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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


Bourbon Glazed Ham on

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.

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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