Nov 16, 2012

How to Use a Whole Ham

Cooked ham with the bone in.
At this time of year, ham is often available for an excellent price - often just 99 cents a pound! But too many of don't take advantage of such sales because we can't imagine eating sliced ham for weeks on end. Happily, there are other things to do with ham! Here are some ideas.

First - What Kind of Ham?

It's important to differentiate between pressed ham and real ham. For years, I thought I didn't like ham because all I'd ever tasted was pressed ham - that is, "ham" made from miscellaneous bits and pieces of the pig and pressed into shape (usually an egg or half egg). Trust me; that stuff tastes completely different from real ham, which is the upper portion of the rear leg of a pig.

For the best ham, purchase with the bone in. You may think you're paying for bone you will never use, but not only is buying it with the bone the best deal, but I'll show you how to use the bone to add great flavor in cooking.

Whether or not you choose to purchase the ham pre-cooked or not is a matter of personal preference.

The ham bone and drippings are valuable flavor enhancers.

How to Get 8 or More Dinners for 4 from a Single Ham

Not long ago, I purchased a 16 lb. ham for $16. I got more than 8 meals for 4 adults from that ham. Here's how:

Meal 1: Sliced ham and in-season vegetables.

Meal 2: Scramble made with large amounts of chopped ham.

Meal 3: Split pea and ham soup.

Meal 4: The split pea and ham soup was so tasty, we had it again the following night.

Meal 5: Omelets with plenty of diced ham.

Meal 6: Casserole with ham chunks in it.

Meal 7: Mac and cheese with diced ham. (The kids love it!)

Meal 8: Split pea and ham soup, which I froze and we ate several months later.

Bonus Meal 9: Soup made with pork stock.

Other Ideas

There are endless ways to use up left over ham. Check out the ham recipes at (they also have a special section for "leftover ham") or at to get just a quick overview of the possibilities, which include sandwiches, salads, soups, casseroles, hash, stir fry, jambalaya, and bakes.
If you bake your own ham, be sure to keep the drippings in the pan. Use them to make gravy, or add them to the water when you cook soup. (You can freeze the drippings for later use.)

Since you purchased ham with the bone in, be sure to take advantage of the bone. Remove as much of the edible meat from the bone as you can, then dump the bone and everything else left attached it in a pot. Fill the pot with water and simmer for 1 to 2 hours. (If you like, you may also add salt, pepper, and veggies like celery and carrots.) Place the stock in the refrigerator overnight, then skim off any fat that rises to the top.

Use this stock to make soup (instead of using water or store bought stock), or use it in place of store bought broth. If you make split pea and ham soup, you can dump the bone into the soup (even after making stock) to help flavor the soup. I also usually find that after boiling the bone for a while, more edible meat comes off of it. (You may also freeze the bone for later use.)

Canned ham.

Freezing and Canning Ham

Your family probably won't mind a variety of ham dishes for a few days, but chances are they won't want 8 or more days of ham. So plan on freezing some of it.
For easiest use later, it's a good idea to cut the meat the way you'd use it for cooking, then freeze it in sizes suitable for those dishes. For example, I usually use ham in chunks or dice, so I'd cut the meat accordingly, then put, say, 2 cups in a freezer bag, since that's what our favorite dishes call for. For best results, remove as much air from the bag as possible and use the meat within 6 months.

You can also freeze stock made from the ham bone. Hard containers usually are easier for this (just make sure they are freezer proof), but bags work fine, too, as long as someone can hold the bag upright while you pour liquid into it.

Also consider canning some ham. It's tasty this way and is the ultimate in convenience; there's no need to thaw the meat before using it, and the meat is more tender, too. To learn how to can ham, check out this tutorial.

Finally, when you find ham on sale, it's just fine to freeze a whole ham for later use.

Featured at: Homestead Abundance Tuesdays #1


  1. Hi, Kristina, I was going to feature your post on this week's Homestead Abundance Link up as one of two featured posts from last week, but I'm unable to do so because you didn't link back to the link up at in your post. Your post had the second highest number of clicks.

    I did notice that you have a link to Joybilee Farm in your sidebar. Thanks for that. If you could just link to the blog post within the copy of your post I would be able to feature you, too.

    This will increase the traffic to your blog post and will allow me to also feature your post on my Facebook page.


  2. Chris, I guess I misunderstood the instructions! Sure I will put the link in the post itself :)

  3. I have several tricks, in addition to what you've mentioned. I learned to do this so my hams would fit in my crock pot, but learned that it stretched my ham even farther, without "depriving" us of plenty of ham.

    When I buy a ham - shank or butt, I have the butcher cut 2 slices, about 1" thick for "ham steaks". I also have him cut off the end into "soup chunks".(The shank portion will give you more soup pieces as it sticks out farther.) The butcher will probably know what you're talking about as when I ask mine to nip the end off, he asks ME if I want it cut into soup pieces. Depending on how big the end piece is, I then have several nice size pieces of ham/bone to flavor some soup.

    When I get home, I rinse off the ham pieces (to get the pieces of bone fragments off of them and drain them> I repackage all of the meat I'm not using right away so it doesn't freezer burn the meat. I place about 3 or 4 nice size pieces in a zip bag and freeze them. I can get 2 or 3 bags of meat/bone this way (like a cut up ham hock). I also will wrap the steaks in butcher paper (I'd vacuum pack it if I had a machine to do it.) If I'm not using it right away, I do the same with the main piece of meat. Then I do about the same thing you do with the main portion. Slices for dinner, sandwiches for lunch, soups, omelets, fritatas, quiches and the bone goes in a pot of BEANS! (with cornbread on the side. YUM)

    Have you shared a good spit pea recipe? I'm not too fond of the one I have and I think it's the recipe because I normally like split pea soup.

  4. Darlene, great ideas there! Here's my split pea soup recipe; I find it's really important to use a fresh ham bone (or flavorful stock in lieu of the water) and great ham or pork belly for the meat: Bring 2 cups split peas and 2 quarts water to well cover to a boil. Simmer 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to stand for 60 min. Add a ham bone, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 1 cup sliced celery, 1/4 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 cup sliced carrot rounds into the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hrs, till peas are soft. Remove the bone and add some diced meat and heat. Season with salt and pepper. I always think it's better the next day :)

  5. I just now saw that you replied to my comment (it got lost in my blog feeder).

    Thanks so much for the recipe - especially since it's the very busy holiday season! I just happen to have a hambone from Christmas that I need to do something with and I hear this soup calling my name. And I'm thinking since there's no potatoes in it, I can freeze leftovers. Since there's just me, this will make too much soup, but Mr. Freezer is my friend - as long as it's not potatoes in soup! lol

  6. Darlene, yes you can definitely freeze the leftovers. I often whip up a batch and freeze it for easy meals later.