How to Thaw Frozen Ham [4 Easy Options!]

by Charlie
How to Thaw Frozen Ham

Most people think of ham as the ubiquitous holiday dish only served between November and December and again for Easter. But if you’re smart and stock a few hams in your freezer when they are on sale, you can have a delicious feast any time of the year.

Whether for holiday celebration or just another mid-week dinner for the family, carving a roasted ham is something special and not to be missed. 

Whether it’s bone-in or spiral-cut, a roasted ham always makes for a showstopper centerpiece no matter the time of year. Most hams that you buy are refrigerated and not frozen, but if you’re smart and happen to buy a few during the “off season” to save some money for the holidays, you’re in luck because hams freeze and thaw exceptionally well. 

How do you thaw frozen ham? Frozen ham can be thawed in several ways such as putting in the refrigerator, soaking in cold water, or defrosting in the microwave.

Honey-glazed, studded with pineapple and cherries, or simply roasted, ham is always a welcome addition to the dinner table. Like turkeys, hams are big chucks of meat and can take a while to thaw safely and properly.

The average ham is somewhere around 8-10 pounds, so it takes up less space in your fridge or sink (depending on which defrosting option you choose.)

Food Safety Tips When Thawing Frozen Ham

As always, practicing safe food handling protocols is essential, especially when dealing with ready-to-eat foods. Most hams are pre-cooked, so making sure that proper food handling procedures are followed is of the utmost importance.

Because of this, following the right steps for defrosting a frozen ham is critical, taking into account a special consideration for maintaining the correct temperature during the thawing process and for preventing any cross-contamination. 

Options for Thawing Frozen Ham

Frozen ham can be an intimidating food to thaw due to its large size. Luckily, there are several great methods to safely thaw a frozen ham.

Option #1 – Thawing Frozen Ham in the Refrigerator (4-6 hours)

The best solution for thawing a frozen ham is to simply put it in the refrigerator for a while. Be sure to keep the frozen ham in its original packaging, put it on a large plate, bowl, or pan and place it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Generally speaking, thaw times for a frozen ham is anywhere from 4-6 hours per pound.

This option may take the longest, but it also ensures that the ham is safe and ready to cook when you need it if you prepared ahead of time. Keeping the ham on the bottom-most shelf of the refrigerator minimizes the chance of any cross-contamination. 

Option #1.5 – Thawing Frozen Ham in a Cooler (4-6 hours)

If your ham is too large to fit in the refrigerator, and you have planned for enough time to properly thaw it, using a large cooler is a great second option to the first method. 

Put your ham, still in its original packaging, into a large clean cooler. Fill 1/3 of the cooler with ice to maintain a proper temperature and place it somewhere cool. If you have a probe thermometer, insert it into the ham to carefully track the temperature over time, adding more ice if the temperature approaches 40 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Option #2 – Thawing Frozen Ham by Submerging in Water (30-150 minutes)

The next best option for defrosting a frozen ham is by submerging it in water. Quicker than the first option, this one requires a little bit more attention. If you forgot to take the ham out of the freezer in time, thawing the frozen ham submerged in water is the next best option for thawing a frozen ham. 

To thaw a frozen ham in cold water, make sure that the ham is secured in a water-tight bag or in its original packaging. If the meat is exposed to water, it will absorb some of the water and result in a chewy texture. 

Fill a large container with cold tap water and place the ham inside. Don’t be tempted to use warm or hot water thinking that it will thaw the ham quicker. This will only heat up the outer portion of the ham and promote harmful bacterial growth. 

Check the progress of the ham every 30 minutes while refreshing the water to maintain a safe temperature. The time to finish is entirely dependent upon the weight of the ham but is usually about 20-30 minutes per pound. Be warned, you cannot refreeze the ham after fully defrosting, so be sure to cook or serve the ham immediately after thawing. 

Option #3 – Thawing Frozen Ham in the Microwave (30-40 minutes)

While it’s never ideal to thaw anything in a microwave, especially larger cuts of meat, this is still a viable but last resort option for thawing frozen ham.

This method is entirely dependent upon the ham actually fitting into the microwave, so for medium-to-large size hams, this is simply not possible so refer to Option #1 or #2.

This may be the quickest option, but it’s definitely not the best. Given its size, there is a very high chance that you accidentally cook the meat during the thawing process which makes the ham slightly less than pleasant. But, if you are in a pinch, this is a viable method for quickly defrosting a frozen ham. 

While defrost and power settings vary greatly from machine to machine, it should take between 30 and 45 minutes to fully defrost. Be sure to check the ham every 5 to 10 minutes for doneness. To be sure, try cutting into the ham. If the knife goes through smoothly, the ham is sufficiently thawed. 

Be sure to cook the ham immediately after thawing. This is especially important if thawing using the microwave since chances are high that the ham has slightly cooked during the process. You cannot refreeze a ham if it’s been thawed using a microwave. 

Final Thoughts

  • Ham is a wonderful and delicious choice for many occasions, not just holidays
  • Frozen ham has all the benefits of fresh but can be enjoyed whenever you want
  • The best option for defrosting a frozen ham requires the most time but results in the best end product
  • If the ham is too large for the refrigerator, thawing in a cooler is a useful alternative
  • Thawing frozen ham by submerging it in water a much quicker option if you are short on time
  • In a pinch, and if you have a small enough ham, defrosting in the microwave is a last resort option

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