Only yesterday you bought some tasty ham varieties for your dinner party. Fresh and delicious, everyone loved the canapes you made with it. However, only 10 people turned up— instead of 15— and you had lots of ham leftovers. So you are asking yourself: “How long does ham last?” and, understandably, “How do I store ham to keep it safe and flavorful?”
Ham is one of the most beloved pantry staples all over the world. Lots of people would not even dream of going without it! Pizza, sandwiches, omelets, quiche, baked goods— all these delicious dishes and snacks are made much better with some tasty ham.
Over the years, I have hosted lots of dinner parties and holiday dinners. I am of the opinion that you can never go wrong with some ham in your entrees or main course. Its storage can, though, seem difficult to figure out at first. I compiled a full report of my experiences storing leftover ham. Here is all you need to know to be successful!
What is ham, exactly?
Ham is such a normal food item in our pantry and kitchen that we often do not pause to give some thought to where it came from and how. If you are the least bit curious or concerned about your health and well-being, though, you must care about your tasty ham’s origin and process. So what is it?
Essentially, ham is meat. Pork, to be exact. The ham you have in your pantry— at least, if you bought one of the more traditional and natural versions— is pork that used to be part of a leg cut, in which case it might also include the leg bone. It can also be artificially created.
Ham is not raw meat, though! It has been cooked or cured using wet or dry techniques. This both means that it is processed meat and that it keeps for longer than if it were raw.
Interesting fact: because of the ease of its curing process, ham is mentioned in ancient writings from cultures as far apart as Rome and the China of the Antiquity.
Different types of ham
In the Antiquity, people were quite limited in the types of ham that they could get and how they could store it. Nowadays, however, we have a huge variety of options— so wide, in fact, that we might not know what product to pick!
These are the most common ham types:
- Dry cured ham: This refers to the ham’s “dry” method of production, involving salt as a curing agent. This is, typically, the sort of ham you think about when you say “Mediterranean”.
- Wet cured ham: As opposed to dry cured ham, wet cured ham is processed over several days by soaking in brine. The brine might also be injected into the meat.
- Smoked ham: This method of curing involves hanging the meat over a wood fire and using the smoke to cure it. It is one of the oldest methods!
Nutritional profile of your favorite ham
Ham has both advantages and disadvantages in the realm of nutrition. On the good side:
- It is a good source of protein! A ham portion of 3 ounces gives you 21 grams of protein— about half of your daily recommended intake.
- Ham contains niacin (Vitamin B3) and Zinc. Both are nutrients that are crucial to your body’s functioning.
- Unfortunately, processed ham contains lots of sodium: over half of the daily intake you should have. A diet that is consistently high in sodium can make you develop higher chances of cardiac disease or attacks.
- Preservatives: most cured ham producers use artificial preservatives that can be harmful to your health.
What types of ham can you freeze?
Now that you have gone to the grocery store and have picked your favorite ham product to take home, you need to start thinking about how to store it. One of the most common and accessible options for ham storage is the freezer.
With the ham type guide you have already read, you know how to tell different types apart as well as how they are produced. However, it can be a little confusing when you just learn it.
Luckily, there is little you cannot freeze, these days. Almost all ham can be frozen! Dry cured ham? Check! Wet-cured ham? Check! Smoked ham? Check!
You can freeze both a whole ham and its diced version. Slices of ham can also be frozen, though— because of their frailty— it is not always advisable (if you already know you are going to freeze them, try to choose slices that are thicker).
The only type of ham that cannot be frozen is canned ham. This is both because of the packaging and because of the artificial products involved in the canning process. However, after you take the ham out of the can, you can freeze it normally!
Again: all ham can be frozen except for canned ham. Be careful with the slices.
How to pack ham for storage
Packing food items for storage can be quite an inconvenient hassle. Choosing if and when to use aluminum foil, plastic or saran wrap, different types and materials of containers. No wonder you want to know how to pack something as precious as ham for storage.
It is not hard, though! You will find the process much easier than packing many other food items. Do you want to know how to freeze ham? Follow these steps!
If you have sliced, diced, or otherwise portioned ham:
- Separate the portions and place them on a tray.
- Wrap each individual portion in plastic wrap or, if you are willing to use it, aluminum foil.
- Place the pieces in a resealable bag.
- Push all the air out of the bag (the idea is to create a vacuum environment) and close it.
- Ready to go!
If you want to pack that whole ham you bought for storage:
- If your ham has been opened (for example, if you had a large number of leftovers), treat it as if it were a slice. Wrap it in wrap or foil and put it in a resealable bag.
- If you are going to store your ham for less than a month and it is still unopened, leave it in the original packaging— just make sure there are not any holes or leaks.
- If you want to pack your unopened ham and store it for longer than one month, take it out of the original packaging and wrap it tightly in aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Make sure that there is no air left inside the wrapping and add as many layers as you can.
I know, I know: it sounds complicated. However, when you get some practice, it will become second nature to you. You can always bookmark this page for guidance on ham packing and storage.
How long is ham good for?
Now that you have a complete guide on how to pack your ham to achieve successful storage, it is time to get to the storage time periods. It is important that you follow this guide because not doing so can mean that your ham— like any meat— goes bad and gives you food poisoning
First of all: you do not want to leave ham on the counter for longer than two hours— it does not matter what type. Treat it just like you would any other meat.
If you want to store your ham or cooked ham in the refrigerator:
- Follow the wrapping instructions above and place the ham in an airtight container. How long does cooked ham last in the fridge? It will keep for up to four days.
- Follow the instructions above and, if you can, place the ham in a container that is airtight.
- Place in your 0° C freezer, near the back. This is where the temperature is most stable.
How long can you freeze ham before it goes bad?
- If you did everything right and your freezer’s temperature is stable, your ham will last indefinitely. However, just like any other meat, it will only keep its flavor, texture, and quality for up to 4 months.
Pack, freeze, defrost, enjoy!
Now that you know how to pack and store your ham correctly, you will enjoy lots of tasty and safe dishes whenever you want! How long does ham last? You have all the answers!