We all know the story. You had a sudden and insatiable hankering for ham, so you hit the butchers.
Before you know it your eyes have grown eight times the size of your stomach and you're struggling to fit a truly planetary ham joint into your poor little car.
Ham is delicious; we all concur on that front, but our bellies are only so big. Even the smaller joints are far too big for munching in a single session, so the ability to freeze all our leftover cooked ham would be a massive help.
We could simply store it until the ham hankering rears its hungry head once more.
But freezing food isn’t always as simple as chucking it in the freezer and closing the door.
Some food isn’t safe to frozen, and even when it is, the extreme temperatures can have adverse effects on both the flavor and texture, especially if it’s been poorly prepared.
So...Can You Freeze Cooked Ham?
I’m delighted to inform you that yes, you can totally freeze your cooked ham.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s sliced, cooked, spiralized, in chunks, or on the bone, it can all be frozen to great effect, hurray!
Freezing Slices of Cooked Ham
Freezing pre-sliced ham is an amazing way to preserve your excess as you can separate it into portion sizes.
Not only will they defrost quicker, but you won’t have to defrost the whole joint, sentencing yourself to a full week of ham sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Fresh Cooked Sliced Ham
Fresh cooked ham slices will last up to three months in the frosty depths of your freezer, outliving store-bought cooked slices as their shelf life has already partly elapsed before purchase.
What You’ll Need - paper towels, freezer bags or cellophane
The best way to freeze fresh cooked sliced ham is to ensure it has fully cooled. To stop the build-up of harmful bacteria, I recommend cooling it as soon as possible after it has finished cooking.
You can speed up the cooling process by using a cold room, but you should never put hot food directly in the fridge.
The heat causes condensation to build up on surfaces, encouraging bacterial growth. If you have no access to an air-conditioned room, your ham can rest in a room temperature environment for up to two hours.
That’s more than long enough for sliced ham to cool.
Once your cooked ham slices are completely cool, it’s time to dry them off.
I know drying your individual pieces of ham may seem to onlookers like a slow descent into insanity, but trust me, it’s essential to maximizing your ham’s longevity.
The long and short of it is that moisture turns to ice crystals in the freezer, and ice crystals destroy the structural integrity of the ham.
On top of freeze-burning the surface, ice crystals actually draw moisture from within food, leaving it dry as jerky upon defrosting.
Portioning and Packaging
After you’ve used your paper towels to dry your slices of ham as best as you can, it’s time to prep them for storage.
Freezing them in stacks will preserve them for longer, but the beauty of freezing sliced ham is being able to portion them precisely.
Pro-Tip - Why not freeze various size portions suitable for different meals.
Once your portions are ready, it’s time to package them for storage. The best packaging for sliced cooked ham is a vacuum-sealed freezer bag.
Standard freezer bags or plenty of cellophane will also get the job done, but won’t keep your ham fresh for as long. The important thing is preventing as much meat to air contact as possible.
Air is the biggest factor in the fouling of frozen food. The process is known as oxidation, and it accelerates negative changes to color, texture, taste, and nutritional content.
When placing your ham slices in your chosen packaging, try your best to keep them flat so all surfaces are exposed equally to the icy temperatures. This helps your food freeze faster and at a consistent rate throughout.
Once you’ve expelled as much air as possible from your packaging, it’s time to label it with the date. This is how you’re going to keep track of what needs eating and when.
After you’re all labeled up, it’s time to place your ham in a freezer, and viola! You’re done. I highly recommend setting your freezer to -18 degrees.
Pro-Tip - Commercial kitchens always place cooked meat on the top shelf of both fridges and freezers. Raw meats are stored on bottom shelves. It’s the safest way to store both in the same freezer.
Store-Bought Cooked Ham Slices
If you purchase sliced, cooked ham straight from the store, you’ll be happy to know that if it’s unopened, you can place it directly in the freezer for up to a month.
Factory packaging is normally airtight, perfect for freezing food, but there’s often quite a lot of moisture content inside.
If you want your pre-cooked, pre-sliced ham to last even longer, try using the exact same techniques we suggested for fresh cooked sliced ham.
Defrosting Your Sliced Ham
As a rule, food should always be defrosted as slowly as possible. For optimal results, you should defrost your ham in a fridge with a temperature between 5 and 8 degrees.
The larger the portion of ham, the longer it will take to defrost. Even a relatively small amount will take the better part of a day to thaw which is why it’s best to plan ahead and defrost your ham overnight.
Freezing Joints of Cooked Ham
If you’re searching the ham-themed depths of the internet for the freezing method that’s going to help your ham last the longest, freezing whole - or large parts of - joints is your answer.
You can expect a fresh cooked ham joint to last up to four months in the cryogeny of your freezer.
What You’ll Need - cellophane, aluminum, and paper towels
The very first thing you need to ensure before you even start the cooling process is that your joint is cooked throughout.
A large ham can take beyond five hours to boil or roast. You should use a thermometer probe to check the internal temperature is 75 degrees, or at least consistently 73 degrees.
Defrosting your ham to find it partially raw in the middle means you’ll have to re-cook, which will lead to the already cooked outer portions drying out or burning.
Next comes the cooling process. It’s going to take a fair while for your ham to fully cool. If you want to speed things up, keep it in a cold environment or cut the ham in half.
The same rules apply here as with cooling sliced ham. You shouldn’t put hot food directly in the fridge to cool down. It has to reach room temperature before it can be wrapped and fully cooled in the fridge.
Once your bounteous ham is nice and chilled, that’s your cue to start toweling that bad boy down.
Use paper towels to soak up as much surface moisture as possible.
Preventing the buildup of ice crystals is fundamental in keeping your ham moist and delectable throughout its stint in the shivery slammer.
Cool: Check! Dry: Check! That must mean it’s time to prepare your ham joint for the deep freeze.
Now, we can’t rely on vacuum-sealed freezer bags for this particular meaty venture as they’re not quite big enough. In their stead, feel free to use cellophane.
Cellophane isn’t quite as foolproof as a proper freezer bag, so I’d suggest double wrapping. Make sure the cellophane is tight to the ham. Try not to leave any air bubbles. Air bubbles are to be avoided like the plague.
As an extra, extra precaution, you should then securely wrap your joint in aluminum foil. This three-wrap method is the best way to prevent oxidation and keep your ham as scrumptious as possible.
Finish things up with a clearly annotated sticky label written in ink that won’t run or fade.
Now that your ham is suited and booted in its winter best, it’s time to send it on its way to Freezetown! It’s best to clear out a decent space in your freezer while the ham is cooling.
This way the counter to freezer process is as short as humanly possible. Plonk your planetary pink beast on the top shelf of your freezer, shut the door, and you’re done!
Defrosting Your Cooked Ham Joint
The defrosting process for a large joint is exactly the same as it is for sliced ham or any other meat for that matter.
It needs to be done ever so gently over a long period of time. It’s important to note that a large joint may take up to 48 hours to fully thaw, so make sure you plan ahead if you absolutely must have ham.
To start the defrosting process, take your ham from the freezer, place it on a dish, and leave it on a high shelf in your fridge. The temperature should be set to 5 degrees so that it never exceeds 8 degrees when opened.
Once your ham is fully softened, it should be perfectly safe to eat within three days of refrigeration. On day four, the quality will have started to deteriorate, but it will still be safe to eat.
Beyond four days, I’m afraid it’s time to say goodbye to your grey-pink friend. It’s been a long emotional journey at this point, but all things must come to an end.
How Do I Know if My Ham’s Gone Bad in the Lockup?
There will be plenty of telltale signs if your ham has turned while it’s been in the freezer. The first thing you’ll notice that should send alarm bells ringing is the significant buildup of ice crystals.
This will happen if there was excess moisture on the ham before it was frozen. Ice crystals siphon out moisture from the interior of your ham leaving it tough and dry.
The next thing to look out for is stark changes to the coloring of your ham. If it’s significantly more grey than you remember it being, it’s probably started to ruin.
Another thing to look out for is air pockets in the packaging. They signify oxidation has taken place which causes freeze-burns and fast-tracks spoilage.
The most telling sign that you hunk o’ meat has given up the ghost is a rank smell. This won’t be apparent until it’s well into the thawing process but should be pretty noticeable eventually, maybe even downright unavoidable.
If your ham has been cooped up in the arctic chill of your freezer for over four months, you can pretty much guarantee it’s started to spoil. In this instance, it’s best to just throw it out, unfortunately.
Factors to Consider Before Going Subzero
Luckily for all you ham heads out there, ham retains its flavor incredibly well, but unfortunately, after about two weeks, you might start to notice a slight discoloration, even if you managed to keep it pretty airtight.
This isn’t a big deal; it’s still good to eat, but it doesn’t exactly look as appetizing.
Loss of Flavor
After a month in the freezer, it’s likely that some of the flavors are going to slowly start deteriorating, so if you want to truly make the most of your ham, set it to defrost before it’s too late.
Once Thawed, There’s No Going Back
You shouldn’t under any circumstances refreeze defrosted meats. The constant exposure to extreme temperatures breaks down your ham on a cellular level, ruining all that was pure and good about it.
Flavor, color, texture are all leached away, while your ham becomes ever more susceptible to the growth of harmful bacteria.
This is especially pertinent if you’re defrosting large amounts of ham at once. You’ll need to get through as much as possible in the following three days to avoid waste.
Every day you wait before freezing your ham is another day off the eventual defrosted shelf life.
If your ham is two days into its refrigeration when you freeze it, technically, it’s only really good for one day after defrosting. This is why it’s best to freeze ham as soon as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you freeze smoked ham?
Absolutely, it should freeze just as well as normal ham.
How long does leftover ham last?
Most of the time, you can just trust your senses.
If it still looks and smells good, it’s probably good; however, it’s important to note that commercial kitchens, in adherence with strict health code regulations, will throw food out after three days of refrigeration.
Sometimes meats are lab treated to extend their shelf lives, but that’s a fairly uncommon occurrence.
How long can you freeze cooked ham?
Fresh cooked ham lasts up to four months in the freezer if it has been cooled, dried, and packaged correctly.
You’re looking at roughly two months of suspended animation for your sliced ham.
Can you eat a ham that’s been frozen for two years?
The answer to this is a resounding no!
Some properly cured and salted hams can be preserved for up to 7 years, but when it comes to freezing, four months is your limit.
How do you know if ham has gone bad?
Look for grayish discolorations throughout and give it a good smell.
If it has gone bad, it should give off a horrible sulfur-like stench.
I Think Therefore I Ham
There you have it, snackers, a full guide on the best way to freeze your cooked ham.
With a little bit of forethought and some careful planning, there’s no reason you can’t stretch your ham supplies out far beyond their natural shelf life and completely eliminate waste!