The Mystery of the Spiral-Sliced Ham

Lots of us will have a glazed spiral-sliced ham on the table this Easter. And as thin slices of pink meat lift easily off the bone with just a meat fork, lots of us will be wondering how, oh how, did this most magical of holiday meats come to be?

The secret of the spiral-sliced ham's seductiveness is twofold. First, the ingenious manner in which it's cut. And second, its glaze, usually sweet and sticky (we'll get back to that glaze in a second).

But to start, we give you the spiral-slicing machine, patented in 1952 by Harry J. Hoenselaar. Hoenselaar found a clever way to mechanically navigate the ham bone, the bane of meat carvers through the centuries.

The spiral-slicing machine works by skewering a ham (or any other meat) vertically on spikes at top and bottom. A spring-loaded slicing blade cuts through the meat, stopping when it meets resistance from the bone. As the ham rotates, it gradually lowers on the spikes, creating the spiral. Hard to visualize? Watch this video:

 

 

The same Harry J. Hoenselaar who invented the machine, by the way, also founded HoneyBaked Ham in Michigan in 1957. Originally, HoneyBaked stores were the only places where you could get a spiral-sliced ham. In 1981, Hoenselaar's patent expired, and now you can buy spiral-cut hams in grocery stores everywhere.Considering how expensive the branded HoneyBaked hams are, many will.

Opinion on Chowhound favors the hams from Trader Joe's and Safeway, though it's mixed on Costco's Kirkland spiral-cut. Cook's Illustrated has done tastings of supermarket spiral-sliced hams (link is available to subscribers only); it found that bone-in hams that didn't add water to the meat were the best, and recommended the Cook's Spiral Sliced Hickory Smoked Bone-In Honey Ham, which had a "nice balance of smoke and salt" and "genuine ham flavor." The Carando Honey-Cured Spiral Sliced Ham was called "too wet" (ick), and the Hillshire Farm Bone-In Brown Sugar Cured Ham (Spiral-Sliced Ham) was "spongy and cottony."

Of course, supermarket hams won't have the amazing, crackly glaze of a real HoneyBaked. But Internet gossip and recipes claim that said HoneyBaked glaze is simply sugar and spices, caramelized into crackle with a blowtorch like the surface of crème brûlée. Anyone tried it?

Image source: Flickr member biberfan under Creative Commons

Former CHOW contributor Joyce Slaton is an editor and writer in San Francisco. She takes her tea with sugar and milk and will sew you an apron if you ask nicely. Follow her on Twitter. Follow CHOW, too, and become a fan on Facebook.