Canned ham is pork that has been cured, pressed into a can, and steam cooked. The result is a very stable, albeit somewhat bland, food product. Unlike conventional ham, the canned variety will keep in less than ideal conditions, and since it tends to be made from cheap ingredients, it is a cheap source of protein. One of the most famous forms is SPAM®, a product that is not technically ham since it integrates several different cuts of meat.
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!