What is Canned Ham?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Canned ham is a cured,cooked ham that is safe to eat straight out of the can.
Canned ham is a cured,cooked ham that is safe to eat straight out of the can.

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.

Canned hams were popular during the Second World War.
Canned hams were popular during the Second World War.

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.

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


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.


@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.


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.


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.


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


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


what is the gel in canned hams?

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