[Full Guide] How Long To Boil Country Ham

Country ham is a staple in Southern cuisine and is popular for its distinctive flavor and texture. With its savory and salty taste, country ham is a versatile ingredient that can be the star of a dish or an excellent complement to other ingredients. While country ham is often fried or baked, boiling is another method of cooking that can result in a delicious and tender ham. Boiling country ham can be a great way to reduce its saltiness while retaining its rich flavor. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the process of boiling country ham, including the duration, selection of ham, preparation, and step-by-step instructions for boiling.

Quick Answer: How Long To Boil Country Ham

Boiling country ham requires careful timing to ensure that the meat is both tender and flavorful. On average, a country ham should be boiled for approximately 20 minutes per pound. This timing can vary slightly depending on the specific cut of ham and the level of saltiness desired. It’s essential to monitor the ham closely to prevent overcooking, which can result in a dry and tough texture.


When selecting a country ham for boiling, consider whether you prefer a bone-in or boneless ham. Both options offer unique advantages, with bone-in hams often imparting additional flavor to the meat during the boiling process. Additionally, bone-in hams are excellent for creating flavorful stocks and broths after boiling. Boneless hams, on the other hand, may be more convenient for slicing and serving once boiled.

In addition to considering the bone-in or boneless distinction, it’s important to choose a high-quality country ham from a reputable source. Look for hams that are well-marbled, as this indicates a good balance of lean and fat, contributing to both flavor and tenderness. Some hams may also come with a glaze or seasoning packet, which can enhance the overall flavor profile when boiled.


Proper preparation is crucial for achieving the best results when boiling country ham. Before placing the ham in the pot, it’s important to give it a thorough rinse under cool running water. This helps to remove any excess salt on the surface of the ham, which can contribute to an overly salty end result.

After rinsing, the ham can be soaked to further reduce its saltiness. Soaking the ham in cold water for several hours, or even overnight, can be an effective method for mitigating its salt content. Some cooks may also change the water multiple times during the soaking process to accelerate the desalination.

How To Boil Country Ham

Boiling country ham is a straightforward process that requires attention to timing and careful monitoring. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to boil country ham to perfection:


  • Country ham (bone-in or boneless)
  • Water
  • Optional: Glaze or seasoning packet (included with some hams)


  1. Rinsing the Ham: Begin by rinsing the country ham under cool running water to remove any surface salt.

  2. Soaking the Ham (Optional): If desired, soak the ham in cold water for several hours or overnight to reduce its saltiness. Change the water multiple times during the soaking process to further desalinate the ham.

  3. Preparing the Pot: Choose a pot large enough to accommodate the size of the ham with plenty of room for water to cover it entirely. If the ham is bone-in, consider using a stockpot for ample space.

  4. Boiling the Ham: Fill the pot with enough water to completely submerge the ham. If the ham came with a glaze or seasoning packet, add it to the water for additional flavor. Bring the water to a gentle boil over medium-high heat.

  5. Timing the Boil: Once the water reaches a gentle boil, reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer. Boil the ham for approximately 20 minutes per pound. It’s crucial to monitor the ham closely and avoid overcooking to prevent a dry texture.

  6. Checking for Doneness: After the recommended boiling time, use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature of the ham has reached at least 145°F (63°C) for safe consumption.

  7. Resting and Slicing: Once the ham is done, remove it from the water and let it rest for a few minutes before slicing. This allows the juices to redistribute, resulting in a moist and flavorful final product.

  8. Serving: Slice the boiled country ham and serve it as desired. It can be accompanied by biscuits, grits, or incorporated into various dishes such as soups, stews, or casseroles.

Boiling country ham is an excellent way to enjoy this classic Southern ingredient. By carefully selecting a high-quality ham, properly preparing it through rinsing and optional soaking, and following the recommended boiling time, you can achieve a tender and flavorful result. Whether enjoyed on its own or incorporated into various recipes, boiled country ham offers a delicious way to experience its rich, savory taste. With the steps outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can confidently prepare and enjoy boiled country ham in your favorite dishes.

Science Behind Boiling

Boiling country ham is a popular method of cooking this delicious and flavorful meat. This cooking technique involves submerging the ham in a boiling liquid, which imparts a tender texture and enhances the natural flavors of the meat.

Boiling is a cooking method that utilizes the transfer of heat through convection, as opposed to direct contact with a heat source. When a liquid reaches its boiling point, bubbles of vapor form and rise to the surface, releasing heat energy into the surrounding environment. As the bubbles burst, they create a circulation of the liquid, ensuring even cooking throughout.

When it comes to boiling country ham, the heated liquid penetrates the meat, gradually breaking down the connective tissues and proteins. This results in a more tender and juicy ham while retaining its distinctive flavor. Boiling also helps remove excess salt from the ham, creating a more balanced taste.

Optimal Boiling Times

The optimal boiling time for country ham depends on various factors, such as the size of the ham, the desired level of doneness, and personal preferences. However, as a general guideline, you can use the following cooking times:

  • For a boneless country ham weighing around 4 to 6 pounds, boil for approximately 35 to 40 minutes per pound.
  • For a bone-in country ham of the same weight range, boil for approximately 25 to 30 minutes per pound.

It is important to note that these times are estimates and can vary depending on individual circumstances. It is always recommended to use a meat thermometer to check for doneness to ensure your ham is cooked to perfection.

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Doneness Test

To determine the doneness of your boiled country ham, you need to check its internal temperature using a meat thermometer. The USDA recommends cooking ham to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) with a resting period of at least three minutes. This ensures that harmful bacteria are destroyed, making the ham safe to consume.

To check the temperature, insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the ham, being careful not to touch the bone, which can give an inaccurate reading. Once the desired temperature is reached, remove the ham from the boiling liquid and allow it to rest for a few minutes before serving. The residual heat will continue to cook the ham slightly while improving its overall texture.

Factors Affecting Boiling Country Ham

Several factors can influence the outcome of boiling country ham. It is essential to consider these variables to achieve the desired results:

Size And Weight

The size and weight of the country ham will directly impact the boiling time. Larger hams will require more time to cook thoroughly, while smaller ones will cook more quickly. It is important to consider these factors to ensure the ham is cooked evenly and reaches the desired level of doneness.

Type Of Ham

Different types of country ham may require varying cooking times due to variations in curing methods and salt content. Some hams may need to be soaked before boiling to remove excess salt and reduce the overall saltiness of the meat. It is advisable to check the packaging or consult with the supplier for specific instructions regarding your particular type of ham.

Starting Temperature

The starting temperature of the ham can affect the overall boiling time. If the ham is taken directly from the refrigerator, it will require more time to reach the desired internal temperature. It is important to allow the ham to come to room temperature before boiling to ensure even cooking throughout.

Liquid Used For Boiling

The liquid in which you boil the country ham can significantly impact its flavor. While water is commonly used, you can enhance the taste by adding aromatic ingredients such as bay leaves, cloves, garlic, onions, or herbs. These flavorings will infuse into the ham during the cooking process, adding depth and complexity to the final dish.

Pre-Boiling Steps

Before boiling the country ham, some pre-boiling steps can improve its texture and flavor. Soaking the ham in cold water can help remove excess salt and reduce its overall saltiness. It is recommended to soak the ham for at least 6 to 12 hours, rinsing it thoroughly before boiling. This step is especially crucial for salt-cured hams.

Water Change

During the boiling process, the water can become cloudy or discolored due to the release of impurities from the ham. To maintain the appearance and flavor of the ham, it is advisable to change the water at least once during the boiling process. This will ensure a cleaner final product, free from any unwanted impurities.


After boiling, you can choose to glaze the country ham to enhance its appearance and add a touch of sweetness. Glazing typically involves brushing the ham with a mixture of sugar, spices, and additional flavorings, then roasting it in the oven at a high temperature for a short period. This step caramelizes the glaze, creating a shiny and appealing crust on the ham’s surface.

Boiling country ham is a fantastic cooking technique that produces tender, flavorful results. Understanding the science behind boiling, optimal boiling times, how to determine doneness, and the factors affecting the outcome will help you achieve the perfect boiled country ham. Remember to consider factors such as size and weight, the type of ham, starting temperature, the liquid used for boiling, pre-boiling steps, potential water changes, and the option to glaze the ham. By paying attention to these factors, you can elevate your boiled country ham to a whole new level of taste and tenderness.

Texture After Boiling

Country ham is a flavorful, savory cured meat that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. While it is commonly cooked by baking or frying, boiling country ham can be an excellent alternative method that yields a moist and juicy texture with a different flavor profile.

Boiling country ham has a significant impact on its texture. Unlike baking or frying, boiling infuses the meat with moisture, resulting in a tender and succulent texture. The boiling process allows the ham to retain its juiciness while tenderizing the meat. This moist cooking method helps to break down tougher muscle fibers, making the ham more palatable and easier to chew.

When country ham is boiled, the outer layer of fat softens and melts slightly, blending with the meat, and creating a rich and velvety texture. The combination of the ham’s natural fat content and the added moisture from boiling ensures that the meat remains delectably moist throughout the cooking process.

Taste After Boiling

Boiling country ham can significantly influence its taste profile. The flavors become more subtle and mellow compared to baking or frying methods. While the distinct salty and smoky taste of country ham remains, boiling balances these flavors, creating a slightly less intense but more evenly distributed savory taste.

One of the advantages of boiling country ham is that it allows for customization of flavors during the cooking process. By adding aromatic ingredients such as spices, herbs, or vegetables to the boiling liquid, you can infuse the ham with additional flavors. This versatility opens up a range of possibilities for enhancing the taste of the ham to suit various culinary preferences.

Smell After Boiling

The aroma produced while boiling country ham is undeniably delightful. As the ham cooks in the boiling liquid, it releases savory, smoky, and slightly sweet scents that fill the kitchen and arouse the appetite. The gentle simmering creates an environment that allows the aromatic compounds in the ham to disperse into the surrounding air, enticing everyone with its delicious fragrance.

As the ham tenderizes, the fat content melts and contributes to the enticing aroma. This process releases the rich, meaty scent that makes country ham so appealing. The combination of the ham’s natural aromas and any additional ingredients used in the boiling liquid creates a mouthwatering fragrance that is sure to make your taste buds tingle.

Boiling Techniques For Different Culinary Preferences

When it comes to boiling country ham, there are several techniques you can employ to achieve different culinary preferences. Here are three popular boiling methods, each offering a unique outcome:

1. Traditional Boiling

Traditional boiling is the simplest and most common method of boiling country ham. To start, place the ham in a large pot and cover it with water or a flavorful liquid of your choice. Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow the ham to cook for about 20-30 minutes per pound. This method provides a well-rounded and moist result that preserves the ham’s natural flavors.

2. Aromatic Boiling

Aromatic boiling involves infusing the ham with additional flavors by adding aromatic ingredients to the boiling liquid. This technique enhances the taste and aroma of the ham while providing an opportunity to experiment with different flavors. Popular choices for aromatic ingredients include spices like cloves, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and peppercorns, as well as vegetables like onions, carrots, and celery. The ingredients can be added directly to the boiling liquid or placed in a muslin cloth or sachet for easy removal after cooking. The flavors of the added ingredients permeate the ham, creating a more complex and nuanced taste profile.

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3. Glazed Boiling

Glazed boiling is the perfect technique for those who prefer a caramelized and slightly sweet flavor. To achieve this, add a glaze to the cooking liquid near the end of the boiling process. The glaze can be a combination of ingredients such as honey, brown sugar, mustard, or maple syrup. As the glazed liquid simmers, it coats the ham, infusing it with a sweet and sticky glaze that caramelizes during the cooking process. This technique not only adds additional flavor but also creates an appealing shiny glaze on the ham’s surface.

Boiling country ham is an excellent alternative to baking or frying, providing a moist and succulent texture, mellowed taste, and delightful aroma. Through various boiling techniques, you can customize the flavor profile to cater to different culinary preferences. Whether you opt for a traditional approach, infuse additional aromatics, or add a glaze, boiling country ham offers a unique and delicious way to enjoy this classic cured meat. So, get ready to indulge in a tender and flavorful country ham that will leave you craving for more.

Retaining Nutrition

Country ham, also known as Virginia ham, is a traditional Southern delicacy that is beloved for its salty and savory flavor. It is a dry-cured ham that is typically aged for several months, imparting it with a complex and intense flavor. Country hams can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, but boiling it is an easy and convenient method to prepare it.

Boiling country ham has several benefits compared to other cooking methods, such as baking or frying. Boiling the ham allows it to retain more of its nutritional value, as it is not exposed to high levels of heat which can break down the nutrients. Furthermore, boiling the ham ensures that it is cooked evenly, making it easier to achieve the desired texture and doneness.

Common Mistakes To Avoid

Before we dive into the steps for boiling country ham, let’s discuss some common mistakes people make when doing so. First, make sure you soak the ham before boiling it; not doing so can result in an overly salty and tough piece of meat. Second, do not boil the ham for too long, as this can also result in a dry and tough texture. Finally, avoid adding too many ingredients or seasonings to the pot, as this can overpower the flavor of the ham.

Tips To Boil Country Ham

Now that we have addressed some common mistakes let’s get into the specifics of how to boil country ham:

Step 1: Preparing The Ham

Before boiling the ham, it is important to prepare it properly. The first step is to soak the ham for at least 12-24 hours in cold water. If the ham is particularly salty, you may need to soak it for up to 48 hours, changing the water every 4-6 hours. Once the ham has been soaked, remove it from the water and rinse it thoroughly.

After rinsing the ham, trim any excess fat or skin from the outside. You can score the skin in a diamond pattern, which will not only make the ham look more attractive, but will also help it to cook more evenly. You can also choose to glaze the ham before boiling it, which will give it a sweet and caramelized finish.

Step 2: Boiling The Ham

Once the ham has been prepared, you can start the boiling process. Place the ham in a large pot and cover it with water. You can add some aromatics to the water, such as bay leaves or cloves, but be careful not to add too much. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, and then reduce the heat to a simmer.

The cooking time for a country ham can vary, depending on its size and how well-done you prefer it. As a general rule, you should boil the ham for approximately 20-25 minutes per pound. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the ham; it should reach at least 145°F for safe consumption.

Step 3: Finishing The Ham

Once the ham has finished boiling, remove it from the pot and let it rest for a few minutes before carving it. You can slice the ham thinly or thickly, depending on your preference. You can also choose to serve the ham with traditional Southern sides, such as collard greens, black-eyed peas, and cornbread.

What To Do With Boiled Country Ham

Boiled country ham is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes. Here are a few suggestions for how to use leftover boiled ham:

  • Ham and Bean Soup: Combine the leftover ham with some white beans, onions, carrots, and celery for a hearty and satisfying soup.
  • Ham and Cheese Omelette: Use the diced ham as a filling for a cheesy and delicious omelette.
  • Ham Salad: Combine the diced ham with some mayo, mustard, and chopped pickles for a classic Southern sandwich spread.
  • Ham and Grits: Top a bowl of creamy grits with some diced ham and a fried egg for a decadent breakfast.


Boiling country ham is an easy and convenient way to prepare this classic Southern delicacy. By following these tips and suggestions, you can ensure that your ham has the perfect texture and flavor. Whether you serve it as the centerpiece of your holiday meal or use it as an ingredient in your favorite dishes, boiled country ham is sure to impress.


What Is A Country Ham?

A country ham is a type of cured and salted ham that is traditionally made in the rural regions of the United States. It is a popular source of protein and is often served as a main dish or used to flavor other dishes.

How Do I Prepare A Country Ham For Boiling?

To prepare a country ham for boiling, start by soaking it in water overnight to help remove excess salt. Then, rinse the ham in cold water and pat it dry. You may also trim any excess fat if desired.

How Long Does It Take To Boil A Country Ham?

The boiling time for a country ham will vary depending on its size and weight. A general rule of thumb is to allow 20 minutes of boiling time per pound. For a standard 10 pound ham, this would be approximately 3-4 hours of boiling time.

Can I Add Any Other Ingredients To The Boiling Water For Extra Flavor?

Yes, you can add additional ingredients to the boiling water to enhance the flavor of the country ham. Some popular options include spices (such as peppercorns, cloves, and bay leaves), brown sugar, and apple cider or vinegar.

How Do I Know When The Country Ham Is Done Boiling?

The best way to determine if a country ham is done boiling is by using a meat thermometer. The internal temperature should reach 160°F before it is considered safe to eat. Additionally, the ham will have a darker color and a firm texture when it is fully cooked.