavor of the meat.

There are two different types of canned ham. The first is shelf stable canned ham, which is designed to keep for up to two years in optimal conditions, and sometimes even longer. Ideally, it should be stored in a cool dry place at room temperature until it is eaten. However, it has been known to withstand temperature extremes such as very humid tropical weather, which is why SPAM® became such a popular product during the Second World War, when other sources of protein were sometimes difficult to find.

The other form is refrigerated canned ham, which is meant to be kept under refrigeration until it is used. Typically, this type is less shelf stable, with a shelf life of six to nine months. Once removed from the can, excess ham should be refrigerated in a fresh container, to avoid the possibility of contamination.

Because canned ham is cooked, it is perfectly safe to eat straight out of the can. Sandwiches made with it, for example, are a regional treat in many areas of the world. The product can also be heated, leading to food offerings such as deep fried canned ham, or canned ham tossed with a stir fry. Since the product typically contains pork, it is not a kosher or halal food. In regions with large Jewish or Muslim populations, canned poultry or beef may be found instead, to fill the niche that this product would normally occupy.

Types of Canned Ham

There are two basic types of canned ham. Shelf-stabled canned ham is the most common. This means that you can store it on your pantry shelves for up to two years, making it a great option for people who want to stock up in case of an emergency. Shelf-stable canned ham comes in one of two designs. Some are pear-shaped cans that have a flat bottomand a round top. Others are pullman cans that are larger than the pear-shaped options. Shelf-stable canned ham in sterilized during processing to ensure it remains safe to eat. Once opened, these cans must be refrigerated and should be consumed within 24-48 hours.

The other type of canned ham is far less common because it must be refrigerated even if it has not been opened yet. Even when refrigerated, the shelf life of this type of canned ham is only 6-9 months. Once opened, you also need to be sure to transfer any uneaten portions to another container. Like shelf-stable options, refrigerated canned ham should be eaten within 24-48 hours once opened.

Popular Brands of Canned Ham

There are several brands of canned ham that are popular, and SPAM is probably the one that everybody knows best. The popular brand was invented in 1937 and has been a staple in millions of households since then. It's known for its solid form, salty taste, and meat-like texture, although a bit more oily than most other types of meat. The pop top is easy to peel off and the pre-cooked meat can be eaten right out of the can, making it a popular option for survivalists or people who enjoy long camping trips. There are several other popular types of canned ham as well, though.

  • Armor Canned Ham – Sold in 5-pound cans, Armor Golden Star ham is an excellent choice for large families who need something that's easy to store and easy to cook up. In fact, the meat has become so popular that it is also now sold in 3.5-pound and 8-pound sizes with a zip-top opening. The vacuum-sealed containers can be stored in the refrigerator for as long as a year and leftovers can be stores for up to one week.
  • Danish Canned Ham – Also known as DAK, Danish canned ham is similar to SPAM, although not as salty. When heated, it gets very tender. The secret is the gelatin that DAK allows to penetrate the meat, which makes it easier to season. It is also very easy to prepare and has a pull tab opening so that you can prepare it nearly anywhere.
  • Hormal Smoked Canned Ham – A brand you probably already know, Hormel makes a smoked canned ham that is known for its high-quality taste. The texture is sometimes a bit more rubber-like than some people prefer, but the taste often makes it worth it, especially after it is cooked. The large ham is in a pear-shaped container and can be stored in the pantry for as long as two years.

How To Cook Canned Ham

There are several different ways that you can make a canned ham, but the easiest is usually to bake it. All you need to do once you open the can is drizzle it with your favorite ham glaze and warm it up in the oven until the drizzle is carmelized and the ham is golden brown. Some canned hams even come with their own sauce, so there is even less work for you to do. Consider the type of ham if you are making your own sauce, though. For example, hickory honey varieties are already sweet, so adding more honey will overpower it.

If you don't want to bake your ham, consider turning it into ham steaks. Slice it, fry it, and add your favorite sides. Ham steaks are an excellent brunch item that pairs well with eggs, pancakes, and toast. Finally, you don't need to eat the ham by itself at all. If you prefer, you can simply use it as an ingredient in another recipe. Are you making an omelet? Dice up your canned ham to use as a filler. It's also great for soups, casseroles, and a range of other recipes that call for diced ham. Using it as an ingredient is especially helpful if you have a cheaper canned ham that doesn't fare well on its own. Don't be afraid to experiment. There are dozens of ways that you can used canned ham in your recipes!

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Editorial Team
By Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.
Discussion Comments
By kylee07drg — On Jan 24, 2013

I make Spam sandwiches on nights when I don't feel like cooking an elaborate meal. I do like to dust the Spam slices with flour and fry them for a few minutes in vegetable oil to get a nice brown coating, though.

I just fry them until they are a bit crispy on either side. I eat them either with toasted French bread or plain wheat bread.

They taste great with either black-eyed peas or lima beans. I cook the vegetables with a bit of onion and bacon for extra flavor, and they complement the Spam so well.

By giddion — On Jan 23, 2013

@Perdido – You could always buy reduced sodium canned ham. You can even find Spam with reduced sodium.

I like to buy the lower fat and lower sodium version. It's already cooked, so all I have to do is slice it and eat it. I don't worry about eating it a couple of times a week, since it doesn't have too much fat and salt in it.

By Perdido — On Jan 22, 2013

I have a feeling that baked canned ham probably contains a lot of sodium. Usually, anything that is canned has to be preserved with tons of salt in order to last a long time. That's why I avoid canned foods.

By orangey03 — On Jan 21, 2013

My mother used to buy a canned honey ham for Christmas dinner. All she would have to do was heat it up in the oven.

She didn't have to worry about marinating it or making sure that it was fully cooked. She could concentrate on making the vegetables and casseroles instead.

I think that canned ham is a great option for anyone who gets really stressed when cooking for a crowd. The cans usually have a key that you turn to slowly peel the metal back from the top, and then, you just pop the ham onto a baking pan.

By anon227886 — On Nov 06, 2011

I would like to have a better description on the contents in canned ham and spam.

By anon59930 — On Jan 11, 2010

Aspic: the fatty, gelatinous juices produced in the cooking process.

By anon56386 — On Dec 14, 2009

what is the gel in canned hams?

Editorial Team
Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.
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