It Might Just Be the Best Tool For the Job
A big spiral-sliced ham is one of those showy dishes that's welcome at any holiday gathering, but is also easy enough to serve any night you feel the need for a special meal. Hams like this are sold ready to eat, so heating one in your oven creates a risk of leaving your beautiful ham sadly overcooked and dried out. Warming it in your Crock-Pot instead is a smarter option for many reasons: It helps keep moisture in, it frees up your oven for other things, and best of all, it leaves your attention free for all of the day's other priorities.
Choosing Your Ham
Most modern slow cookers are oval, precisely because that shape works better for big hams and other roasts. If you have a standard 6- or 7-quart oval, you can usually fit a ham of 6 to 8 pounds. Hams are shaped differently, so you may need to trim a little bit here or there to make it fit, but that's fine. Some hams are sold pre-glazed or with their own glaze included in the packaging. If that level of convenience appeals to you, by all means choose one. If you'd rather make your own glaze, or keep it plain so you can make ham gravy later, look for one that's unglazed.
There's Very Little Preparation Required
Heating the ham in your slow cooker couldn't be simpler. If you use Crock-Pot liner bags to speed cleanup, put that in first. Place the ham in the cooker, large side down. Slow cookers trap moisture inside the cooking area, which helps prevent your ham from drying out, but it's not a bad idea to add a bit of liquid to create extra vapor. This can be as little as a quarter-cup or as much as a cup or two, if you're simmering the ham in a glaze. Just cover the ham and let it go on the slow cooker's low setting for 3 to 4 hours, until heated through. If the ham was still in its factory packaging, you'll need to warm it to only 140F. If it was packaged at the retailer, it should be heated to 165F to ensure food safety. Once it's done, lift it from the slow cooker, slice the pre-cut slices away from the bone, and serve.
A Few Words About Glazes
Holiday hams are often served with a sweet glaze, which beautifully complements the salty and savory flavors of the ham. Brown sugar is one common sweetener, and so is maple syrup. If you're using brown sugar, much of it should go onto the bottom of the Crock-Pot where it will mingle with the cooking juices to make a thick, syrupy glaze. Fruit is another common glaze ingredient, typically pineapple but sometimes apples, peaches or maraschino cherries. Place some under the ham and some on top, where condensation dripping from the slow cooker's lid will help carry flavors into the ham. Toward the end of your cooking time, when the ham is mostly heated, baste it frequently with the glaze. One thing a Crock-Pot won't do is caramelize the glaze onto the ham's outer surface. If you want that effect, transfer the ham to a roasting pan or baking sheet and finish it for a few minutes in a very hot oven, 475F or 500F.
Checking Your Temperature
The only way to know for sure that your ham has reached the recommended food-safe temperature is with a thermometer. Instant-read thermometers work well, though you have to open the lid and let out all the Crock-Pot's heat in order to use one. The traditional leave-in meat thermometer is a better choice, but it can be hard to see through the condensation on the slow cooker's lid. The best option, if you have it, is a probe thermometer – the kind with a lead that goes into the meat, and then a separate LCD display that shows you the internal temperature of your food. Most emit an alarm when your ham reaches the right temperature, and some newer models come with a companion app that can send a message to your smartphone. That takes an already trouble-free cooking method to a whole different level of convenience.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.