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Best Wishes for a Christmas Ham

December 21, 2017

Trader Joe’s was a life saver when it came to the Capital Region. Yes, everyone complains about the parking. The parking is bad at pretty much every Trader Joe’s I’ve ever visited around the country. That’s just how it goes.

The Trader Joe’s in Albany though recently expanded its parking lot, adding more spaces both to the front and in a separate overflow lot in the back.

Even still, earlier this week, the parking lot was exceedingly chaotic. And that’s when I noticed there was a queue set up inside the HoneyBaked Ham store. Yep. One busy store in the strip mall is about all the parking lot can take. But during Christmas and Easter when the HoneyBaked Ham store gets rolling, and there are two busy stores sharing the same lot? That spells “doom”.

Anyhow, as the chaos of the holiday season reaches its apex, it is time to share my annual warning about HoneyBaked Ham.

If you are one of the fortunate few to find this nearly perfectly balanced joint of meat on your table, it would be a tragedy to inadvertently ruin the one thing that makes it worth braving the parking lots and lines.

The thing is that people ruin their HoneyBaked Ham all the time. That’s why it comes with instructions. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where people routinely throw away the instructions assuming that they know best.

After all, the instructions say not to heat the HoneyBaked Ham. That can’t be right.

Oh, but it is. Let me put this in all caps, so you know how serious I am. Because I don’t want there to be any confusion when it comes to this matter. DO. NOT. HEAT. YOUR. HONEYBAKED. HAM.

Never. Never ever. Not even for a moment. Not on low. Not wrapped in foil. Not in the microwave. Not in the warm oven after something else has finished cooking. Don’t even think about it. Not even for a second.

When you pay a premium for one of these hams, you are paying for a remarkable feat of food science. It’s a high wire balancing act, of salt, water, and sugar. You’ve got the sweet, crunch of the glaze, and the tender salty meat below.

Now it’s fine to let this salted and smoked piece of meat sit out at room temperature for hours. The purpose of ham is to be able to last without refrigeration. Salt and smoke are miracle workers for food preservation. So don’t get nervous about setting out your ham long long before you plan to eat it. It’s built to do just that. And as it sits, the chill will fall off, and you’ll have a perfect ham.

But if you go the other route, and try to warm it up, that crackly glaze will melt, and you’ll not only lose the glorious texture it adds but the ratio will be off too. More importantly, the meat will tighten up, expelling some of the water contained in the ham. And that’s equally tragic. Not only will your ham dry out, but as the moisture goes, the salt will stay behind, and you’ll be left with a mess.

If you need a bit more encouragement, I’ve tried telling this tale in several ways over the years. I think my favorite might have been the one I did in verse.

Just so you have it handy, should someone at your holiday gathering think you’re mad for insisting the Honeybaked ham stay out of the oven, here are the official instructions from the company:

Serve at Room Temperature
The Honey Baked Ham® and Turkey Breast are fully cooked and ready to enjoy. For the very best flavor, take the Ham or Turkey Breast out of the refrigerator to stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving. Refrigerate unused portions immediately.

We recommend that you do not heat Honey Baked Hams® or Turkeys – they are made to enjoy right from the refrigerator. If you prefer your meat warmed, gently heat on low heat only by the slice, and do not heat the entire ham. HEATING WILL CAUSE THE MEAT TO DRY OUT AND LOSE FLAVOR.

I added the all caps part for emphasis. And changed the “may” to “will” since clearly that’s what they originally intended until someone from marketing told the culinary team to tone down their rhetoric.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2017 6:51 pm

    Comedian Kyle Kinane has a conspiracy theory “that Trader Joe’s is
    making their parking lots too small on purpose just so they
    seem more popular than they really are.”

    • December 28, 2017 12:02 pm

      I’ve been going to HoneyBaked Ham for many years. I ‘m not sure they do this any more, but there were times around Easter and Christmas that they’d have a Colonie police officer in the store to maintain order. I’m sure he was off-duty and being paid privately, but it was certainly a testament to the power of ham.

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