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Easter Dinner: Bourbon Glazed Ham

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How did serving ham for Easter become a custom? Mediterranean celebrations, including the Jewish Passover, traditionally call for lamb at spring feasts. However, in northern Europe, pigs were the primary protein. Pigs were slaughtered in the fall and the meat was salted, smoked, and cured over the winter. The resulting hams were ready to eat in the spring. Salting and smoking the meat was a means to preserve it in the days before refrigeration. 

Ham 101

Fresh Ham

The word ham itself refers to the back leg of a pig. Hams can be fresh, cured, or cured and smoked. Fresh ham is essentially a pork roast on the bone. It’s simply the upper hind leg of a pig, not processed, cured, or smoked. In the meat market, fresh hams look like (and are) raw pork. Cooked fresh ham tastes like a really moist pork loin.

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City Hams

Cured hams are sometimes labeled “fully cooked,” “ready-to-eat,” or “heat-and-serve.” Also known as “city ham,” they are wet-cured, meaning that they are submerged in or injected with brine, then smoked and sold fully cooked for you to glaze and warm at home.

They may be eaten as is, but are more often heated to an internal temperature of 140°F for fuller flavor. These are the spiral-sliced varieties that grace holiday tables. Wet-cured ham is deep rosy pink in color with a moist, slightly chewy texture.

A whole cured ham is the entire back leg of a hog and weighs about 20 pounds. You’ll often see these hams in the meat department around the holidays. Half hams are also available and come as butt end and shank end. The butt end comes from the upper thigh and has a rounded end, whereas the shank end comes from the lower portion of the leg and has a pointed or tapered end. Look for bone-in cured hams over boneless cured for more flavor (and a bone for the soup pot).

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Country Ham

Country Ham is salted and smoked. There are uncooked and cooked country hams. Uncooked country hams are salted, smoked, and hung to cure. Nowadays, more and more folks are enjoying thinly sliced handcrafted uncooked country ham much in the same way as Italian prosciutto or Spanish Serrano.

Cooked country hams have been salted, smoked, hung to cure – then scrubbed, soaked, and boiled to rehydrate the meat. One of my favorite country hams is made by “Nancy the Ham Lady” of Newsom’s Country Ham. She was one of the featured stories in my most recent cookbook, Secrets of the Southern Table.

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Happy Spring!

I hope you enjoy this recipe for Bourbon Baked Ham. Happy Easter to those who celebrate. Best wishes to you and your family.

Bon Appétit Y’all! 

Virginia Willis


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Bourbon Baked Ham

Servings: 12


  • 1 tablespoon canola oil plus more for the pan
  • Half of a semi-boneless ready-to-eat ham (5 to 6 pounds), preferably shank end (see below)
  • 1 cup honey preferably tupelo, orange blossom, or sweet clover
  • 1/2 cup sorghum cane syrup, or molasses
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard


  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush a large roasting pan with some of the oil.
  • To prepare the ham, remove the skin and fat. Using a sharp knife make 1/4-inch-deep cuts in the meat in a diamond pattern. Place the ham in the prepared roasting pan. Meanwhile, to make the glaze, heat the honey, sorghum, bourbon, orange juice, and mustard in a saucepan over medium heat until melted and combined.
  • Pour over the prepared ham the warm bourbon glaze. Transfer to the oven and cook, basting every 30 minutes or so with the glaze on the bottom of the pan, for 2 to 21/2 hours, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest portion registers 140°F. If the ham starts to overbrown, loosely tent with aluminum foil to prevent it from burning.
  • Remove from the oven to a rack. Tent the ham loosely with aluminum foil and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute.
  • Transfer to a cutting board, carve, and serve.


Serving: 0 | Carbohydrates: 0g | Protein: 0g | Fat: 0g | Saturated Fat: 0g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0g | Trans Fat: 0g | Cholesterol: 0mg | Sodium: 0mg | Potassium: 0mg | Fiber: 0g | Sugar: 0g | Vitamin A: 0IU | Vitamin C: 0mg | Calcium: 0mg | Iron: 0mg

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained chef Virginia Willis has foraged for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and executed the food styling for a Super Bowl commercial seen by over 160 million people. Virginia is a Beard award-winning cookbook author, chef, content creator, and motivational speaker. She has lost 65# and kept it off for more than 3 years. Because of her own health journey, she is a cheerleader for others seeking to make lifestyle changes to feel healthier and happier. Her experience inspired her to launch “Good and Good for You” a lifestyle brand rooted in culinary that shares health and wellness content through digital channels; public speaking; and print media. Fans love her approachable spirit and friendly down-to-earth style. For more information visit

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