Spiral hams make amazing centerpieces for holiday meals. In fact, they’re suitable for any large gathering, and the leftovers make awesome sandwiches.
While we’re on the subject of leftovers: How long does spiral ham last in the fridge? And can you freeze ham without ruining its unique texture?
How Long Does Spiral Ham Last in Fridge?
A whole unopened spiral ham will keep for one to two weeks in the fridge, assuming it’s kept cold and well wrapped. Leftover ham slices will last for three to five days. When frozen, spiral ham should retain its texture and flavor for up to two months.
How To Store Spiral Ham
Before putting a spiral ham in the fridge, make sure it’s tightly sealed in its original packaging. If you notice any tears or holes in the package, add a layer of plastic wrap or aluminum foil for good measure.
If you’d prefer, go ahead and take the ham out of its original wrapper and seal it in a double layer of plastic wrap and a final layer of aluminum foil. Either way, put the ham on a large plate to keep any juices from leaking all over the fridge.
Check the expiration date, too. Unopened spiral hams usually have a decent shelf life, which is what we’re here to discuss. But you want to make sure the best-by date fits within the time frame for your event.
Store the ham on a lower shelf of the fridge, pushed toward the back. If you can, place other items in front of it to protect it from the warm air that blasts in when the door is opened. The colder the ham stays, the longer it will last.
How Long Does Spiral Ham Last in Fridge Unopened?
The sell-by date will give you a general idea, but you can’t always rely on these dates. They’re put on the package to remind store employees how long the product has been on the shelf, and aren’t necessarily indicative of quality.
A fresh unopened spiral ham should keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. This applies even if you’ve taken the ham out of its original wrapper and applied a do-it-yourself job, as outlined above.
After the second week, the ham will start to dry out, which affects the flavor as well as the texture. For best results, I would recommend buying a spiral ham no more than a week before you plan on cooking it.
How Long Does Leftover Spiral Ham Keep in the Fridge?
Once you’ve reheated and served the ham, any leftovers will keep in the fridge for three to five days. This should give you ample time to make killer ham sandwiches, omelets, pea soup, or whatever strikes your fancy.
The ham will keep longer if you leave it whole—or at least as whole as possible. Individual slices spoil faster because more surface area is exposed to the air. If you do have leftover slices, make sure they’re tightly wrapped.
How to Tell if Spiral Ham is Bad
The best way to tell whether ham has outlasted its freshness is to smell it. Fresh ham has a faintly sweet odor, but the scent should be fresh and appealing. If it smells sour, or if the smell just feels off to you, discard the ham.
Discoloration is another warning sign. Inspect the meat to make sure there are no patches of gray, green, blue, or white.
If the ham feels slimy to the touch, that’s another red flag. As always, follow the golden rule of meat storage: When in doubt, throw it out.
Can You Freeze a Spiral Ham?
It doesn’t occur to most people to freeze ham because its shelf life is so long to begin with when compared to other large cuts of meat. But if you don’t think you’ll have time to cook the ham within two weeks, you can freeze it.
Foods stored in the freeze keep indefinitely because the subzero temperatures don’t allow bacteria to thrive. That’s the theory, at least. In reality, it’s not a good idea to freeze meat for long periods of time, because it will start to dry out.
Spiral ham should keep in the freezer for up to six months and still be fine when you defrost and reheat it. My personal recommendation would be to thaw it within two months, just to be on the safe side. No one wants to eat a dry ham.
How Long to Defrost a Spiral Ham
You should be able to take a spiral ham out of the freezer the day before you plan on cooking it. Keep it in the refrigerator overnight, stored on a large platter to catch any liquid. It should be ready for the oven or smoker the following day.
Since the ham is probably at least partially cooked (more on that in a bit), it’s fine if it’s still frozen in the middle when you start to heat it up. That’s the case with all large cuts of meat, but in this case it’s even more relevant.
The key is to test the internal temperature of the ham and serve it when the meat has reached 140 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. It might take a little bit longer if the meat was still frozen in the center, so keep that in mind.
Why Does Ham Keep Longer Than Other Meats?
You can’t keep a thawed turkey in the fridge for two weeks. A brisket would start to smell funky after just a few days (unless it was sealed in cryovac packaging). So why are the rules different when it comes to spiral ham?
It’s because spiral ham is a cured meat. That means it’s been treated with salt and other seasonings that stave off spoilage. The salt treatment removes a great deal of moisture from the pork, and bacteria thrive in moist environments.
There’s also the fact that most spiral hams are cooked before they’re presented for sale. That reduces the moisture content still further, giving them a longer shelf life.
Cured vs Uncured Ham
It’s natural to assume that a product labeled “uncured” would not be treated with the salt solution that extends the shelf life of cured ham. The fact of the matter is, “uncured” ham is still cured—it just uses natural products instead of synthetics.
Regular cured ham includes nitrates and nitrites, which can cause health issues in their synthetic forms. Uncured ham, on the other hand, only uses naturally occurring nitrates, like the ones found in beet or celery extract.
It’s a confusing distinction that exists because of USDA labeling laws. Still, it’s important to understand that “uncured” ham has a flavor and texture very similar to that of regular cured ham.
In terms of shelf life, the difference is negligible. Once the meat is sliced, the cured product might last a day or two longer than its uncured counterpart. But a whole uncured ham should stay fresh in the fridge for one to two weeks.
When it comes to cured meats like spiral ham, the expiration date can be a useful guide. Check the label before you bring the ham home, and try to cook it off within the next week. Once it’s reheated, the leftovers should last for a few more days.