Famously known as “the other white meat,” pork products remain some of the most popular forms of protein worldwide. While some religious traditions and cultures forbid pork, many others can’t get enough of bacon, pork chops, and of course, ham.
There are several different types of ham. Every distinct variety carries something special from the region where the pigs are raised, the preservation and cooking method, or specific cuts of meat from within the pig.
Like fine wines, cheeses, and other beloved food products, varieties of ham receive restrictions to achieve the lofty titles of some of these official hams.
Ham can appease diners who like a nutty flavor and those who prioritize convenience. Cooks who need a sweet and salty holiday centerpiece or are putting together an elaborate charcuterie platter will find a variety of ham to fit their needs.
Read on to learn more about the top types of ham from around the world.
Like sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France, Bayonne ham refers to cured ham meeting specific requirements.
This pork product must hail from a distinct region of southwest France. The unique Basque region of Spain and the Gascony in France influence the culture here.
The pigs raised to become Bayonne ham must receive no steroids, antibiotics, or fish oils. After a highly-specific drying process, these artisanal, bone-in hams end up weighing about 20 pounds.
Bayonne hams taste delicate and sweet, with a less pronounced salt flavor. The meat is sliced very thin and maintains a chewy texture.
Black Forest Ham
The enormous Black Forest region of Germany contributes some of the most memorable vistas of Germany.
The beautiful Danube River begins within the Black Forest, nestled between several mountain ranges.
Intricate cuckoo clocks and the decadent German Black Forest cake all trace their origins to this dynamic region of Germany.
Black Forest ham ranks as one of the most popular and common varieties of ham found in delis and sandwich shops.
This salty product receives its black crust from a long ripening and cold-smoking process.
Seasonings like coriander, juniper berries, and garlic also contribute to the signature flavor of Black Forest ham.
Not just a popular pizza topping, Canadian bacon provides a convenient and tasty ham product for many of your favorite dishes.
The major difference between Canadian bacon and ham is the region of the pig where the meat is harvested.
Include Canadian bacon in your eggs benedict or breakfast sandwiches for a memorable brunch entree. Or pair slices with melon or other fruits for a delightful salty and sweet appetizer.
Elevate your next meat and cheese tray with the upscale capicola dry-cured meat.
This variety of ham is usually served cold and with simple accompaniments. Capicola comes from a specific muscle of the pig, located along the back and shoulder.
This cured meat receives no brine like a traditional ham. Instead, the makers of this meat season it with red wine.
Capicola receives other traditional Italian flavors like garlic and paprika, stuffed into a natural casing.
After drying for about six months, capicola is ready to be sliced thinly and added to charcuterie boards, panini sandwiches, and cold pasta salads.
Country ham hails from the Southern United States. Therefore, country ham ranks as an over-the-top, decadent, and high-calorie product.
Another hint a country ham comes from south of the Mason Dixon Line is the distinctive hardwood-smoked flavor of the finished product.
Country hams take several months to more than three years to cure before they are ready to eat.
The recipe can differ slightly depending on what part of your country your ham is from.
For example, Missouri country hams add brown sugar to the curing mixture, while Kentucky and Virginia hams taste saltier. North Carolina country hams do not get smoked at all.
While not necessarily a household name, Italians take culatello very seriously.
Awarded a Protected Designation of Origin in the European Union and the UK, this ham first appeared in records in 1735.
Culatello hails from Parma, a region of Northern Italy well known for its hams and cured meats.
Culatello is made from meat harvested from the leg of a pig. This precisely-trimmed meat is stuffed into a pig’s bladder before being shaped into its signature final pear shape.
The time of year that the makers of culatello make this meat is also fiercely protected. Farmers must only harvest culatello between October and February.
Tradition dictates the fog and cold of this period produce the best culatello.
Gammon looks and tastes like ham, but there are important distinctions between the two products.
Gammon comes from the entire hind leg of a pig, whereas a ham includes only the back leg.
This results in the flavors of both ham and bacon included in one show-stopping package.
Gammon is usually cured or brined, resulting in a salty and succulent flavor. Some prefer smoked gammon, but that is not required.
During the holidays in Ireland and the United Kingdom, gammon frequently graces festive menus. Gammon can be sliced into steaks and pan-fried.
Like America’s country ham, this flavorfully-brined meat is quite popular throughout Ireland’s Emerald Isles.
First, an Irish ham is soaked in a brine and then slowly smoked. Irish hams receive a distinct mixture of smoking fuel, including peat and juniper fires.
These details help impart a signature flavor to Belfast’s famous Irish hams.
Like country ham, Irish ham is usually served boneless. Bake or boil this meat for a unique spin on your next Easter feast or to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day without the traditional corned beef meal.
Jamon Iberico comes from Spain, where these pigs receive personalized attention and plenty of room to graze.
This grass-fed beef is allowed to roam the extensive oak forests of Spain and Portugal.
The final weeks of their diet transition from a typical diet of a grazing animal to a menu consisting solely of acorns.
These acorns are an expensive food source! However, they provide the signature nutty flavor and tender texture to the most premium ham in the world.
A 10-pound Iberico ham is average for a special feast and can cost $250 or more.
The technical name for prosciutto is prosciutto Crudo, referring to this type of ham’s dry-cured, unsmoked characteristics.
One of the most famous versions of this Italian unsmoked ham is Prosciutto di Parma.
You can often order Prosciutto Crudo thinly sliced on a charcuterie platter or other appetizer assortment. As a refreshing treat, consider pairing prosciutto with cheeses, melon, or other fruit.
Prosciutto’s delicate flavor and texture make it a natural choice for bright spring menus, combined with peas, asparagus, and light sauces.
The Italian specialty saltimbocca features pan-fried, prosciutto-wrapped veal portions.
Serrano ham represents another beloved pork product from Spain.
While its close cousin, the Iberico ham, uses only ancient pig breeds, Serrano hams now welcome modern breeds to become Serrano ham.
Duroc, Landrace, and Iberico pigs are all used to produce Serrano hams.
Like many types of ham on this list, Serrano ham follows procedures and philosophies passed down through generations.
Serrano ham does not include elaborate spices or marinades. Rather, the pork flavor shines through with the addition of ordinary sea salt.
The process of making Serrano ham still retains many customs to maintain this culinary and cultural tradition.
Unlike other historical hams, a Smithfield ham provides a convenience product for busy households or nervous cooks.
Sold in grocery stores everywhere, Smithfield hams offer an already fully-cooked ham. As a result, home cooks only need to heat the meat thoroughly before serving.
These hams are available in hickory smoked, brown sugar, and maple flavors.
Smithfield represents an American mega-corporation, producing hundreds of thousands of hams annually.
Many average households in the United States will choose a Smithfield ham for their holiday celebrations, like Christmas or Easter.
Smithfield hams define a specific brand of boneless or bone-in-country ham. This type of ham originated in Virginia.
While considered a type of ham, speck relates most closely to bacon and other products made of pork belly.
Speck holds a high-fat content. In countries like Germany, speck features only pork fat without any meat involved. In France, speck may be called lardon or pancetta in Italy.
Speck is commonly smoked, similar to traditional bacon preparations. However, some people prefer pickled speck for their favorite pork belly snack.
You can eat speck plain, or you can include it in delicious sandwiches and salads. While bacon usually maintains equal meat and fat ratio, speck can be a much fattier product.
Pigs roam among the tranquil oak trees in the Westphalia Forests of northwestern Germany.
These acorn-fed animals produce a luxurious form of ham called Westphalian ham.
Does this sound familiar? Westphalian ham is the German equivalent of the famous Spanish Iberico ham variety.
Westphalian hams are produced strictly in one way. These hams are dry-cured and preserved through smoking.
Beechwood and juniper wood provide a unique flavor to the delicate meat. Westphalian ham appears cold and uncooked to help you enjoy the layers of flavor. This famous ham is a German delicacy.
There is no more disputed ham on this list than the definition and origin of York ham.
With origins going back to the mid-18th century. This popular method of preserving pork spread throughout the United Kingdom and heavily influenced the growing American colonies across the pond.
This rapid rise in popularity meant no specific habits of preserving or cooking existed for York ham.
These hams are usually dry-cured or rubbed with salt to dehydrate and preserve the meat. York hams may be smoked but do not need to be.
You must cook these hams before eating them. While some people like to just boil the ham, others prefer to boil and bake their York hams.
Like the similar Smithfield ham brand, Cook’s ham provided ready-to-cook convenience hams for home cooks throughout the Midwest United States.
Cook’s ham offers products in a variety of flavors, like honey-baked hams and spiral-cut hams.
In addition, bone-in ham steaks and boneless hams were all available to become a hearty dinner for busy households.
All of these products arrived in grocery stores fully cooked. Customers must reheat the hams all the way through. Bake an entire ham in the oven or pan-fry a ham steak on the stove.
Cook’s ham became popular in states like Nebraska, Missouri, and Kentucky. Smithfield eventually purchased Cook’s in 2006 as part of its growing food empire.
Like the famous city mouse and the country mouse, hams appear in both rural and urban versions.
We have already discussed the popular country ham, but city ham contains distinct differences.
While country hams need soaking to cut through the intense saltiness, city hams arrive ready to prepare. City hams may be prepared as a bone-in or boneless cut.
City hams are submerged in a saltwater bath or injected with salt and are almost always smoked.
These hams avoid over-the-top flavors and saltiness. We advise adding your favorite glaze before popping the city ham into the oven.
For many of us, there is nothing better than a salty-sweet flavor combination.
Honey hams deliver both of these tastes within one delectable pork product. With natural juiciness and decadent sugary flavor, honey hams appear at extravagant holiday feasts.
Look for a honey ham studded with pineapples, cloves, and spices for a jaw-dropping Christmas centerpiece.
For some people, the honey ham remains such a vital part of their holiday festivities they will ship a honey ham throughout the United States.
Unfortunately, feverish customers can cause a ham jam during the holidays as they attempt to secure their honey ham.
A petite picnic ham provides a delicious everyday ham option if you desire ham for a smaller crowd.
A typical full ham weighs up to about 20 pounds. A picnic ham is much smaller, weighing only five to eight pounds.
In addition, a picnic ham often includes parts of a pork shoulder instead of the much larger rear portion of the pig.
A picnic ham provides a convenient ham option to provide meat for sandwiches, pasta, and other quick meals throughout a busy work week.
Like many other available convenience pork products, picnic ham comes smoked, cured, and fully cooked.
However, beware of a higher fat content with a picnic ham versus an entire ham.
As the name implies, Scotch ham is the traditional method of preparing and preserving ham in Scotland.
Like the York ham and Irish ham, the Scotch ham delivers a few key, unique characteristics, like the fact that it is uncooked and usually boneless.
In addition, scotch ham frequently is sold within a natural casing, like capicola ham.
A mild cure recipe is used for scotch ham to maintain its natural flavors. Some recipes for scotch ham recommend basting the ham with scotch liquor for additional flavor and authenticity.
Scotch ham remains one of the most under-the-radar types of ham available today.
Boiled or Cooked Ham
If you are looking for the flavors of ham at the cheapest price point, boiled or cooked ham is typically your best bet.
This product often features compressed pork, featuring bits of ham, and other cuts from around the animal.
Boiled or cooked ham is an accessible price because it makes good use of waste products. This product is safe to eat and very popular.
Choose boiled or cooked ham for preparations like easy ham and cheese sandwiches. This product is also appropriate for recipes like ham and bean soup or scalloped potatoes and ham.
Save some money but achieve the deliciously salty pork flavor of ham with this type of ham.