Christmas Recipes: How Long Should You Cook a Ham? How Long Should You Cook a Turkey?

christmas recipes how long to cook a ham
Four-year-old Vera Martin helped by her grandmother, Elina Mesa, prepares the Christmas tree on the Spanish Canary island of Tenerife on December 8, 2013. In America, many families have ham for their Christmas dinner and cooking times depend on the type and size of ham that's being served. DESIREE MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images

After decking the halls with boughs of holly, many people head to the kitchen to start cooking the Christmas ham in preparation for the final meal of the holiday.

The key to cooking a hog or bird to perfection is first identifying the type of protein that a person is trying to cook. Turkey largely has two cooking options, stuffed or unstuffed, and the choice in ham is predominantly between city, country or fresh.

City Hams

City hams are the most common hams consumers will find in a grocery store and are pre-cooked and spiral sliced. City Ham purchasers have two options to purchase: one with a bone-in or one without a bone. Boneless hams are easier to serve, according to Betty Crocker, but bone-in hams are believed to add flavor.

Although the ham is technically cooked, most people at the Christmas dinner table prefer to gorge on pork that's been warmed up in the oven. Similarly to turkey, cooking times for a ham depend on the size of the cut.

For cooking a boneless ham, Betty Crocker recommended roasting the ham at 325 degrees Fahrenheit in accordance with the following times:

  • 1.5 – 2 pounds: 29 to 33 minutes per pound
  • 3 – 4 pounds: 19 to 23 minutes per pound
  • 6 to 8 pounds: 16 to 20 minutes per pound
  • 9 to 11 pounds: 12 to 16 minutes per pound

A ham with the bone in ranging from six to eight pounds should cook for 13 to 17 minutes per pound and a 14 to 16-pound ham with the bone in should cook for 11 to 14 minutes per pound.

Country Hams

Country hams are typically sold uncooked and are often saltier and drier than a city ham. As a result, it requires a bit of preparation. Before serving the meal, the chef should fill a large pot with water and soak the ham for four to eight hours, according to Martha Stewart. Soaking the ham gets rid of some of the saltiness and it's important to change the water two or three times over the four to eight hour period, if possible.

After soaking, any mold or green rind should be removed. The 16-pound ham should then be wrapped in aluminum foil and placed on a baking sheet. At 7:00 p.m. local time the night before, Martha Stewart recommended placing the ham in a large roasting pan filled with an inch of water and baking for 30 minutes at 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

The oven should then be turned off but the door should remain closed. At 10:00 p.m. local time, the oven should be turned back on to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and the ham should be baked for 15 minutes more. Then the oven should be turned off and the ham left in the closed oven overnight.

In the morning, the ham can be taken out of the oven and served warm or at room temperature.

A bit of a simpler method to cook a country ham is to boil it. After soaking the ham to remove some of the saltiness, Smithfield Marketplace recommended placing the ham skin-side down in a large pot and covering it with cool water. Bringing the water to a simmer at 190 degrees Fahrenheit, the ham should cook about 25 minutes per pound or until it reaches an internal temperature of 163 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fresh Hams

Fresh hams are usually the hardest to come by and can require heavy preparation, such as brining, since they've largely been left untouched. Once the ham is prepared for cooking, the United States Department of Agriculture recommended cooking a whole leg with the bone in weighing between 12 and 16 pounds for 22 to 26 minutes per pound.

A whole leg without the bone weighing between 10 and 14 pounds should cook for about 24 to 28 minutes per pound. Finally, a half leg with the bone in that weighs five to eight pounds should cook for 35 to 40 minutes per pound.

Stuffed Turkey

When it comes to turkey, the cook times depend largely on the size and whether the bird was stuffed before going into the oven. If using a conventional oven, preheat it to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and place the fresh or frozen bird in a shallow roasting pan, breast side up. Butterball recommended cooking the bird in accordance with the following times:

  • 6-7 pounds: 2¼-2¾hours
  • 7-10 pounds: 2¾-3½ hours
  • 10-18 pounds: 3¾-4½ hours
  • 18-22 pounds: 4½-5hours
  • 22-24 pounds: 5-5½ hours
  • 24-30 pounds: 5½-6¼ hours

Cooking times will also vary if a convection oven is used instead of a conventional oven. When opting for a convection oven, still preheat it to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and following these Butterball-recommended cooking times:

  • 6-10 pounds: 1¾-2½ hours
  • 10-18 pounds: 2½-3¼ hours
  • 18-22 pounds: 3¼-3¾ hours
  • 22-24 pounds: 3¾-4¼ hours

Unstuffed Turkey

If the chef doesn't plan to stuff the turkey before putting it in the oven, there is still the decision to be made between convention and convection. At 325 degrees Fahrenheit, an unstuffed turkey should be cooked, according to Butterball, using the following times as a guide:

  • 6-7 pounds: 2-2½ hours
  • 7-10 pounds: 2½-3 hours
  • 10-18 pounds: 3-3½ hours
  • 18-22 pounds: 3½-4 hours
  • 22-24 pounds: 4-4½ hours
  • 24-30 pounds: 4½-5 hours

For those who choose to use a convection oven, it's best to still set the temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. The stuffed bird should be placed breast side up in the roasting pan and cooked:

  • 6-10 pounds: 1½ -2 hours
  • 10-18 pounds: 2-2½ hours
  • 18-22 pounds: 2½-3 hours
  • 22-24 pounds: 3-3½ hours

It's not uncommon for a host to stand in front of a ham or turkey at the grocery store and debate the necessary pounds to feed the crowd. Fortunately, if there are leftovers, the USDA shared that they can be put in the freezer and kept for one to two months. For turkey, after freezing, you should eat it within six months.