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What is Partially Cooked Ham?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A partially cooked ham is a ham which has been heated while it is processed to eliminate the larvae of the trichina parasite, which causes trichinosis. Partially cooked hams still need to be cooked before they will be safe to eat, but the risk of food-borne illness is drastically reduced by purchasing a ham partially cooked and cooking it to a safe internal temperature. By contrast, it is also possible to purchased cooked hams, which are safe to eat as is, or raw hams, which must be cooked longer to reach the recommended internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius).

Trichinosis is an unpleasant parasitic infection which starts with the intestinal tract. When left unchecked, it can attack the central nervous system, causing severe damage and sometimes death. The leading cause of trichinosis is consumption of undercooked pork, followed by consuming undercooked game meat, as pigs and game carry the trichina worm which causes the disease. To eliminate the risk of trichinosis infection, it is extremely important to thoroughly cook pork.

This can be challenging with a big cut like a ham, because different parts of the meat cook at different rates, and it is possible for one section to remain underdone while others are safe to eat. To circumvent this problem, many pork and ham producers partially cook their meat before sale, so that consumers can be confident that the trichina larvae are killed, thereby ensuring that they will not pass the infection on.

A partially cooked ham is heated to a temperature of at least 137 degrees Fahrenheit (58 degrees Celsius), but not more than 148 degrees Fahrenheit (64 degrees Celsius). The internal temperature of the meat is tested in multiple places with a thermometer to ensure that the meat has been heated all the way through, and then the meat can be packaged and sold as a partially cooked ham.

Partially cooked ham needs to be refrigerated before cooking, to ensure that it does not attract harmful bacteria. When consumers are ready to cook the ham, they can prepare it using whatever they technique they prefer before baking it. Long, slow baking at lower temperatures yields a more juicy, flavorful ham, especially when the meat is regularly glazed during the cooking process. To test the temperature of the meat, insert a thermometer into the fleshiest part of the ham, well away from the bone, and allow the temperature reading to stabilize before confirming that the partially cooked ham has reached a safe temperature.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

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

Discussion Comments

By kentuckycat — On Oct 19, 2011

When you buy a whole ham, does it usually have one of the pop up thermometers in it like a turkey does, or do you have to use your own? If it doesn't have its own thermometer, are there any tricks for telling when it is done? I have a meat thermometer, I just don't want to have to poke a bunch of holes in my ham until the end when I think it should be done. Also, how many hours does it usually take per pound of ham?

Personally, I really like the precooked ham if I just want a quick meal. I actually think it tastes better straight out of the package compared to fried on the stove. There are a lot of good ham recipes you can make with the precooked cuts, too.

By cardsfan27 — On Oct 18, 2011

Am I right assuming that in the pig trichinosis doesn't have any negative effects? If the parasite hurt the pig, you would think it was noticeable and they wouldn't be able to sell the pig.

Along the same lines, are there any vaccinations or other techniques that can be used to kill some of the parasites before they pig is processed?

For someone who does eat one of the worms, what will happen? What are the symptoms, and what is needed to get rid of it?

By jmc88 — On Oct 17, 2011

@Emilski - As far as I have ever seen, you can only buy partially cooked ham in the large cuts like you mentioned. I'm sure there are a couple of reasons you don't find partially cooked pork cuts. For one, it would be up to the butcher to do it, which would be too time consuming and expensive. That cost would get passed onto consumers. Second, I figure the thought is that most people can check their own pork chop temperatures. Checking a big, bone-in ham can be difficult.

As for labeling, I know the brand I always buy does mention it with the product description on the front of the ham. I couldn't tell you if they all do, though. Obviously, you should cook the ham to the proper temperature regardless, but if it doesn't specifically say the ham is partially cooked, I would try to be extra careful.

By Emilski — On Oct 16, 2011

Interesting. I don't know that I've ever noticed partially cooked ham at the store. Is it usually just sold as large cuts like Thanksgiving hams (not sure what the exact term is), or is it common to be able to find cuts of pork that have been partially cooked? Maybe I have bought it before without realizing it.

Is the ham usually marked on the label as being partially cooked, or is it just part of the small print?

If you have to cook the ham anyway, is the whole point to get rid of as much Trichinosis as possible with the idea that some people might not cook their ham all the way, or are there other benefits to the flavor or easy of cooking?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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