how to get a bunch of meals from a half ham

half ham

There are a bazillion sites out there that tell you how to get 3 or 4 meals out of a whole chicken. I am going to tell you how to get 10-15 meals out of a half ham.

A ham is basically the butt and top bit of the leg off a pig, from the hip to the knee. This big piece is then cured and smoked to produce ham. Whether you get pastured pork, "uncured" ham without nitrates, or regular grocery-store stuff, you can usually get the best deal buying a half ham.

The top half, which is more butt, is called logically-enough the butt end of the ham. It is usually fattier and cheaper than the bottom half, which is called the shank end. So if buying from a good source, the butt end would be a better buy for the healthy fat, whereas with CAFO ham, you're better off with a shank.

You're also best off with an "uncured" ham, which means it has no nitrates added. I think that the animal was raised outdoors and fed a natural diet does more for the meat than the cure, specifically. And even the ones labeled as sugar-cured have very low sugar content. It's mostly meat after all. I've never seen ham raise my blood glucose significantly unless it was glazed.

And while these are called "half" hams, they usually aren't, a bunch of ham from the middle gets cut into "center slices" or "ham steaks" and sold at a much higher price to people who are willing to pay to have the butcher slice it for them. So really, a "half" ham, whether butt or shank end, is more like a third of a whole ham. Still, it's a big chunk of yummy meat!

A half ham is pretty much the only way I ever buy ham as the per pound price is pretty frugal. And honestly, it is a bunch of work to do what I do to process a ham. However, you can stick the ham in the freezer until you're ready to process it; it's not like you have to do this as soon as you get home from the grocery store or farmer's market.

Because the ham has a giant bone through it, making nice neat slices through it is not easy. I just do the best I can, as I know I will use all the random chunks of ham also, so pretty slices are not necessary for the whole chunk of meat.

I lay the ham out so the largest muscle (see image for the three muscles) is on top and thus gets cut into a rather thick slice, even though I can't get through the bone. Sometimes I can turn it over and get a slice of the two smaller muscles.

These slices are about a pound each, and I stick these in ziplocks and freeze flat so I now have those ham slices they sell at about half the price. It's a wonderfully fast meal too as you can brown it in a couple minutes in a skillet, along with some eggs for breakfast or some cooked apples and greens for dinner. I'm all about the fast meals!

Once I have my nicer slices nestled safely in their gallon-sized ziploc bags, I am left with a giant bone and lots of random strangely-shaped pieces of ham. I dice up all the meat and freeze. When really broke, I have frozen it in sandwich-sized ziplocks, only about a cup each, but more normally, I freeze in pint-sized square containers.

The diced ham gets used in soups and stews, in omelets and stir-fries on top of a casserole filled with potatoes or rice. It's pretty much instant meat added to whatever pot, skillet or pan of food you are cooking. And of course, you can add some mayo and pickle to make a sandwich spread.

Now that both the pretty and less-pretty ham is frozen, I am left with the bone. I make broth, of course. Everyone always goes on about chicken broth and beef broth, and it's not like I don't love those also. But to cook up a batch of beans or split peas, nothing beats ham broth.

Yes, it is a lot of work to disassemble a half ham, but the result is typically 5-8 nice thick slices of ham, 5-6 pints of diced ham and over a gallon of ham broth - all of which make for many 10 minute meals cooked on other days.