How To Thaw Frozen Ham (3 Safe and Simple Methods)

Although ham is known to be a holiday dish that is usually served during the festive season, it is always smart to buy ham or two to freeze when they are on sale.

Not only can you have ham any time you want, but you may also avoid the price hikes of ham during the holidays. 

The only trick is to be sure you’re thawing your ham safely and effectively by giving it enough time and following the right measures.

Read on to learn all about how to thaw ham the right way for when you’re cooking up your next holiday feast. 

Thawing In The Refrigerator 

Thawing smoked ham in the refrigerator is the longest but safest way to thaw the meat. 

This is because the temperature of your refrigerator sits at about 34 -38°F which is warm enough to let your ham thaw, but still cold enough that bacteria is not going to multiply on your ham. 

Your ham should be placed on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator and inside a container when allowed to thaw. This will minimize the chance of any cross-contamination of other foods in your refrigerator.

How Long To Thaw In The Fridge? 

You will need to allow at least four to six hours per pound of frozen ham you plan to thaw in the fridge.  

This means you should be prepared to thaw a five-pound ham in the refrigerator for a full day. 

However, this does not need to lead up right to the cooking time. A ham that has been thawed in the refrigerator can be kept in there for an extra three to five days before cooking. 

Thawing In The Cooler 

Although this is not a traditional method, thawing your ham in a cooler has the advantage of freeing up space in your probably overflowing refrigerator. 

Make sure that your cooler is in a cool and shaded place like a garage or basement. Keep monitoring the inside temperature of the cooler and do not let it rise above 40°F.  

You can do this by popping the end of a meat thermometer right through the side of the cooler and setting the alarm to alert you if the temperature rises beyond 40°F. If so, promptly place ice packs around the ham. 

Thawing In Cold Water 

You may also opt to thaw your ham in cold water if you forgot to take your ham out of the freezer in time. 

The easiest way to do this is to fill up your sink with cold tap water so that the ham is submerged in cold water entirely. 

Do not be tempted to use warm water or hot water, as the temperature of the outside ham will reach 40°F and above before the inside of the ham is thawed.

Furthermore, the outside of the ham can cause the surface of the ham to heat up to a temperature where harmful bacteria can multiply and lead to food poisoning. 

Drain and change the water every 30 minutes. It will take roughly 30 minutes per pound to thoroughly thaw your ham.

Although this method of thawing needs more attention, thawing your ham this way is much quicker. Make sure to not refreeze and to cook ham that has been defrosted in cold water immediately.

Thawing In The Microwave 

Although this method is not recommended, you could also thaw a ham in your microwave if the meat is of a smaller size. 

If you do plan to use this method, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on your model and use the defrost settings to ensure you don’t ‘overcook’ your ham, causing it to dry out and change the texture of the meat. 

Always make sure to place your frozen ham in a microwave-safe container that is big enough. It is also important to keep in mind that ham thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately and should not be refrozen. 

Your ham should take about 15-45 minutes to thaw on the defrost setting. Check the ham every 5-10 minutes by pressing it to see if it’s softening up. Once you can get a knife easily through the ham, it has thawed. 

How Long Does Thawing Take 

You should plan on 4-5 hours of thawing time for each pound of ham. A 10-pound ham will take 50-70 hours to thaw, or 2-3 days in the refrigerator or cooler. 

For the microwave, a frozen ham may take 15-45 minutes to thaw on the defrost setting.

How To Know If Frozen Ham Is Bad 

The following could mean that your frozen ham is bad: 

– The meat appears encased in ice crystals or frost

– Is very light-colored and dry

– Has been in the freezer for longer than 6 months

– There was a lot of air in the package 

How To Not Thaw Your Ham 

To maintain food safety, do not thaw your ham directly on the counter at room temperature or in hot or warm water. This creates multiple opportunities for bacteria to grow and multiply on the surface of the ham.

Furthermore, do not leave your ham to thaw in your garage, basement, car, outdoors, or porch no matter how cool you think it is. 

Bottom Line 

Although thawing a frozen ham can sometimes be daunting and seem like a lot of effort, you will be able to thaw the meat for your next family feast in no time by following the safety measures and tips mentioned above. 

Smoke On!


Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I have been meat-smoking and grilling for the past 15 years. I have an array of different smokers, thermometers, and have a love for finding the right wood and charcoal combo My favourite recipes are my EXTRA CRISPY smoked pork belly, juicy pulled pork, smoked brisket, duck poppers, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill).

I loves sharing his tips with beginners, helping them navigate the world of smoking. I find it’s not just about cooking; it’s a quest for that perfect smoky flavor.

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling recipes with you!

You can read more about me on our About Us page.

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