Whether it's deli meat, full roasts, or big birds, the term "uncured" is getting thrown around a lot these days. But what does it actually mean?
In this article, we will discuss the differences between cured and uncured ham, as well as the health benefits of both.
What Does Uncured Mean?
Simply put, uncured means that the meat did not go through the normal curing process. So, it's either "fresh" ham (meaning completely uncooked) or it's been cured, but in the "uncured way." Confusing, right?
Uncured ham is cut in the same way as cured ham, but it's not brined or flavored, like bacon or prosciutto. It is usually a light pink or grey color, unlike the dark red or pink of cured ham.
Is Uncured Ham Safe to Eat?
Yes, in most situations.
Uncured ham is still technically cured. So, it's not the most accurate name. However, it's cured in a far more natural way than other meats.
If you're buying fresh ham (aka uncured ham) that hasn't been cooked, it'll be safe to eat once you pop that roast in the oven and reach the proper internal temperature.
Cured vs Uncured Ham
Uncured ham is usually cured with celery, beets, and salt. The vitamin C in these veggies prevents the nitrates from transforming into nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are a known carcinogen, so it's best to avoid them at all costs! Luckily, uncured ham will always have a label that says, "No nitrites or nitrates."
Cured ham, on the other hand, is injected with seasonings, nitrites, and nitrates to prevent bacterial growth. It is then fully cooked or smoked, depending on the brand.
Uncured ham has a shorter shelf life than cured ham due to its lack of preservatives. However, there are plenty of other benefits to purchasing uncured ham that make up for its shorter shelf life.
Uncured ham is often seen as the healthier alternative because it's far more natural. For example, there aren't any nitrates, nitrosamines, or other preservatives. Also, it is less salty than cured ham, making it ideal for those watching their sodium intake.
Eating a significant portion of cured ham every day will increase your risk of cancer. The preservatives in cured ham turn nitrates into nitrosamines, a by-product of the curing process. Nitrosamines can cause cancer in the brain, liver, lung, bladder, kidney, stomach, nasal sinus, or esophagus. (1)
Since nitrates aren't present in the curing process for uncured ham, the risk of cancer significantly decreases.
Uncured ham will lack most of the flavor that we know and love in cured ham. That impossibly sweet but salty flavor? Yeah, it's not going to be there. Most people compare uncured ham to pork tenderloin rather than bacon.
Cured ham is often brined with other additions that introduce honey and maple flavors. So, you can always add a maple or honey glaze to your uncured ham to kick it up a notch.
Cured ham is often more expensive than uncured ham. Cured ham is usually smoked, flavored, and made all pretty, so it's a little more work. Hence the price tag!
Cured ham is a lot easier to find at your local grocery store as it's still more common than uncured ham, in spite of the health risks. However, uncured ham is becoming more and more popular. You can usually find it at more health-conscious stores, like Whole Foods, Aldi's, or Trader Joe's.
Another great way to source uncured ham is from your local butcher!
Which is Better? Cured or Uncured Ham?
Taste-wise? Cured ham.
Health-wise? Uncured ham for sure. Eating a significant amount of deadly carcinogens every day in a ham sandwich is not worth it. At least, not for me.
Does Uncured Ham Need to be Cooked?
In some instances, yes. In others, no. Some uncured ham will already be cooked, so you just need to reheat it. Others, not so much.
This really depends on if you're buying "fresh" ham (which is a form of uncured ham) or "uncured" ham. Please read the label before diving in.
How to Cook an Uncured Ham
Let's say you've got a significant chunk of uncured ham. If you want to bake it, you'll need to cook it at 325°F for 15-20 minutes per pound. So, if you have three pounds of meat, you'll want to cook it for 45-60 minutes.
Before sticking it in the oven, cover that bad boy in foil and place it fat side up. Throw in some sprigs of rosemary or thyme, salt and pepper, lemon juice--you get the picture. You can also add on a glaze afterward for some extra flavor!
Uncured Ham Recipes
Here are a few uncured ham recipes to spice it up a little:
Sweet Slice Uncured Ham with Brown Sugar Spice Glaze
Fresh Ham with Maple-Balsamic Glaze
Best Uncured Ham Companies
There are plenty of uncured ham companies out there. But, after some extensive research, I have compiled a list of the best of the best. These brands will hopefully be in your local grocery store. If not, you can order from them online:
Can You Smoke Uncured Ham?
Yes! You can absolutely smoke uncured ham. Get out that smoker and some charcoal. Then, let it smoke for approximately ten hours.
The smoking process, though lengthy, will add back in some of the bacon-like flavors to your uncured ham. And I have a hard time saying no to bacon...
What is Uncured Honey Ham?
Uncured honey ham has a honey glaze on it to make it taste real good. However, it's still uncured, meaning there were no nitrates or preservatives used in the curing process. Safe and tasty!
How Long to Cook Uncured Ham
That all depends on the internal temperature. The center of the meat needs to be between 145°F and 160°F to make it safe to eat. It may be drier when cooked above 145°, so keep that in mind when roasting.
The differences between cured and uncured ham range from the curing process to their flavor.
However, keeping your health in mind, it wouldn't hurt to sub out cured deli meat for uncured ham sandwiches. In fact, it'd only help!
And try not to worry about the flavor. There are plenty of recipes that will make uncured ham taste just as good.