Sous Vide City Ham With Balsamic Brown Sugar Glaze Recipe

A juicy, evenly cooked ham with a simple, delicious glaze.

Balsamic glazed ham on a serving plate with a few slices having been cut and fanned out.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Why It Works

  • Since the ham is pre-seasoned, it can be cooked directly in the package it comes in, making the whole process easier.
  • Cooking the ham sous vide guarantees juiciness that extends all the way from the edge to the center.

Ham is not for everyone, but if you're a ham lover, lucky you, because ham is one meat that's darn difficult to mess up. Right off the bat, it's got several things going for it. First off, it's pork, which means it was born to be delicious. Second, it's got the right level of seasoning built into it—a good ham will have the right salt level all the way through to its very center. Third, because it's a cured product, it retains juices far better than a plain, raw product.

Want to make it even juicier and more foolproof? Cook the sucker sous vide. Because hams are precooked, it's really just a matter of reheating them. Typically, I'd suggest removing meat from its retail packaging, seasoning it, then resealing it in a sous vide bag before cooking it. But since ham's pre-seasoned, it can be cooked directly in the package it comes in, making the whole process even more appealing.

How to Sous Vide a City Ham

Step 1: Start With a Good Ham

A package of ham and a sous vide pot next to it.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Hams come in various levels of quality, ranging from giant, chopped-and-formed Spam-like creations to actual whole-muscle cured and cooked cuts. The latter is what you're after. Once you move into the whole-muscle realm, even the standard supermarket option (Cook's brand is the most popular) will do, but you can also try a specialty ham, like this Kurobuta ham from Snake River Farms if something a little more flavorful is on the agenda. For cooking in the oven, I'd generally recommend an un-sliced ham, as those spiral slices are a direct route to moisture loss. But with sous vide cooking, you're going to be heating the ham in a sealed plastic bag anyway, so spiral-cut hams will work just fine.

One thing to note: What you're looking for is a city ham, which is brined and cooked, as opposed to a country ham, which is salted and cured raw in the air, like a prosciutto or serrano.

Step 2: Warm It Up

Since city hams come precooked, you can serve them cold straight out of their packaging, but they're better when warmed up. If you're cooking ham using conventional means, this involves slow-roasting it using foil or an oven bag to attempt to keep those juices from drying out. With sous vide cooking, it's as simple as dumping the ham into a water bath, directly in its packaging. I cook my hams at 140°F (60°C) for three hours to guarantee that they're piping-hot through to the center.

Step 3: Make the Glaze

A saucepan of balsamic glaze for ham.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Hams, with their smokiness and natural porky sweetness, have an affinity for sweet-and-sour glazes (hence the whole pineapple-and-cherry thing). In this case, I've made a quick brown sugar and balsamic vinegar gastrique by caramelizing some brown sugar in a saucepan, then deglazing it with balsamic vinegar and letting it reduce down into a sticky glaze. You could just as easily use any other type of vinegar and sugar.

Step 4: Preheat the Oven

A preheated ham on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Once the ham is reheated, the only thing left to do is glaze it. In order to get that glaze to stick, you want to brush it on and then roast the ham in a very hot oven so that the glaze further reduces and coats the meat. A 500°F (260°C) oven is ideal.

Step 5: Give It the First Coat

Brushing glaze onto ham on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet.

As with painting a wall, the best way to build up a good, even coat of glaze is to work in layers. Start by painting one layer on before popping the ham into the preheated oven.

Step 6: Repeat Glaze

Continue brushing the ham with fresh glaze every five minutes, for a total of three or four coats. When the ham is shiny and shellacked all over, you're done.

Step 7: Get Ready to Make the First Cut

A glazed ham on a cutting board ready to be carved.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

I'm a fan of practicality in the kitchen, which means that I'd rather serve my ham pre-sliced and ready to eat than fumble around at the dining room table trying to serve it. Here's the easiest way I know to slice a bone-in ham.

A carving knife slicing into a glazed ham on a cutting board.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

It can be rather impressive to make lots of thin, parallel cuts toward the bone, so that you can then release the slices all with a single downward stroke, but here's a much easier way to do it: Start with that vertical cut first. To do this, identify where the bone is (hint—it's where that big, bone-shaped knobby bit sticks out of the ham), then slice down along one side of it.

Step 8: Cut Serving Portions

Rotate the piece you just cut off so that the cut side is facing down, then slice it into thin serving portions. You'll notice that, because of the gentle, in-the-bag preheating, your ham is about as moist as you could hope for, with a juiciness that extends all the way from the edge to the center.

Step 9: Profit

A plate of glazed ham with a few sliced already carved.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Serve up that ham with some good wine, a big fork, and extra glaze tableside.

December 2013

Recipe Facts

Cook: 3 hrs 25 mins
Active: 20 mins
Total: 3 hrs 25 mins
Serves: 8 to 12 servings

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Ingredients

  • 1 bone-in half ham (7 to 10 pounds; 3.2 to 4.5kg), packing intact (see notes)

  • 1 cup (about 225g) brown sugar

  • 1 cup (240ml) balsamic vinegar

Directions

  1. Preheat sous vide cooker to 140°F (60°C). Add ham and cook for at least 3 hours and up to 8 hours. Meanwhile, heat brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until melted. Continue to cook until deep brown but not black, and immediately add all of balsamic vinegar, standing back as you add it. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Reduce to a bare simmer and continue to cook until mixture is thick and syrupy and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

    Ham being sous vide in a cooker.
  2. Adjust oven rack to lower position and preheat oven to 500°F (260°C) 30 minutes before serving ham. Allow oven to preheat for 15 minutes. Remove ham from water bath, remove packaging, and place cut side down on a rack set in a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Wipe surface dry with paper towels and brush with glaze.

    Brushing glaze onto a ham on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Place in oven and roast for 5 minutes. Pull out oven rack, apply another coat of glaze, and repeat. Repeat glazing step 2 more times. Remove ham from oven and let rest 5 minutes.

  4. To carve ham, place cut side down on a cutting board and make a single slice right next to the bone, dividing ham in two. Place boneless side with the newly cut side facing down and slice thinly into serving pieces. Repeat with remaining ham, cutting it from the bone one section at a time before slicing it into serving portions.

    A carving knife slicing into glazed ham on a cutting board.

Special Equipment

Sous vide immersion circulator, rimmed baking sheet and wire rack

Notes

Most hams come in thick vacuum-sealed packaging that can be used for sous vide cooking. If not, seal your ham in a vacuum-sealed bag before cooking it sous vide.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
143 Calories
2g Fat
22g Carbs
9g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8 to 12
Amount per serving
Calories 143
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 2g 2%
Saturated Fat 0g 2%
Cholesterol 24mg 8%
Sodium 380mg 17%
Total Carbohydrate 22g 8%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 22g
Protein 9g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 23mg 2%
Iron 1mg 3%
Potassium 180mg 4%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)