When to Buy Ham for Thanksgiving – How Far in Advance Can You Buy Ham?

Have you seen a great deal on ham? Not sure if it early to purchase it before your holiday meal?

However, do you enjoy browsing through the myriad options of hams on display in the grocery store well before Thanksgiving, unsure of whether it’s too early to buy it? 

Read on to find out how far in advance you can buy ham and how to choose the best ham for your next Thanksgiving dinner.

Can You Buy Ham in Advance?

Yes, you can most certainly buy ham in advance. 

Most hams come shrink-wrapped in packaging, so they’re safe to stash in your fridge for several days. 

This keeps you stress-free and gives you the most options when getting closer to the big holiday as certain types or sizes of ham begin to sell out.  

How Long Does It Take To Expire?

When the ham is in its packaging, it can last for weeks.

Hence, when buying ham in advance, the only factors to consider are whether you have enough fridge space or if you may cop a better deal later on.

This is because the ham may go on sale right before festive seasons such as Christmas or Easter. 

What About Leftovers?

Although ham takes weeks to expire, handling leftovers may call for a different protocol. 

Ham that has already been cooked and put back into the fridge as leftovers should ideally be had within 3-4 days. 

If you know you aren’t going to use the leftovers in the 3-4 day window, you should try to freeze the ham as soon as possible. 

How Do You Tell if It’s Bad?

Although this is rare as hams are full of salt which helps preserve the meat longer, there is a way to tell if the meat has gone bad. 

Meat usually tends to have a smell that goes away quickly when you open it up at first after it’s vacuum sealed.

However, if you notice a lingering unpleasant smell, then you would probably want to consider a different ham for your meal.  

Additionally, the presence of mold is a clear indicator to toss it away

How to Pick the Best Holiday Ham

The best holiday ham should have a good bite, and not be too stringy or tough. 

Furthermore, slices should be carved to the perfect thickness and their flavor should have the right balance of salt, smoke, sweetness, and spice. 

What Kind of Ham Not to Buy

You ideally want to buy something that is labeled ‘ham’.

That indicates something with 20.5% protein with no added water.

This ham will contain the least water which will lead to a stronger flavor and more natural texture. 

Anything labeled ‘ham with natural juices’ will contain added water and may have a spongy texture and unpleasant mouth feel.  

Can I Buy Canned Hams?

Canned hams aren’t really hams as they aren’t an intact cut of meat. 

Instead, they are made out of scraps of ham meat, plumped full of saline, that is pressed together into the can. 

Hence, it is best to avoid canned hams altogether as the taste and texture of canned ham usually suffer, and may disappoint your guests during your thanksgiving dinner. 

Bone-in Ham

Choosing bone-in ham is worth the effort if you’re comfortable with carving.

This is because the bone provides the meat with better flavor and texture. 

Furthermore, the leftover bone is great for making soups and stews. This is the type of ham I like to use for my smoked Christmas ham recipe as well as my Easter ham recipe.

Boneless Ham 

If you prefer convenience over presentation and flavor, the boneless ham may be the best option for you. 

In this type of ham, the bone is removed and the ham is pressed into a familiar oval shape. 

Boneless ham also replicates a solid piece of meat, which makes for the easiest carving. 

How Much Ham to Buy

For bone-in ham, 1/2 to 3/4 pounds per person should be enough. 

For boneless ham, 1/3 pound per person should suffice. 

Nonetheless, you may allow for more if you anticipate ham leftovers. 

Whatever type of ham you want to try for your next Thanksgiving dinner or whether you want to buy your ham in advance, you can be rest assured by following the steps mentioned above! 

Smoke On!


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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