Best hams for the holidays

Taste tests of 6 spiral-cut hams

Published: October 2013
Illustration: Alison Seiffer

When you’re serving a holiday dinner, what’s better than having the main course arrive dressed up for the occasion? That’s the allure of a spiral-cut ham.

We tasted six and found one that was clearly best of the bunch. (Note: It wasn’t from Harry & David, a mail-order biggie whose website says that “dinner guests won’t be able to help but swoon” at the very scent of its ham. That ham turned out to be somewhat dry and chewy.) Our winner: HoneyBaked, which was flavorful and consistently moist and tender. The Ratings give details from taste tests in which our experts sampled three hams per brand.

A fancy appearance isn’t the only reason these hams are an occasional treat. All score just fair for nutrition, based on calories, fat, sodium, sugars, and other nutrients. Per 3-ounce serving, they have up to 160 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 1 to 4 grams of sugars. Applewood Farms is lowest in calories and fat; Omaha Steaks, highest. (Numbers differ based on how pigs are raised and processed.) The hams’ main nutritional problem is sodium—up to 1,020 milligrams per serving in top-rated HoneyBaked, almost half of the recommended daily limit.

All of the tested hams are sold online. HoneyBaked is also sold in 400-plus company stores; Omaha Steaks, in more than 80; Harry & David, in about 50; and Smithfield, in certain supermarkets. If you can find a store, buy it there: Shipping can more than double a ham’s cost. Hams should arrive nestled in cold packs or dry ice. One delivery we received from Applewood Farms wasn’t, and we had to request another shipment, which arrived properly chilled.

Bottom line. HoneyBaked was best. Others might please for different reasons. If you like less-sweet ham, consider Smithfield. Want the fruit and brown-spice flavors of apple pie? Try Applewood Farms. Love smoked meats? Pick Hickory Farms. HoneyBaked has a sugary coating; Smithfield has no coating; Applewood Farms and Hickory Farms have glazes that you can add.

Ham 411

Below are prices, shipping costs, weight, and tasting notes for the six hams we bought. (Note that shipping costs were to New York. Costs vary depending on number of hams, delivery speed, and delivery location.)

Price: $35

Shipping: $17 to $55

Weight: 9 lb.

Notes: Flavor varied from ham to ham, but moist and (at its best) sweet, with fruit and brown-spice flavors. Low smoke, not very complex. Included glaze enhances flavors and balances salt.

Price: $70

Shipping: $13 to $33

Weight: 7.5 lb.

Notes: Strong smoke and light sweetness indicate a lack of balance and complexity. Dry and chewy, especially in rind. Included glaze adds complexity and balances salt.

Price: $76

Shipping: $10 to $35

Weight: 7 to 9 lb.

Notes: Flavor and texture varied from ham to ham. Big, ashy smoke dominates. Included glaze improves flavor and balances smokiness.

Price: $74

Shipping: $16 to $36

Weight: 9 lb.

Notes: Flavorful and complex, with balanced tastes of clove, fruit, and brown sugar that complement ham’s natural flavors. Consistently moist and tender. Reheated well; didn’t dry out.

Price: $80

Shipping: $18 to $58

Weight: 7 lb.

Notes: Sweet, with brownspice, fruit, and honey flavors. Sweetness more noticeable than subtle smoke and salt. Tough, chewy rind, slight off-taste like warmed-over meat.

Price: $80

Shipping: $0 to $25

Weight: 8 to 10 lb.

Notes: Fairly flavorful but not especially sweet or complex. Ham flavor complemented by strong salt and smoke. Slightly sour. Texture varied.

Editor's Note:

This article appeared in the December 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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