How to cook and prepare gammon and ham

We explain the difference between gammon and ham, how to prepare and cook them, plus share serving suggestions. Read on to find your new favourite recipe…

How to cook and prepare gammon and ham

To some, snaffling a cold cut of ham from the fridge is one of the high points of the festive season - even a simply boiled joint is majestic in its hefty pink stature. Once glazed and studded in decorative cloves you have a real feast on your hands. And the best bit is that it just keeps on giving – even a small ham joint will keep a household in sandwiches for up to five days. There's a reason this cola ham with maple glaze is one of our most popular recipes at Christmas time. 

A gammon isn’t just for Christmas, either – it’s good investment all year round, from picnic season, to birthday parties and New Year’s Eve. Glaze it and watch the masses flock… 

We’ve picked our favourite ways to serve ham, but first chef Caroline Hire explains a few things: 

What’s the difference between ham and gammon? 

Ginger ham

"Both gammon and ham are cuts from the hind legs of a pig. Gammon is sold raw and ham is sold ready-to-eat," says Caroline. "Gammon has been cured in the same way as bacon whereas ham has been dry-cured or cooked. Once you've cooked your gammon, it is then called ham.

"To make your Christmas ‘ham’ you’ll need to buy a gammon – choose, smoked or unsmoked, on or off the bone according to your recipe and preference."

How to prepare a gammon joint

Soaking the gammon in water to remove saltiness is generally a thing of the past but check with your butcher or look at pack instructions to be sure.

  1. To start, weigh your meat to calculate cooking times. You'll need to cook for 20 mins per 450g/1lb plus 20 mins.
  2. Put the meat in a large pan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil, adding any flavourings you may wish eg cinnamon, bay, peppercorns, coriander seeds and onion. 
  3. Boil for half the calculated cooking time, periodically skimming and discarding any white froth that comes to the surface.
  4. Drain, reserving the stock if you like, leave to cool a little. Remove the top layer of skin, leaving a thin layer of fat around the meat.
  5. Place in a foil-lined roasting tin, cover with foil and bake for the remaining cooking time at 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Twenty to thirty minutes before the end of cooking time, brush with the glaze of your choice – a mixture of maple syrup and coarse-grain mustard is good. Cook uncovered until the glaze is golden.

    Try Caroline's ham recipe

See this video guide for advice on how to glaze and roast a ham:

Our favourite ways to cook gammon and ham: 

Use membrillo for sweet spice

Gammon with membrillo

This Christmas ham recipe uses sweet and sticky quince paste, or ‘membrillo’. It also uses the time-honoured method of studding your joint with cloves. It’s simple enough – score the skin with a diamond pattern then pierce the centre of each diamond with a clove. 

Spiced Christmas gammon with membrillo glaze

Slow cook for texture

Sticky gammon

Bypass the pre-boiling stage and use an all-in-one slow cooking method. This tropical-tinged gammon recipe uses treacle, pineapple juice and allspice, slowly cooked in the oven for four hours until butter soft. 

Slow-baked sticky gammon

Try a sticky cola glaze

Cola ham

Cook your gammon in a couple of litres of cola to really ramp up the stickiness. Once you’ve boiled the joint in its soda bath, drain and transfer into a roasting tin and glaze with a maple mustard mix. 

Cola ham with maple & mustard glaze

Slow cooker cola gammon

Use seasonal fruit

Maple glazed ham

The secret to this picture-perfect ham is slow-roasting it in a foil parcel in a spiced apple juice bath. The steamy environment allows the flavours to mingle in a dreamy milieu. The whole thing is finished off with a maple glaze, whole baked apples and golden (yes, golden) star anise. 

Sticky maple-glazed ham with baked apple sauce

Our favourite ways to serve gammon and ham: 

Classic pub grub

Gammon steak

Who would turn their nose up at a traditional plate of gammon and mash? It’s ideal for the post-Christmas period when everyone’s a little gravied-out, and makes a great simple supper all year round. The salty ham is paired perfectly with sweet apple and a punchy celeriac mash.

Gammon steaks with leek & celeriac mash

Potted ham

Potted ham

This one is perfect for when you have a chunk of ham left over. Shred it into stringy strips then pour over clarified butter. The set yellow top layer is a traditional preserving seal for meat and fish. 

Potted ham

Add to soup

Pea and ham soup

Pea and ham is one of the greatest soup combinations. Our bright green version adds the shredded ham as a garnish to finish. To get a really rich flavour, retain any cooking liquor from homemade ham and use it as a stock. 

Pea & ham soup

Warming winter pies

Four and twenty pie

This sensational chunky pie utilises festive leftovers in fine fashion. Combine your ham with cranberries, pistachios and warm Christmas flavours like nutmeg, mace and sage. It requires homemade hot water crust pastry, so it’s one for a long kitchen session. 

Four & twenty chicken & ham pie

Soft soufflé omelette

Souffled omelette

Whisks at the ready. Give your omelette the soufflé effect to add a touch of refinement to a brunch table. But not too much – this version with leftover ham is best served with baked beans. 

Cheese & ham souffléd omelette

Try one of our other Christmas ham recipes and find out what to do with your leftovers

Are you partial to a homemade ham? Share your recipe with us below... 

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Comments, questions and tips

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eltanz's picture
20th Dec, 2019
Wonderfull! Thank you.Not only clear instructions and reasons why but some wonderful looking recipes to add too!
13th Dec, 2017
Thanks Johnilly that has really helped me in how to cook the joint
13th Dec, 2017
I find no need to boil a joint of gammon any more. I only place it in a roasting dish on a trivet with water underneath and roast. I use a mustard / maple syrup or honey glaze
1st Jul, 2017
"John is spot on. The chef obviously doesn't know her ingredients." Incorrect – the author knows her ingredients precisely, and your insulting comment does not contribute, it simply betrays your ignorance of other cultures. Ms Hardwick is a British author writing for a predominately British site, and therefore using the British definition of Ham, i.e. cooked or cured Gammon. She is entirely correct in her statement – that it might differ from other definitions used in various countries around the world is beyond the remit of this article.
7th May, 2017
John is spot on. The chef obviously doesn't know her ingredients.
1st Jan, 2016
“Simply put, gammon is raw and ham is ready-to-eat. Gammon has been cured in the same way as bacon whereas ham has been dry-cured or cooked. Once you've cooked your gammon, you can call it ham." WRONG. Technically, gammon is the leg from a side of a pig which has been cured. Ham is the leg which has been removed and cured separately.
broken angel's picture
broken angel
5th Sep, 2015
A recipe I use for what we American's call 'Country Ham' is green tomato and country ham soup. 5 - 6 medium/large tomatoes, diced 2 large thick cut slices of ham, diced (do not soak) 2000 ml of chicken broth 1 large onion, red or yellow, diced 2 large cloves of diced garlic 2 sprigs worth of rosemary leaves, diced 6 - 7 leaves of thyme, finely chopped 3 - 4 leaves of sage, finely chopped 4 - 5 black pepper corns, ground 1 pat of butter sweat onions in butter in bottom of large pot (I use cast iron dutch oven but any type will work). Just before the onion turn translucent add spices then add tomatoes and ham. Add broth and simmer for 45 min to an hour. Serve hot and enjoy. Please understand I am American so I have had to guess at the measurements for English cooking, please feel free to play with the recipe. My number one rule with food is play with it. Find what works for you and go with it.
14th Dec, 2013
Hi, prefer to leave the ham in the water overnight after I have boiled it and then the meat is much more tender!
Ian Morrison's picture
Ian Morrison
27th Feb, 2018
"Soaking the gammon in water to remove saltiness is generally a thing of the past" Oh really, are the dangers of excessive salt intake a thing of the past too?
7th Dec, 2018
no, it simply means joints are not as salty as they used to be
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