Freezing ham: It’s not if you can do it, but how long can you do it. We’re here to help you find out.
Freezing is a great way to store food and keep it fresh longer, especially if you bought it on sale and don’t plan to eat it all at once. Ham is no exception, as you probably know since you’re reading this. In fact, it’s one of the foods that freezes particularly well.
All types of hams, whether cured, uncured, cooked, uncooked, whole, or sliced, can be frozen. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, frozen ham stays safe to eat indefinitely, but retains its best quality for 4-6 months.
The bacteria that cause spoilage and food-borne illness can’t multiply at temperatures below 0°F (-18°C). Freezing the ham means effectively puts those organisms on pause for as long as it is stored in this temperature.
Shortly after the ham is removed from the freezer, its internal temperature exceeds 0°F (-18°C). At this point, the meat begins to thaw, and the bacteria inside it become active once again. For this reason, all foods should be cooked (or, if they’re already cooked, eaten) as soon as possible after thawing.
How Long Does Frozen Ham Keep Its Best Quality?
We’ve established that ham will stay safe in the freezer for an indefinite length of time; however, the aroma, flavor, and texture will change. How long your ham retains its quality in the freezer will depend on the type of ham.
Uncured ham typically keeps its flavor, texture, and quality for up to 6 months in the freezer. Cured ham will start to lose its flavor and change texture a bit sooner—usually around 3-4 months after freezing.
Is Freezer-Burnt Ham Safe to Eat?
If you pack your ham properly, you will preserve its best aroma, flavor, and texture for as long as possible. If you don’t seal the ham well before putting it in the freeze, certain parts of it can get freezer burn. This means that the cold air circulating in the unit has penetrated the package, causing the ham to dry out.
Even if that happens, the good news is that you have no reason to worry about the safety of your food: freezer burnt ham is generally safe to eat. However, the texture of the meat will have changed—and the freezer-burnt parts will be dry, tough, and lacking flavor.
If you find the freezer-burnt parts of your ham unpalatable, the only thing that you can do is to cut them off and throw them away.
How to Freeze Ham
To ensure that your ham will maintain as much of its flavor and quality as possible, you will want to package it properly. Improperly packaged ham will develop freezer burn, and freezer-burnt ham is not as appealing to eat.
Step 1: Chop Up the Ham
Slice up your ham into bite-sized pieces. The small size will ensure that the ham freezes quickly. When you are ready to use it, the ham will already be chopped for fast preparation and will thaw in a short amount of time.
Step 2: Divide the Ham Into Servings
Consider how much ham you will use at a time. Portion the chopped ham into appropriate amounts so that you can take out just as much as you need. For example, if you typically use 1 cup of chopped ham in a casserole, portion in 1-cup sizes.
Step 3: Seal the Ham Tightly Into Freezer Bags
Put your portioned, chopped ham into freezer bags. Ensure that you use plastic bags specifically designed for freezer use as these are a heavier quality than sandwich bags.
You will want to remove as much air from the bag as possible to avoid freezer burn. If you have a vacuum sealer, you can use that. Otherwise, use a straw to suck the air out of each bag before sealing.
Step 4: Double-Wrap the Freezer Bags in Foil
Once your ham is packaged in freezer bags, you can add another layer of protection against freezer burn by wrapping the bags in foil. This is an optional step but is recommended if you intend to keep the ham frozen for more than a
month or two.
Step 5: Label and Date
Use a marker to clearly label each package with the name of the food and the date you are packaging it. This will help keep things organized in your freezer and ensure that you use the ham before it loses its quality and flavor.
How to Thaw Ham
There are three ways that you can thaw your ham safely: in the fridge, in cold water, and in the microwave. After thawing, the ham should be cooked immediately to prevent food-borne illness.
Thawing Ham in the Fridge
Using the fridge to thaw your ham is the safest option. However, it does take the longest amount of time. If you have chopped your ham before freezing it, it will only take a few hours to thaw. A whole ham will take two to three days to thaw in the refrigerator.
For a whole ham, place it in a bowl or a tray with a rim to catch any water or juices as it thaws. Count on about five hours per pound for a whole ham to thaw. For example, if you have a four-pound ham, it will take approximately 20 hours before it is completely thawed.
Thawing Ham in Cold Water
The second-best way to thaw your ham is to use the cold water method. Fill up the sink with enough cold water to cover your ham. If your ham is chopped and in a freezer bag, it will thaw relatively quickly. Whole hams will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw in cold water.
If you have a whole ham to thaw, place it in a large freezer bag before putting it in the sink full of cold water. You will need to change the water every 30 minutes to ensure it stays cold enough to prevent bacteria from multiplying in the ham.
Do not use warm or hot water to thaw the ham, as this will cause the temperature of the ham to increase. The bacteria that can cause food-borne illness will grow at this temperature, often to dangerous levels.
Thawing Ham in the Microwave
Using a microwave to thaw ham is a last-resort option. The heat from the appliance can cause the outer layers of the ham to start to warm, presenting an opportunity for organisms to multiply. Depending on size, it will take about 15 to 45 minutes to defrost a ham in the microwave.