Ham is a very popular meat. It is a simple and easy addition to a sandwich, perhaps with cheese and pickle. You can cook a side of ham as your main meal and serve it with roast potatoes and lots of vegetables. Honey-baked ham is great for a special occasion. You can even put it on a pizza. So what exactly is ham? Well, it comes from the back thigh/rump of a pig so there are just two joints per animal.
So what if you cook a side of ham and have lots left over that you can’t use up within the next few days? The answer is simple. Freeze it. Ham freezes particularly well and in this article we will tell you how to freeze ham and how to defrost it.
You can freeze just about any type of ham be it raw or cooked, on the bone, or sliced. However, very thinly sliced hams don’t freeze quite as well. This is because they are delicate and can fall apart when defrosted.
Freezing will considerably increase the life of your ham so if you have leftover ham, we’ll tell you here what is the best way to freeze it.
- Slice your ham. While you can freeze bought slices of ham, sometimes they can be too thin, so it is best to buy a side of ham, cook it, and then slice it. Cut it in thicker slices as they defrost better than if the slices are thin. Anyway, you will probably want thicker slices to put in your sandwich to make it a hearty lunch. Put a slice of parchment in between each slice of ham. This will stop the slices from sticking together. You will then be able to remove and defrost just as many slices as you need.
- Put the ham in a container or bag. If you decide to put your ham slices in a container, make sure that it is an airtight container. If you are putting the ham in a freezer bag, make sure that you squeeze as much air out of it as possible. If air gets into the bag, freezer burn may occur. This means that the ham may become discolored and lose flavor. You will probably not be able to keep it in the freezer for very long either. To ensure that you don’t get freezer burn, you can put the ham into two bags.
- Label the container or bag. It is advisable to put the date you froze the ham on the bag as you don’t want to keep the ham in the freezer longer than you should. Ham can be kept frozen for between three and six months depending on the type of ham you freeze. It can start to go off after this time.
- Put the ham in the freezer. If you are freezing the ham in plastic bags, it is best to freeze them flat as it makes it easier to defrost them.
Can You Freeze Ham Hocks?
Ham hocks are from the joint or foot of the pig. They are a tough piece of meat and need hours of cooking. They are usually smoked and are used as an ingredient to enhance soup, stock, and pots of beans, adding a smoky, rich essence.
They are mainly collagen, connective tissue, and a bit of meat , all surrounded by fat and skin. If they are cured and then smoked, they will end up with a salty bacon-like flavor. However, can you freeze them? The answer is yes and you can either freeze them raw as a joint or cooked and sliced.
If you plan to freeze an uncooked joint, you either need to freeze it in its original packaging or wrap it well in cling film and put it into a freezer bag. You should try and squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag otherwise freezer burn could occur. If you are freezing slices of cooked ham hock, freeze them in the same way as you would other ham, that is with parchment paper between each slice and packed into a freezer bag or container. Remember to mark the date frozen on the bag.
Some Tips For Freezing Ham
- Slice the ham thickly so that it defrosts easily. This also helps to stop the meat from drying out.
- Make sure that the ham is stored in either an airtight container or in a freezer bag that has had as much air as possible squeezed out. Freezer burn will discolor your meat and will dry it out.
- Freeze the slices of ham with parchment paper in between them to avoid the ham slices sticking together. This also enables you to take out just as many slices of ham that you need. You really don’t want to be taking out more than you can use as ham will only last for around three days in the fridge before starting to go off.
For How Long Can You Freeze Ham?
It is dangerous to eat any meat when it goes after its use-by date. Pork (see also ‘Can You Freeze Cooked Pork?‘) is particularly dodgy so make sure that you follow our instructions for freezing and the ones for defrosting which we will shortly give you. Always look out for signs that the pork might be going off. This could be a change in color. If the ham looks brown, gray, or green, don’t eat it. It should always be pink whether it is in its raw state or cooked. It is also a good idea to smell the ham. Any nasty odors will indicate that the ham has spoiled.
You can freeze raw ham for longer than cooked ham. In fact, you can freeze it for twice as long. Uncooked ham can be frozen for up to six months while cooked ham can be frozen for up to three months.
There are two ways that you can defrost ham. Whichever you choose, you should ensure that the ham is thoroughly defrosted before you use it. If you are defrosting a raw side or hock of ham, it is essential that it is defrosted all the way through otherwise you may get a cooked outside and a raw inside which of course you don’t want to have.
- This method is the best way to ensure that you defrost your ham properly. It takes a long time, but it is worth it for both taste and safety. We all know that we shouldn’t eat meat underdone as it can make us sick.
If you are using this method, you need to plan ahead as you need plenty of time to defrost your ham. Take out as much ham as you need and put it on a plate. Put it in the fridge and allow the ham to defrost slowly. If you are defrosting slices, it can take up to two hours. If you are defrosting a side or hock of ham, it will take between four and six hours per pound. A five pound ham will take on average 24 hours to thaw so planning is the essence.
- The second option is to place your plastic bag of ham in a bowl of cold water. Make sure that the bag is leak-proof. This method takes some care as you need to change the water every half an hour so it’s not something you can leave. It is much quicker than defrosting the ham in the fridge, but it still takes around half an hour per pound of ham.
Unfortunately, you can’t refreeze ham so if you are taking out slices, make sure that you only take out as many as you need. However, you can keep them in the fridge for up to three days. A ham side or hock is harder as it is large so you need to take it out when you know you’re going to be able to eat it within three days. The reason ham shouldn’t be refrozen is that the main time that bacteria grows is when it is either being cooled down or warmed up. The more times you warm up and cool down meat, the more time bacteria has to grow.
Is it a Good Idea to Freeze Ham?
Yes, it is a good idea to freeze ham as long as you take the safety precautions we have mentioned so that you don’t get sick. It is important to remember that pork or ham can contain harmful bacteria so you do need to take care. The taste between fresh and defrosted ham is just about the same so freezing ham is a good way to use up leftovers.
If you are having a special occasion, why not cook a ham joint a few days before, then freeze it, and defrost the day before the celebration. You’ll probably have enough to do on the day so this can be a timesaver.
Frequently Asked Questions
Hopefully, we have told you all you need to know about freezing ham, but if you are still curious, we have answered a couple of questions here.
Is it alright to freeze packet ham?
Perhaps you have bought too many packets of ham and don’t think that you can use them by the sell-by date. If so, it’s fine to put the packets in the freezer as they are. They are safe to freeze for up to three months. Remember to put the date frozen on the packet so that you don’t keep it in the freezer for too long. If you have opened the ham, you will need to put pieces of parchment in between each slice so that the slices don’t stick together. You then need to put them in an airtight container or a freezer bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible out of the bag to prevent freezer burn.
Can I freeze thin slices of ham?
When you consider thin slices of ham you might think of Italian cooked hams such as Parma, Serrano, and Prosciutto. They are all very delicate and thin so they really won’t freeze well. Even with separating the slices with pieces of parchment paper, it might still mean that the ham clumps together. At a pinch, you can freeze an unopened pack of any of these meats, but there isn’t much point as they all have a long shelf life in the fridge if unopened. They are cured meats so can last for up to a year.