How to cook a ham: How to prepare and boil gammon

Everything you need to know about cooking the perfect ham, including how to boil, how to glaze and roast too.
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  • Ham is a real treat, and much easier to cook than you may think. A whole cooked ham is perfect for a special occasion be it Christmas, Easter or Mother's Day!

    Whether you’re cooking a ham for Christmas dinner or a weekly Sunday lunch, our how to cook a ham step-by-step guide makes it easy. Home-cooked ham is cheaper than buying it sliced and ready-cooked – and it is much tastier too! It makes a perfect centrepiece as a Christmas or buffet party table and the best thing is that all your roast gammon leftovers can be used over and over in sandwiches, ham pies, pasta bakes and ham soups to name a few.

    What is the best joint of ham to roast?

    When cooking ham the best cut to use is a gammon joint. Although a cheaper fattier bacon joint will also work. Gammon is the premium joint from the hind leg of a pig, whereas bacon joints are slightly cheaper and come from the front legs or shoulder. Both have been cured and are available smoked or unsmoked, choose whichever flavour you prefer. Around Christmas time, you may also notice other options such as honey-cured of maple-cured gammon joints on offer.

    Larger gammon joints sometimes have the bone in but if buying from a butcher you can ask them to remove the bone for easier carving, smaller joints are usually boned, rolled and tied into a neat shape. Buy a piece of gammon that has the skin on, as you will remove it during the cooking process.

    Avoid buying gammon that has added water as the ham will shrink once cooked. We would also always advise buying the best quality meat that you can afford. This will ensure that the aminal has the best life and invariably tastes the best.

    Should I boil ham before roasting it?

    To ensure the ham stays moist, it’s best to boil it for half of the cooking time and then finish the cooking in the oven. It is also possible to boil ham for the entirety of the cooking time. But we find ham cooked this way is best served cold.

    To boil the ham put it into a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and reduce to a gentle simmer. At this point, you can remove any scum that floats to the surface before adding in additional flavourings such as herbs, spices and vegetables if using. It is very important to keep an eye on the water and to make sure that it’s not boiling vigorously as this will cause the meat to turn tough.

    Should I soak my ham before cooking it?

    Some gammon and bacon are pork cuts that have been salt-cured. If this is the case it is necessary to soak the meat for a few hours before cooking to remove excess salt. However, most supermarket gammon and bacon is mildly cured so doesn’t require soaking. If buying from a butcher make sure to ask if it needs to be soaked and they will be able to advise.

    When buying a gammon joint from the supermarket look at the packet. If it doesn’t recommend soaking it’s best not to as it will cause it to lose its flavour.

    How to soak a gammon or bacon joint

    To soak a gammon joint put the ham into a large pan and pour over cold water. If your ham is floating to the surface weight it down with something heavy such as a bottle of wine or a smaller pan. Leave the meat to soak for 2-3 hours or overnight before discarding the water and returning the ham to the pan to boil it.

    Toasted piccalilli sandwich

    What is the best way to cook a ham?

    The best way to cook ham is to first par-boil it in gently simmering water before removing the skin and roasting in the oven covered in foil. For the final 30 mins of cooking time, it’s advisable to remove the foil and glaze the ham. A glaze will give the ham an attractive finish and added flavour.

    In Larousse Gastronomique, which acts as our go-to cookery bible, they advise first boiling and then roasting the gammon joint. They recommend “A combination of boiling for half of the time and then baking gives excellent results.” Boiling ham is a great way to cook the joint without drying it out while making it tender. It is also possible to cook the ham fully by boiling it and serve once cooled. However, the addition of roasting is an opportunity to glaze the ham so it looks and tastes extra splendid.

    How long should I cook my ham for?

    The cooking time will vary demanding on the weight of your meat. To calculate the cooking time of the gammon weigh the joint. A boneless gammon joint will require about 40 mins of cooking for every kg plus 30 mins. So a 1.5kg gammon joint will require 1hr 30mins of cooking in total. We boil the ham in very gently simmering water and set the oven to 190C/Gas 5 to cook our ham.

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    Can you overcook ham?

    You absolutely can overcook ham. An overcooked ham will be dry. However, if you calculate the correct cooking time this should not happen. Keep an eye on the ham while it cooks. If you notice that the ham starts to look dry or burnt then remove it from the oven. If you have a meat thermometer you can also check the internal temperature. Take a reading from the thickest part of the meat. The ham is cooked when the temperature reaches 63C/145F.

    How to glaze ham

    A glaze can be added when cooking ham in the oven. It will give your ham a gorgeous sheen and add a lovely sweetness to the flavour. We like to add the glaze for the last 30 mins of the cooking time. As glazes have a high sugar content they can burn and taste bitter if overcooked. To glaze a ham you first need to peel off the skin. Use a sharp knife to score a diamond pattern in the fat. You can then stud this with cloves if you like. You can then coat the fat with your chosen glaze.

    Downton Abbey's decadent Christmas hamHoney can make a lovely glaze, or you might fancy something more exotic such as marmalade. Alternatively, like in Downton Abbey’s decadent Christmas ham recipe, pictured above, your might favour a champagne glaze! Just brush the glaze you choose over the meat and return to the oven for the final 30 mins of the cooking time.

    For something a little more special GoodtoKnow Food Director Elisa Roche has a gorgeously decadent recipe for a ham glaze. It’s ideal for special occasions and would make a mean centrepiece at Christmas table. Elisa explains “I like to pour equal parts Don Papa spiced rum, dark brown tightly packed Muscovado sugar and water into a small metal saucepan with cloves, orange peel and a cinnamon stick. Cook on a low simmer till it has reduced and become thicker for about 15mins. Start glazing the ham 30 mins before the end of its cooking time. Repeat at least three times for ultimate glaze”. With thin glazes, it’s good to reapply them during the cooking time to make sure they evenly cover the ham.

    How to cook a ham:


    • 1.5kg bacon or gammon joint
    • 1 onion, cut into wedges
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 8 black peppercorns
    • 3tbsp runny honey
    • 1tbsp Dijon mustard