Ham Vs Pork: What’s The Difference, And Why Does It Matter?

Funnily enough, all ham is pork, but not all pork is ham, and before we have even started, you may be a bit confused with this statement.

Ham Vs Pork: What’s The Difference, And Why Does It Matter?

But if you keep reading, you will find out all the ways in which ham and pork are different and how it plays a big part in how it is cut, prepared, stored, cooked, and eaten today. 

Where Do Ham And Pork Come From?

Let’s start off with the origin of ham and pork. Ham comes from the upper portion of the hind leg of a pig and the ham is always cured which gives it its distinguishable dark pink color. 

Pork is the term given to all the various cuts of meat that come from the pig, especially cuts that are sold raw. This brings us back to the fact that even though ham is a cut of pork, pork can be more than just ham.

The result of how the ham tastes and looks depend on what kind of pig it is cut from in regard to their breed, health, diet, and body condition, how the ham was cured, and other procedures that it went through.

There are many ways that ham can be prepared, cured, and cooked which give it such good versatility for cooking today but can also be quite overwhelming.

Another advantage of ham is that no matter your tastes, you are bound to find a variation that will suit you – as long as you’re not a vegetarian. 

When it comes to pork, it is any part of the meat that comes from the pig and is usually sold raw which means you must cook it yourself before eating. However, it can also be cured which can preserve it and give it a different taste when eaten. 

Pork is so broad that it makes up about 40% of the world’s meat production, but some religions are not prohibited to eat pork such as Islam and Judaism for different reasons. 

Cured And Uncured Ham

As we touched on a bit earlier, ham can be cured and uncured which we will cover in a bit more detail now. Cured ham is ham that has gone through the curing process which is done to preserve the meat without needing to store it in a refrigerator. 

There are a lot of steps that go into this curing process and typically involve some additives and chemicals. Uncured ham on the other hand needs to rely on natural flavors and salts to keep it preserved. 

Unless the packaging says that it is not, most ham at your local supermarket has been cured and is also very popular as deli meat used in sandwiches and 

When the ham is cured, it can either be wet cured or dry-cured. Salt is the sole curative agent with dry-cured ham, but this is becoming a bit less common.

The process begins with the ham being cleaned whilst it is still raw before it is covered in salt and pressed gradually to rid of the blood. 

Once the blood has been drained out of the raw ham, seasonings and spices are added for flavor and preservation. The ham is then washed again and hung up in a space that is temperature-regulated and dark to dry.

It can be hung in this space for months or even years to let the flavors fully develop, the longer the ham is hung, the more intense the flavor will be. 

Once the ham has hung for the designated amount of time and has fully dried, it is ready to be eaten either before or after it has been cooked.

Ham that has been dry cured can last a long time even kept at room temperature as it has been completely drained of all moisture which means there is no suitable environment for bacteria to develop. 

Modern methods for dry curing ham include the use of traditional salt as well as nitrates in order to better preserve the meat as nitrates give the ham an attractive dark red color whilst also preventing the growth of bacteria. 

For the wet-curing process, the ham is brined before being cooked fully either in a smoker or an oven, thus making smoked ham or unsmoked ham.

When it is being brined, the ham is fully dunked into the brine for up to several days so that all the flavors in the brine can be fully soaked into the ham. 

This process can be sped up by injecting a wet curing solution directly into the ham which usually consists of water, brown sugar, salt, and flavorings but can also have some chemicals such as sodium phosphate and sodium nitrate.

This speeds up the process by distributing the salt evenly throughout the meat and will also make it weigh more at the end, giving it more value. 

After this step, the ham is sometimes cooked straight away but can also be aged for a short period of time. Smoking is a popular choice at this stage because it helps to preserve the ham’s flavor.

The finished result is ready to eat cold or heated up and depending on how you are eating it, will taste better either way.

Different Cuts Of Pork

Different Cuts Of Pork

When it comes to pork, it can be a bit overwhelming to learn that it is the name given to every possible cut that is taken from a domestic pig, so let’s take a closer look at these different cuts of pork and how they are prepared. 

Pork Shoulder Chops

This cut of pork is taken from the blade roast which is the meat just behind the shoulder blades. Pork shoulder chops are a bit tougher than other pork chop cuts and have more fat on them as well.

You can cook pork shoulder chops in various ways such as pan-frying them, grilling them, or broiling them just to name a few. 

Pork Cutlets

Pork cutlets come from the loin or leg section of the pig and are usually thin and boneless but still have a good amount of meat on them.

They are typically pounded to be quite thin which makes them nice and tender before being covered in breadcrumbs and pan-fried but can be prepared in lots of other different ways. 

Pork Loin

There are several cuts from the pig which can be referred to as a pork loin but are the leanest, most tender, and juicy part if it has been slow-cooked as pork loin can be a bit chewy if it is not cooked correctly. 

The different cuts of pork that are also called pork chops are pork loin chops, pork rib chops, pork top loin chops, and pork sirloin chops.

Pork Belly

Pork belly is the cut of meat taken from the underside of the pig that surrounds the stomach – thus the belly.

The cut is long with a lot of fat on it that has been worked into the meat which is what makes it great for bacon and pancetta, but it can also be very versatile and the fat makes for delicious crackling. 

Do They Taste Different?

The flavor of ham can vary hugely depending on how it has been made, but they do share some common traits as it all comes from the same part of the pig. Ham usually has a dense, fleshy texture even when it has been cut into thin slices as deli meat. 

Along with the fact that ham has a very satisfying texture, it also has a hint of sweetness to its taste despite the fact that it has a rich and savory overall flavor, no matter how it has been prepared, it will always taste a bit sweet.

By having this sweet undertone of flavor, ham pairs really well with brown sugar, salt, smoke, spicy mustard, and maple. 

Pork on the other hand has a bit of a milder flavor and therefore is a great canvas for different rubs, sauces, and marinades. There is a general rule that the more fat a cut of pork has, the more flavor it will have. 

Storing And Cooking

Ham that has been cured is sold ready to be eaten and is also usually sliced as a filling to be used in lunch foods such as sandwiches and baguettes. Even though ham works really well as being cold, the flavor tends to be richer if you heat it up and will also give it a softer texture. 

Some ham will have been preserved with a chemical called sodium nitrate which is what gives it a dark pink color. 

Ham does not store very well in the freezer but if you do freeze it, you should thaw it and eat it within the first month or two of freezing it. 

As pork is usually sold raw, you need to cook it before you eat it which allows you to get creative in this stage. You should cook the pork the same day that you buy it but if not, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to five days and can even be stored in the freezer for up to a year. 

It can either be roasted, pan-seared, braised, smoked, grilled, or baked and can be seasoned with whatever you want as it has a mild natural flavor. 

Pork has no additives unlike ham due to its curing process so if you are worried about your sodium intake, pork is a better option for you. 

Price Differences

Since ham goes through much more processing, it is more expensive than pork and if it is a type of ham that has been specially made to go on charcuterie boards then it will be even more expensive.

The most expensive kind of ham in the world is the Jamon Iberico ham which is raised in the Dehesas woodlands in Spain and can cost up to $4500!

Despite pork being the cheaper option, it is actually higher in vitamins such as potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium compared to ham. However, ham is lower in trans-fat, cholesterol, and saturated fats but has more sodium than pork

Summary

The main difference between ham and pork is the process that they go through before they end up on your plate. Ham can be cured or uncured either dryly or wetly and can be hung to dry for a few months to a year which plays a big part in how much flavor is absorbed into the meat. 

Pork is the umbrella term used to refer to all the other parts of the pig and goes through less extensive steps before it is ready to eat which means that it usually does not have any chemicals or additives used in it, unlike ham. 

John Rinder