The Truth About Stringy Ham – Which Types to Avoid and How to Prevent It

Ham is a cherished centerpiece of many holiday meals However, nothing ruins a beautiful glazed ham faster than cutting into it to find the meat dry, tough and stringy If you’ve encountered stringy ham before, you know how disappointing it can be.

So what causes some hams to turn out stringy when others are juicy and tender? And more importantly, what kinds of ham are most prone to stringiness so you can avoid it? I’ll cover all the details on the types of ham that tend to be stringy, why it happens, and how to ensure your ham stays moist and delicious.

What Causes Ham to Become Stringy?

Before diving into the specific varieties, let’s look at the reasons behind stringy ham texture:

  • Overcooking – Cooking the ham too hot or too long dries out the meat, toughening connective tissues. Hams should be cooked gently at lower temps.

  • Slicing Issues – Pre-sliced hams often become stringy from the mechanical slicing process which separates muscle fibers,

  • Type of Ham – Some hams are naturally tougher with more connective tissue, Country hams and hind legs especially

  • Insufficient Resting – Skipping a resting period prevents moisture from redistributing back into the meat after cooking.

  • Reheating Methods – Careless reheating of cooked hams can cause moisture loss, especially spiral cut hams.

With those factors in mind, let’s look at which specific ham varieties are most prone to stringiness issues.

Bone-In Hams

Bone-in, uncut hams, especially from the hind leg, are usually the best choice for a tender, juicy texture. However, they can still turn stringy with improper cooking. Two keys for bone-in hams are:

  • Low, Slow Cooking – Cook at ~250°F for approximately 20-30 minutes per pound to break down connective tissues.

  • Resting – Allow bone-in hams to rest for 10-15 minutes before carving for moisture distribution.

If the bone-in ham is undercooked, the connective tissues won’t fully tenderize. Overcooking leads to dryness throughout the meat. Use a meat thermometer to confirm ideal internal temp.

Spiral Cut Hams

Spiral cut hams can be convenient, but also more likely to have stringy bits, especially around the outermost slices. Reasons include:

  • Tighter muscle fibers due to mechanical slicing
  • Tendency to dry out when reheating
  • Often include outer muscles with more connective tissue

To prevent stringy spiral hams:

  • Reheat fully cooked hams gently in a 225°F oven.
  • Wrap in foil and use a meat thermometer to avoid overcooking.
  • Choose hams without added juices, as they contribute little moisture.
  • Make your own glaze for added flavor and moisture.

Pre-Sliced Hams

In general, pre-sliced hams often have less ideal texture than intact bone-in hams. Pre-slicing causes muscle fibers to retract and toughen. Other risks include:

  • Less even cooking since slices vary in thickness
  • Tendency to dry out faster
  • Uneven distribution of juices

Check the label when buying pre-sliced hams – terms like “chopped and formed” indicate it has been heavily processed. Opt for minimal processing.

Country Hams

Country hams, like those from Virginia or Kentucky, have a distinctly tough, dry, and salty character. This is due to the dry-curing and extended aging process. They require lengthy soaking and cooking to become palatable.

  • Soak 8-12 hours per pound, changing water periodically
  • Cook low and slow, around 200°F for 8+ hours
  • Glaze frequently with a very sweet glaze to counteract saltiness

Even with proper prep, country hams will still have a chewy, stringy consistency compared to other hams. Enjoy them for their unique regional flavor.

Dry-Cured Hams

In addition to country hams, other dry-cured varieties like prosciutto and Iberico ham can also tend toward stringiness. Dry-curing removes moisture, so the meat is concentrated and intensely flavored, but also drier and chewier by nature.

Serving these hams in paper-thin slices helps mitigate texture issues. Focus on their intense umami flavor in small portions rather than eating large hunks. They’re better as a delicate accent rather than the main event.

Avoiding Other Problematic Hams

Beyond the major categories above, you may also want to avoid:

  • Cook Before Eating Hams – Designed for convenience but often have poor moisture retention.

  • Canned Hams – Very heavily processed with artificial binding agents added.

  • ”Ham Buds” / Scraps – Made of small meat pieces glued together into a log shape, risk of poor texture.

When possible, choose frehs bone-in hams over pre-processed varieties for superior flavor, moisture and texture.

Tips for Preparing Moist, Tender Ham

Follow these tips for the juiciest ham possible, no matter what type you select:

  • Choose fresh bone-in hams when possible for best texture

  • Cook gently at ~250°F until internal temp. reaches 140-145°F

  • Use a thermometer to prevent overcooking – stop when 5°F below final target temp

  • Let bone-in hams rest for 15-20 minutes before carving for moisture distribution

  • Wrap spiral hams in foil and reheat slowly to prevent drying out

  • Glaze frequently during cooking or as needed when reheating

  • Avoid added juices which provide little real moisture

  • Make your own glaze with honey, brown sugar, fruit preserves, mustard, etc.

Huge Mistakes Everyone Makes When Cooking Ham


What makes a ham stringy?

Regardless of the cooking method, the cooking temperature should not be too high and the final temperature of the ham should not exceed 155 degrees F. Otherwise the ham is stringy and difficult to carve into thin slices.

What are the two types of hams?

Most hams you’ll find made in the United States are city hams. They are wet-cured and made by soaking the meat in a saltwater solution or injecting them with a brine. You may also see country ham, which is dry rubbed and hung to dry like prosciutto. There are also fresh hams, which are uncured.

Which is better, shank ham or spiral ham?

The butt end is meatier and less fatty than the shank end but it has odd-shaped bones, making it trickier to free the slices. The shank end is slightly fattier but, with a simpler bone structure, is much easier to carve.

What’s the difference between city ham and country ham?

The difference between city and country ham comes down to how they’re cured. Country hams are cured by dry-brining for several months, while city hams are wet brined for a much shorter amount of time and kept fresh thanks to the advent of refrigeration.

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