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What is Irish Ham?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Irish ham tends to refer to ham manufactured in Belfast or Limerick. It usually is part or most of a leg of pork, which may be deboned. It’s not hard to understand why many people sing its praises, even ordering it from Ireland for the authentic taste. Unlike other types of hams, Irish ham is brined or pickled, then smoked over peat, or over juniper. This gives it a spicy, evergreen taste that many find simply delicious.

You may be able to find Irish ham imported in specialty markets, particularly if they import from Ireland or the UK. On occasions, particularly around Easter and Christmas, butcher stores may order a few, or you can talk to your butcher about ordering one. This type of ham does take a little work to prepare. It must be soaked overnight prior to being baked. If you are buying a tiny portion of Irish ham and not a full one, you can usually omit this soaking process. Though cured and smoked, the ham is raw, so it absolutely must be cooked fully before serving it.

Though in the US, spiral sliced hams and the like tend toward garnishing or basting a ham with sweet flavors, most recipes for Irish ham tend toward savory sauces for basting. You’ll find numerous recipes, many of them including beer, mustard, and/or whisky. You can certainly use a sweeter basting sauce like one containing brown sugar or honey if that is your preference.

If you’re having difficulty finding Irish ham you can always turn to the Internet, probably the best source for purchasing them. They can be expensive; expect to pay about five US dollars (USD) a pound for them. Alternately, though you may miss the peat smoke and juniper flavor, most country style hams will make a good substitute for the Irish ham. Country hams and Irish hams are somewhat labor intensive to prepare since they do require overnight soaking in most cases. Some also complain that the brining process leaves the hams too salty.

If properly soaked, the ham should be less salty in taste, and serving it in thin slices can help reduce its overall strong flavor. It can also help to serve the ham with water rich foods like fruit. Though more savory flavors tend to be preferred with this type of ham, those who don’t like a salty flavor may better prefer the ham if it is garnished with fruit like pineapple.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon354960 — On Nov 12, 2013

We always order ours from Food Ireland. My mom always makes our Thanksgiving dinner with an Irish twist. So Irish Ham is a must and cabbage!

By letshearit — On Aug 15, 2011

My mother has been in the habit of giving us huge pieces of leftover Irish ham after a family dinner. She always seems to make too much, though we aren't complaining. There are lots of recipes you can use Irish ham in after the fact.

Our family likes to use the leftover Irish ham in a cabbage stew the day after, or if we are feeling lazy, it tastes great in a sandwich with a bit of Dijon mustard.

As far as the Irish ham and cabbage stew goes, there are numerous recipes online, but I would recommend one that includes adding yellow mustard into the mix. The yellow mustard gives the stew just a bit of a bite that I really love.

By manykitties2 — On Aug 14, 2011

My mom always used to put together a great meal for Thanksgiving. One of her favorite things to make was Irish ham. I enjoyed the ham, but for myself it was the side dishes she paired with it that really made the meal what it was.

If you are thinking about making Irish ham some of the best things you can serve alongside it are fried apples, Irish potatoes, and boiled cabbage with melted butter on it.

My mouth always watered when my mom would finish setting up her table spread. There is something amazing about fried apples and Irish ham paired together. It seems like the apples really compliment the hams salty taste.

By wizup — On Aug 14, 2011

In my opinion Irish ham should be salty and savory. This recipe was handed down to me by my great grandmother and it's one of my family's favorite meals no matter what the occasion.

After you've soaked the ham overnight, you'll need to pat it dry and then season it with some fresh salt. Wrap the ham in cooking cloth, put it in a pot, cover it with cold water and bring it to a boil. Remove the pot from the heat and let it stand for about thirty minutes.

Repeat the boiling step one more time then allow the ham to cool enough to handle. Once it's cooled, remove the cloth and place the meat in another pan. This time add cracked black pepper, bay leaves, a sliced carrot, turnip, onion, leek and three cups of dark beer. Cook the ham on low heat for about an hour turning it several times until it's done.

By goldensky — On Aug 14, 2011

@Sierra02 - I've poached ham in hay before and you're right it does come out less salty. The technique is really pretty simple and you can alter the flavor by using a different type of hay or any combination of herbs and spices. I used timothy hay, but alfalfa works just as well and whatever you do, don't use straw.

All you do is lay a bed of fresh hay in the bottom of a covered pot or dutch oven then place your cured ham on top and cover with more hay, about an inch thick all the way around but not packed tightly.

Fill the pot with enough water to cover the ham and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the ham is done. I cooked mine for one hour and fifteen minutes but the timing will depend on how many pounds your ham is. I served mine with cabbage, white beans and cornbread.

By Sierra02 — On Aug 13, 2011

I read somewhere once that if you cook Irish ham in a bed of hay it comes out less salty. I guess the hay absorbs the salt and leaves behind a fresh woodsy flavor. I remember the whole idea of cooking with hay was quite interesting to me, but for the life of me, I can't remember how it was done. Maybe someone here will know and post the recipe for the rest of us.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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