City Vs. Country Ham: What's The Difference?

Each year, with the holiday season drawing closer and closer, many of us go HAM on ham. And the most important thing to do is choose the right type of ham to share with our loved ones. But what is ham, anyway? MasterClass reveals that it's "a cut of pork from a pig's hind leg." It might sound easy, but once you figure out there are different types of ham, choosing the right one for your dinner table could be difficult. Some of the most popular varieties include fresh ham, Black Forest ham, hickory-smoked ham, city ham, and country ham. 

On the other hand, across the pond, in Europe, cured meat hams called prosciutto are king. Suppose you haven't heard about or tasted the renowned Italian delicacy called Prosciutto di Parma, or Parma ham, which is protected with the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. In that case, we suggest you take a trip to the nearest deli and have a bite of this Italian specialty, cut into paper-thin slices that almost melt on the palate (via Time). 

Eataly reports that in Italy, prosciuttos are typically divided into two categories: the seasoned and dry-aged prosciutto crudo (cured ham) and the tender and moist type called prosciutto cotto (cooked ham). And in the U.S., many people have a slight hiccup when differentiating between city and country ham, which are the two most common types of ham found in stores. So what's the real difference between the two?

Country ham is cured, city ham is brined

Country ham is the type of ham that's most similar to those cured European prosciuttos. It is typically "cured with a dry rub" before it's hung and left to dry. After a few months, country ham develops a sweet and nutty flavor. When buying country hams, they can be smoked or not, but they're usually sold raw. Curiously enough, many people complain that country ham is too salty, so keep in mind that it's necessary to soak most of them in water before consumption. And in the American South, especially in the "ham belt" of "Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia," people will sometimes glaze the country ham with reduced orange juice or bourbon and molasses for even more flavor. 

Meanwhile, city hams are typically kept in brine or injected "with a salt solution." These hams are often smoked, and most of them come fully cooked, although you can still glaze them and put them in the oven. (via My Recipes). Farm Flavor reveals that the smoked varieties of city ham are usually smoked over hickory or maple, resulting in a rich and smoky flavor of the meat. 

With all of that in mind, you might have a clearer idea of choosing the right ham. If you're still undecided, chef Alissa Fitzgerald told Insider that "for the purposes of that holiday table, a prepared, pre-sliced city ham is your best bet." But in the end, both hams are tasty in their own way.