How to Cook a Ham in a Pressure Cooker

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What's On This Page

What Is A Ham?

Ham Varieties and Terminology

Pressure Cooking a Cured Ham

Adding Flavors

Checking Doneness

Cooking Time Charts for Hams

Pressure Cooking a Fresh Ham

A Good Finish

What Is A Ham?

Cooking a Spiral Cut Ham

To see my pictorial How-To directions on pressure cooking a Spiral Cut Ham, visit my blog.


Ham is pork that comes from the rear leg of a hog. Ham made from the front leg of a hog is called Pork Shoulder Picnic Ham. A good ham is a lean cut of pork. Fresh ham is low in sodium, but cured ham may be high in sodium.

There are many types of ham, and the cooking directions will vary depending on the type of ham. A ham can be fresh, cook-before-eating, fully-cooked, picnic or country types. Many people think that a cured ham or a Country ham does not need to be cooked. Curing does not mean the ham has been cooked. Cured and/or smoked hams may or may not be “ready-to-eat”. Read package labels to know if cooking is required. If cooking is required follow package instructions. Only if the label reads "fully-cooked or ready-to-eat" should you eat a ham without cooking it to the proper temperature first.

Hams can be Steam Roasted in 14-20 minutes, and you can decorate them with studded whole cloves, apple rings cherries, pineapple rings, or orange slices. Add a quick glaze of honey, mustard, jams, fruit preserves, or use a commercial preparation. After pressure cooking, hams can be placed under the broiler if desired to crisp the outer surface and caramelize the glaze.

Terms You Need to Know

Smoking – After curing some hams are smoked. Hams are hung in a smokehouse where they absorb smoke from smoldering fires. This adds flavor and color to the meat as well as helps preserve it from spoiling. Country hams may be cured by several methods, including smoked-or-unsmoked meat and all of these products must be cooked before eating. A whole, uncut Country Ham can be stored safely at room temperature for up to a year. After one year the ham is safe but the quality is not as good. Country hams (dry cured with salt) may be soaked in water in the refrigerator 4 to 12 hours to reduce the salt content before cooking according to package instructions.

Curing - It is the addition of sugar, seasonings, salt or other preservatives for preserving, coloring and/or flavoring hams.

Vacuum-packaged Fully Cooked Ham And Canned Hams - Both vacuum-packaged fully cooked and canned hams can be eaten cold, with no additional cooking required. There are two different types of canned ham; shelf -stable hams may be stored at room temperature for up to 2 years. Refrigerated canned hams may be stored in the refrigerator up to 6 to 9 months. These hams can be eaten cold just as they come from the package.

Frozen Ham - to thaw place the ham in original package in the refrigerator on a platter. Set on the lowest shelf and allow 3-5 hours per pound thawing time.

Pressure Cooking a Cured Ham

Any ham can be successfully cooked in the pressure cooker. As a bonus, fat is removed during the cooking process, but the ham retains flavor, tenderness, and moisture. The main differences in preparing cooked and uncooked ham is the internal temperature that the ham must reach. With any ham, trim off the rind or the skin and pare away all but a thin (about 1 inch) layer of fat.

Do not use sharp utensils to pierce the ham when trying to turn or lift it because the valuable juices to escape. Always use two sets of extra heavy duty foil helper handles to make it easier to remove the finished ham from the cooker. Place the ham in the pressure cooker with fat side up. Hams can be quite large, so you'll need to make sure your pressure cooker is large enough so the ham does not exceed the 2/3 full level.

Steam Roasting is basically the same method of cooking as baking, this is my recommended cooking method for cooking fully cooked hams. This is especially good with sliced hams which are easily steam roasted on a rack above the water line, you may choose to decorate the ham with studded cloves or sliced pineapple.

In the case of really salty hams, they can be boiled or pre-soaked in plain water overnight in the refrigerator to leach out some of the salt. Boiling is a good method to use when cooking dry-cured country hams. Cooking by this method provides a lot of flavor because it draws additional flavor from the meat itself and bones as it cooks. Another option is using the Infusion Cooking Method with added flavoring liquids. Additional flavor can be imparted in the meat by adding flavoring or seasoning, such as bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon sticks to the liquid.

Uncooked or partially cooked country hams are first soaked and washed, then placed in the cooker with the skin side up. Check for doneness with an instant read meat thermometer, hams that are cured and smoked should be 170°F.,and hams that are smoked and fully cooked should be 140°F.

Once cooked, a glaze can be added to the ham and quickly finished in a few minutes in a very hot oven. Glazing the ham at the end of the cooking process adds flavor and a more appealing finished look to its appearance. I prefer adding my pineapple rings with a maraschino cherry at this time and letting them get a little caramelized in the oven which makes it look very festive on presentation.

The remaining broth can be defatted and used for gravy or packed in the freezer to be used later in dry beans or other pork dishes.

Ham Varieties and Terminology

Aged Hams

These are heavily cured, smoked hams that have been hung to age from one to seven (yes seven!) years. They are covered in a mold which must be scraped and washed off prior to eating.

Bayonne Ham

This French ham hails from Barn or the Basque region, most simply cured with Bayonne salt. These are raw, uncooked hams. Aficionados enjoy raw slices on buttered peasant bread.

Boneless, Bone-in, Partially Boned

Self-explanatory. Partially-boned hams have the hip and/or shank bones removed. Hams with the bone(s) left in are generally more flavorful.


The meat is soaked in brine and then smoked. This is the most common variety at standard grocery stores. They can vary widely in quality.

Canadian Bacon

A lean cut taken from eye of the loin of the middle back. It is precooked smoked meat. It is much more akin to ham than to bacon. Also referred to as back bacon in some areas.

Canned Ham

Can consist of a whole piece of meat or bits and pieces pressed together into a form and fused with a gelatin mixture.

Country Cured

Hogs are generally fed on nuts and fruit to produce a more flavorful and tender meat. Must be cured, aged and dried at least 70 days. They are usually dry-cured in salt, then smoked over fragrant hardwoods and aged at least six months. The meat may be drier, depending on the length of aging. A mold will most likely form, which is simply scraped and washed away. Also known as country-style ham. These are also called "old hams" in Kentucky. Most country-cured hams are uncooked and need to be cooked using a special process. Check the label.



This Italian ham is cured and soaked in wine during aging. It is lean and rosy red, with a clean, delicate flavor. A popular component of antipasto platters.

Cured Ham

Pork which has gone through and of a variety of curing processes to preserve the meat.

Dry Curing

The entire surface of the meat is thoroughly covered with salt and then stored until the salt permeates the meat thereby preserving it.

FDA Ham Labeling

Ham: contains no added water and at least 20.5 percent protein after removal of fat.
Ham with natural juices: contains at least 18.5 percent protein.
Ham, water added: contains up to 10 percent added water, but at least 17 percent protein.
Ham and water product: contains any amount of water (amount must be listed).

Fresh ham

Raw, uncooked port cut of meat from the hog's hind leg. Must be cooked prior to eating.


Heated to an internal temperature of 148 degrees F. or above. Need not be heated prior to serving. Can be eaten right from the wrapper or reheated to an internal temperature of 130 degrees F. to release a richer flavor.


From an Old Northern French word "Gambe" for hind- leg of the pig or ham; popular in Great Britain.

Ham Portions

Halves with the center slices removed.

Injection Curing

The process of injecting brine into the meat. This method may also be combined with other curing techniques.


Irish Ham

Belfast is famous for their pickled or brined hams, but what gives them their own unique flavor is the process of smoking over peat fires. Like country-cured hams, they must be soaked, scrubbed, simmered and then baked before eating.

Partially Cooked

Heated to at least 137 degrees F., the minimum temperature needed to kill trichina parasite. Most commercial manufacturers cook to an internal temperature of 140 degrees F. Must be cooked prior to serving.

Picnic Ham

Meat from the upper part of the foreleg of the hog, including a portion of the shoulder. It is not a true ham, but a less expensive substitute for regular ham, although less tender in texture. It is also referred to as picnic shoulder or pork shoulder. They can be fresh or smoked. Smoked picnic hams are very similar to traditionally hams.


Italian ham. The meat is seasoned, salt-cured, and air-dried. It is not smoked. The meat is pressed into a dense, firm texture. Parma ham is true prosciutto. Other varieties are now made in the USA. Italian prosciuttos include prosciutto cotto (cooked) and prosciutto crudo (uncooked, but cured and ready to eat). Others are named for the region in Italy in which they were made. Prosciutto is generally eaten as-is or added during the last cooking stages. Extended cooking of prosciutto toughens the meat.

Ready-To-Eat Hams

Same as fully cooked. Can be eaten right from the wrapper or reheated to an internal temperature of 130 degrees F. to release a richer flavor.

Scotch Ham

Once made in Scotland, this term now refers to uncooked, boneless, mildly cured hams sold in casings.


Smithfield Ham

A variety of country-cured ham made in Smithfield, Virginia, USA. It is coated with salt, sodium nitrate, and sugar, refrigerated for five days, salted again, refrigerated again for one day per pound of meat, washed, refrigerated for another two weeks, smoked for ten days, and then aged six to twelve months. In order to be labeled a Smithfield, the ham must be cured in the described manner within the city of Smithfield, VA. The meat is deep red in color, dry, with a pungent flavor. Considered a gourmet's choice, they are rather expensive and need to be cooked long and slow before eating.

Sweet-Pickle Curing

The meat is covered in a seasoned sweet brine, sometimes referred to as sugar-cured where brown sugar or molasses is added to the cure mix.


This is the style used by commercial manufacturers to produce mass quantities, usually using an injection-curing method. Also known as city hams. The meat is less expensive because the processing is shorter and less complicated. The end result is invariably much blander in taste than country-style.

Westphalian Ham

Made from pigs fed with acorns in the Westphalia forest of Germany. It is cured and then slowly smoked over a mixture of beechwood and juniper woods, resulting in a very dark brown, dense ham with a light smoky flavor. It is considered one of the best and as such is pricey. Black Forest ham is similar.

York Ham

From England, this mild-flavored ham has delicate pink meat and must be cooked like country-cured ham before eating. It is traditionally served with Madeira Sauce.

Pressure Cooking a Fresh Ham

Fresh hams are cuts from the hind leg that are not cured or smoked or cooked. Fresh hams are very lean, and like similar cuts from other meat animals, it contains large muscles with relatively small amounts of connective tissue so if can be dry and tough.

When selecting a fresh ham, look for one with well marbled meat that is encased in a layer of firm white fat. You should score the fat in a decorative pattern, not only does this  improve the appearance, but it allows the melting fat to coat the surface of the meat. The meat may range from a grayish-pink from younger hogs, to a light rose color from older hogs, and when cooked the meat is grayish-white and has a similar flavor to pork roast.

To cook a fresh ham, first choose an appropriate cooking method. They are good roasted (use the steam roasting cooking method in the pressure cooker) and then finished in a hot oven if you want to apply a sticky sweet glaze.  These hams do especially well with braising (which the pressure cooker excels at), and stewed (use the infusion cooking method in the pressure cooker) is another option.

Once you decide on a cooking method, its time to convert it for use in a pressure cooker. Using a 3 to 4 pound fresh ham cut from either the shank or butt portion, we can see that traditional oven roasting recipes call for 40 minutes per pound at 350°F. To convert this to the pressure cooker, we'll use the 1/3 rule to come up with a time of 13 minutes per pound at 15psi, or about 40 to 50 minutes, followed by the natural release method. Check for doneness with an instant read meat thermometer, a fresh ham should be 160°-170°F.

Don't forget to defat the broth and either use it to make gravy, or freeze it for later use to add flavor to dry beans, pork stews and soups.

Cooking Time Charts for Hams

Meat Variety


Liquid Minimum

Cooking Time


Ham Hocks, smoked


cover completely

40 to 50 minutes


Ham (fresh) picnic or shoulder; 3 to 5 lbs


2 1/2 cups

30 to 40 minutes


Ham, (fresh) shank or butt - 3 to 5 lb.


2 1/2 cups

40 to 50 minutes


Ham, Fully Cooked shank or butt - 3 to 5 lb.


2 1/2 cups

35 to 45 minutes


Ham, Fully Cooked slice; 2 inch thick


1 cup

12 to 18 minutes


Ham, Fully Cooked slice; 1/2 inch thick


1/2 cup

6 minutes


Ham, (fresh) slice; 1 inch thick


1/2 cup

12 minutes


Checking Doneness

Internal Temperatures for Proper Doneness
Fully Cooked Hams 140° F
Uncooked or Partially Cooked Hams 160° F
Fresh Hams 160° F - 170° F

An instant read thermometer is used to check for the proper temperature once the ham has been cooked. The ham is taken away from the heat source and the instant read thermometer is immediately inserted into the thickest part of the ham and it will give a temperature reading in approximately 15 seconds. When inserting a thermometer, care must be taken that the thermometer is not touching a bone or area of fat to ensure an accurate reading. If the proper temperature is not reached, the meat should be returned to the heat source for further cooking.

Adding Flavors

Spices that compliment and flavor ham include cinnamon, cloves,fennel, anise and Rosemary. A ham that is to be steamed needs nothing more than the recommended amount of water for the liquid to produce steam throughout the length of the cooking times

To boil a ham, consider using flavoring liquid rather than plain water. Choose from Cola, Dr. Pepper, Root Beer or 7up - citrus beverages. Try citrus juices such as Orange, Lemon or Lime Juice, Fruit juices are another good choice, use Cranberry, Apple or Pineapple Juice. any of these liquids can be used either alone or in combination. Suggested mixes:

  1. Mix half and half water with apple juice or apple cider.
  2. Mix half and half water with pineapple juice.
  3. Add 1/2 cup apricot or peach nectar to the water.
  4. Substitute Dr. Pepper, Cherry Cola or any cola soft drink for water.
  5. Add 1/2 cup bourbon to the water.


A Good Finish

Once the pressure cooking is finished, hams can be served immediately. For a crisper outside, or to add a glaze, finish the ham in the oven. Remove the ham from the cooker and place in a shallow metal baking dish, leaving the foil helper handles in place. Baste with the desired glaze, decorate with sliced pineapple and cherries, or dot with whole cloves. Place in a very hot oven 450° basting often until the desired finish is reached. Monitor the progress carefully to avoid burning.

For recipes on cooking ham, as well as recipes using leftover ham click here





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