How to Cook the Best Ever Christmas Ham

Every year I cook a ham for Christmas Eve dinner. Every year I suggest trying a new recipe, and every year my family beg me to do this recipe again. They call it it the Best Christmas Ham recipe ever made!

A succulent Christmas Ham, with one slice cut off from the joint of meat.

My Christmas Ham recipe is one of my family’s favourite Christmas recipes. It’s based upon the Fully Festive Ham in Nigella Lawson’s ‘Feast’.

I’ve tried the Delia Smith Christmas Ham recipe, and a traditional ham recipe from Gary Rhodes, I’ve cooked a ham with an orange juice and brown sugar glaze, but this is definitely my favourite.

It’s the perfect main dish for a holiday dinner or addition to your Christmas buffet table.

A succulent Christmas Ham, with one slice cut off from the joint of meat. A festive tea towel with the days of Advent on it can be seen in the background

When I cook it on Christmas Eve, I usually use a huge 3.5kg boneless ham. I’ve scaled things back a bit for this recipe, but I’ll add in the cooking times for the whole ham as well. A bone-in ham will take longer to cook so I avoid that.

This recipe is deliciously sweet, tender and takes very little effort. When I start cooking it on Christmas Eve, the house fills with the scent of fruit and spices and Christmas has officially begun.

The Best Ever Christmas Ham

Sally Akins
This is perfect to cook on Christmas Eve – serve it with mashed potato or macaroni and some crunchy veg alongside. It's a great recipe that will give you plenty of leftovers to see you through your Christmas celebrations!


For the Ham:

  • 2 kg joint of unsmoked ham
  • 1 litre apple juice
  • 1 litre cranberry juice
  • 1 onion
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • 10 cloves
  • 1 tbsp allspice berries
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns

For the Glaze:

  • Half a jar of cranberry jelly
  • 1 tbsp of runny honey
  • 1 tbsp English mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • Whole cloves


  • If you buy a good ham, you probably won't need to soak it, as production methods have changed meaning the meat isn’t as salty any more. If you want to be really sure, you can soak the ham overnight in cold water. Alternatively, put the ham in a large saucepan that it fits in snugly, and cover the ham with cold water. Bring to the boil then drain the water away and rinse the ham.
  • Rinse out the saucepan and put the ham back in it. Cut the onion in half, trim the root end and remove the very papery outer layers – you don’t want to peel the whole thing. Add the onion and the spices to the saucepan with the ham.
  • Mix together the apple juice and cranberry juice and pour it into the saucepan to cover the ham. If you need more liquid, some add cold water. Part cover the pan and bring it up to the boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer.
  • Cook the ham for 30 minutes per 0.5kg, so a 2kg ham will take around 2 hours to cook, a 3.5kg joint will need around 3.5 hours.  If you are going to finish the ham off later, remove the pan from the heat about 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Put it somewhere cool (not the fridge!!) so that the ham cools quickly in the liquid.
  • If you are planning to eat your Christmas Ham straight away, very carefully remove the fully cooked ham from the liquid and place it in a roasting pan that has been lined with foil. Preheat the oven to 220C/200Cfan/Gas7
  • Put all of the ingredients for the glaze in a small saucepan and heat until the jelly has melted. Let it bubble rapidly until the syrup has reduced by about half. It doesn't look like much but it'll be enough glaze to cover your ham – you need it to be reasonably thick so that it doesn’t run straight off the ham.
  • When the ham is cool enough to touch, cut off the butcher’s string and then use a small sharp knife to carefully cut away the skin. Make sure you leave a generous layer of white fat over the ham.
  • Score the layer of fat into a diamond pattern and press one of the whole cloves into each diamond.
  • Spoon the sticky glaze over top of the ham and then put it in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the white fat has turned to burnished bronze.
  • If you are doing the second stage after the ham has cooled to room temperature, I would cook it for around 25 minutes on a lower oven temperature (180C/160Cfan/Gas4), loosely covered with foil. Then remove the foil and turn the oven up to a high heat (220C/200Cfan/Gas7) for a final 10-15 minute blast.
  • Transfer to a serving platter and take to the Christmas dinner table accompanied by the 'oohs' and 'aahs' of your whole family!

Best Ever Christmas Ham: Make it your Own

I usually cook it in two stages so I simmer the ham in the morning, let it cool and then finish it off in the oven at dinner time. You can either do this or complete both stages straight after each other.

I serve the Christmas Ham with either creamy mashed potatoes (Ollie’s choice) or a gooey macaroni cheese (Lyle’s choice). Sometimes I cook both side dishes, if the boys ask me really nicely, but I always add some crunchy steamed veg to the table as well, for contrast.

The leftover ham easily get used up over the holiday season. I use them in Christmas Day sandwiches and pasta dishes, add it to Christmas brunch menu with bubble & squeak or my personal favourite – just cutting slices of ham off and eating it while standing at the fridge door on Christmas morning!

4 thoughts on “How to Cook the Best Ever Christmas Ham

  1. Susan B says:

    Sally, your comments are switched off in the £30 Amazon e-voucher competition so I will reply here and say that I would spend the voucher on solar garden lighting as it cheers me up on dull days.
    BTW, thanks for the fab post on Best Ever Ham!

    • Sally Akins says:

      Hi Susan – thanks for letting me know! They’re switched on so please do go and comment there so your entry is added into the draw.

      Merry Christmas!


  2. Louise says:

    Thank you for sharing this. My ham is being delivered tomorrow and I wanted to have a change from the very old Delia recipe I’ve been doing for over twenty years lol.

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