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A boneless leg of serrano ham. Photo courtey La Tienda.




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Last Updated April 2018

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Meat & Poultry

Types Of Ham

A Glossary


The ham comes from the back legs of the pig: It comprises the thigh and rear end of the pig. The bone is often left in, which adds flavor and includes the rump (the upper portion), the center and the shank (the lower portion). 

The upper part of the leg (above the knee) is called shank end; the bottom of the leg produces trotters. Ham can be cured or fresh. Different countries use different methods of curing and cooking the ham, as you’ll see in the hams below.


While today ham is the food of Everyman, for a long time it was an elite meat: enjoyed by royalty and served by the affluent on special occasions. In the Roman Empire, it was served to emperors and their guests. Check out the history of pork and see our many other food glossaries, including our Pork Cuts Glossary.

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Ham is made from the back let of the pig. Chart courtesy


A style where selected lean ham pieces are place in a large casing, then baked and smoked.


According to federal regulations, baked ham is a ham “cooked by direct action of dry heat and reaches an internal temperature of 170°F.



A boneless, dry-cured ham from France. It is salted and air-dried for six months in the Pyrenees and the south of France. It is named after the port city of Bayonne in southwestern France

Bayonne ham (jamon bayonne), sometimes called the “French prosciutto.” Photo courtesy Murray’s Cheese.


A round, boneless, dry-cured ham initially soaked in caramel to encourage the development of a dark surface. It is cooked with a heavy smoke from pine or fir branches.


Called cooked ham by the USDA), boiled ham is a bland, non-smoked ham that is cooked by steaming or immersing in hot water. It is generally used as a luncheon meat.



Bresaola is not ham but beef. It is air-cured like prosciutto, and a meatier alternative for those who prefer beef to pork.

Black forest ham with its signature dark surface. Photo courtesy North Country Smokehouse.



A dry-cured specialty ham originated in the southeastern U.S. Different regions use different recipes, but most are salty and smoky, with flavors of hickory, honey or maple.



Coppa (the Italian word for neck) is an Italian cured meat that tastes similar to prosciutto, and can be used interchangeably. The difference between the two meats is that coppa is made from the pork shoulder or neck; prosciutto is made from the thigh and buttocks.




Guanciale (gwan-CHA-lay) is not ham, but cured pork jowl (pork cheeks) similar to bacon, but unsmoked. See our Bacon Glossary.

Guanciale, cured pork jowls. Photo courtesy


The ham hock is not a type of ham, but the joint between the tibia/fibula and the part of foot where it is attached to the pig’s leg. This cut generally has too much skin and gristle to be eaten directly. Instead, it is often cooked with greens and other vegetables, or in soups, to provide a smoky pork flavor. Try it in this delicious recipe for barbecue pork butt (pulled pork).

Ham hock. Photo by Stu Spivack | Wikipedia.



A ham that gets a distinctive hickory flavor from smoking over hickory chips. Lesser hams use liquid smoke.



A ham cured with honey or maple syrup instead of sugar.



See Bayonne ham, above.

A hickory-smoked, rosemary-crusted ham from



Jamón ibérico de campo (jamón ibérico for short) is also known as jamón de pata Negra, of the the black-hoof, named after the black-hoofed Iberian pig (cerdo ibérico). There are three grades of jamón ibérico: pasture- and grain-fed jamón ibérico de campo; jamón ibérico de recebo, which is acorn, pasture and corn-fed; and jamón ibérico de bellota,
free-range and acorn-foraging, which can cost twice as much as a jamón
ibérico de recebo. The ham is dry-cured for 24 months and the product is
a great luxury: The jamón ibérico de campo costs about $89.00 a pound,
or $800 for a 9-pound boneless ham. This is the ham commonly served at
tapas bars (and now you know why those slices are so thin!).

Black-hoofed pata negra. Photo courtesy Cinco Jotas.

Sweet and nutty, jamón ibérico is a luxury product. To test how much you like it, taste it alongside the much more affordable Serrano ham.

Pata negra only accounts for about 5% of total ham production in Spain.
The best pigs are fattened (finished) by rooting free-range on acorns,
in the groves along the southern border between Spain and Portugal. This is
the famous (and famously expensive) jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn-fed ).
The physical activity in the forest creates a highly marbled meat with
rich, golden fat that is full of antioxidants. This ham is cured for 36
months—a very long time enabled by the high fat content and the
antioxidant quality of the diet. Jamón ibérico de campo and jamón
ibérico de recebo are still excellent hams, but not as spectacular as
the bellota ham. Enjoy it is a first course with a side of warm toast.
Read more about jamón ibérico. Also see ibérico pig and pata negra.



Prosciutto is the Italian word for ham. The term prosciutto is almost always used for a dry-cured ham that is usually sliced thinly and served uncooked; this style is called prosciutto crudo in Italian and is distinguished from cooked ham, prosciutto cotto. The finest prosciuttos are PDO-protected: Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham) is from the Parma region of Italy. They are considered “sweet” (not too salty). They are aged for 400 days, cured with salt only (hence the delicate pink color). Most prosciutto is pressed by a machine to achieve the flat shape. The word prosciutto derives from Latin pro (before) and exsuctus (past participle of exsugere “to suck out”), and refers to the sucking out of the moisture in the ham by the mountain winds, which whipped through the sheds where the hams were hanging.

Prosciutto de Parma. Photo courtesy Murray’s Cheese.

The modern Italian verb prosciugare  means “to dry thoroughly.” See the differences between prosciutto and serrano hams, below.



Prosciutto San Daniele, whish is also PDO-protected, is made in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy. It is produced by a consortium of 30 members. As with prosciutto di Parka, prosciutto di San Daniele is crafted from the hind legs of hogs raised to 9 months or more. The legs are rubbed with salt and spices, and air-dried (aged) for 13 months. The moister, cooler climate of Friuli-Venezia creates mild and delicate meat with a melting, velvety texture. Pair it with slices of cantaloupe or wrap spears of roasted asparagus in slices as an appetizer. The ham goes especially well with the crisp pinot grigios of Friuli-Venezia.

Prosciutto San Daniele. Photo courtesy Due Forni | Las Vegas.



Serrano ham is a dry-cured Spanish ham which is generally served in thin slices, similar to the French jambon bayonne and Italian prosciutto crudo. See the photo at the top of the page.


See the differences between prosciutto and serrano hams, below.




Speck is a boned ham dry-cured in a similar manner as prosciutto. At the end of curing it is lightly smoked. The finest is a PDO-protected Speck Alto Aldige, from the north of Italy. Here’s more about it, and a comparison of prosciutto and speck.


Speck Alto Aldige, a PDO-protected artisan product. Photo by F.P. Wing | IST.


Tasso, a Creole specialty, is not exactly ham. It is not made from the hind leg of the pig, but from the pork butt. The butt is dredged in a salt cure for a few hours, then rinsed, rubbed with a hot spice mixture containing cayenne pepper and garlic, and then hot-smoked. It can be eaten on its own, but is more often used to add flavor to stews, braises, and in dishes ranging from pasta to crab cakes to soup and gravy. It’s a “must” in jambalaya.



This American ham is made in the Serrano style (hence the play on words) by Edwards Smokehouse of Virginia. It is crafted from pasture-raised heritage Berkshire hogs; hand cured, hickory smoked and aged. Try it alongside a slice of Serrano ham to see which you prefer.



Go To The Top of The Page

Tasso ham. Photo courtesy Murray’s Cheese.



Both prosciutto and Serrano hams are dry-cured: salted and hung in sheds to cure in the air. Both are served in very thin slices. Country ham, preferred in the U.S., is smoked, and a very different stye from dry-cured hams.

While prosciutto and Serrano hams can be used interchangeably in recipes, they are different.



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Last Updated  Apr 2018

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