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How is Boneless Ham Made?

Ham comes from the rear leg of a hog and is preserved through the process of curing. You can purchase in-bone ham, but did you ever wonder how the bone is removed?  

Boneless ham is basically the shank without the supportive bone. After the bone is removed, the meat is tightly pressed to produce oval-shaped cuts of the ham whose proteins have recombined to form a solid-looking piece of meat.

The History of Ham

The term ham is derived from the Old English word Hamm, which refers to a cut of meat from the pig’s hind legs. Many food historians give credit to the Chinese as the people who first discovered the creation of ham in 4,900 BC. However, Others claim that the Roman Gauls pioneered the technique.

Interestingly, pigs were not domestic in the US. The hog was only introduced to the country when the explorer Hernando de Soto brought thirteen pigs aboard his ship during his trip to the coast of Florida. After two centuries, colonial American farmers began raising pigs and consuming them. They eventually became a staple in the American kitchens with the invention of salt pork and bacon, which had a longer shelf life.

People had a connotation that ham was intended for the elite. It was deemed a luxurious dish and often expected in royal banquets or at fancy parties held by noblemen. To create ham, the piece of meat will undergo a rigorous process called curing. In this process, the meat is preserved by adding ingredients such as sugar or salt. 

In the past, ham was named after where they were cured. At the time, technology was limited, and the most prominent ham makers were only found within the ham belt, a geographic area bound by latitude. There are specific conditions required to cure meat properly. The location shouldn’t be too cold for the meat to freeze or too warm as heat will quickly spoil the meat. (Source: The Spruce Eats)

How is Boneless Ham Made?

To make boneless ham, the first step is to cure the meat. Depending on what type of ham you are making. Curing can be done by dry-rubbing the fresh ham with salt, sugar, spices, and nitrates. Others prefer curing ham by soaking it in brine. After that, the ham is either smoked, cooked, or aged, depending on your choice. (Source: Serious Eats)

In the US, there are three general forms of ham:

  • City ham is the most common type of ham found. It is produced by curing the ham through submersion in saltwater or directly injecting the brine into the meat. It is usually sold smoked, and cooked.
  • Country ham, on the other hand, is ham cured by dry rubbing and is hung to dry in rooms where temperature and humidity are carefully controlled. The curing of this particular kind of ham may take a few months, and most country hams have a concentrated and sweet flavor, accompanied by a mild aroma. This type of ham can be smoked or unsmoked and is usually sold raw.
  • Fresh ham is the raw hind legs of the pork. It is not cured or cooked, leaving the process to the consumer.

Boneless hams are technically made the same way. It is cured ham where the bone is removed. Once the bone and most fat layers are removed, the meat is rolled and shaped back into an oval and tightly packed.

The salt from the curing process will break down the proteins of the meat. This allows the proteins to reconnect and bond to each other to form into a solid once more. Though the boneless ham offers a more effortless experience in carving and serving, many argue that removing the bone affects the flavor.

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