Ham vs. Pork: Differences and Similarities Explained

The GrillingDad Answer: Pork and ham, while both originating from a pig, are two different cuts of meat. Pork is any meat originating from a pig, but it includes cuts like shoulder, loin, and belly. Ham is a specific cut of pork that is usually preserved to enhance its flavor and shelf life.

Ham and pork are two inexpensive types of meat that are delicious when grilled or smoked. But is there a difference between the two?

There certainly is! Read on to find out more.

What is Pork?

When we talk about pork, we’re referring to the meat that comes from domesticated pigs. Pork is a popular meat around the world and is used in a variety of dishes, from bacon and sausages to roasts and chops.

Cuts of Pork

There are many different cuts of pork, each with its own unique characteristics and uses. Some of the most common cuts of pork include:

  • Shoulder: This cut comes from the upper part of the pig’s front leg and is often used for pulled pork or roasts.
  • Loin: The loin is a large cut of meat that runs along the pig’s back and includes the tenderloin. It can be used for chops, roasts, or ground pork.
  • Belly: The belly is where bacon comes from and is also used for pork belly dishes like braised pork belly or crispy pork belly.
  • Ham: The ham comes from the hind leg of the pig and is often cured or smoked to make ham products like ham steaks or deli ham.
  • Ribs: Pork ribs are a popular barbecue dish and come in different styles like baby back ribs or spare ribs.
  • Sausage: Most sausages are made of pork, but they can also be made of beef occasionally. 

These are just a few examples of the many cuts of pork available. Each cut has its own unique flavor and texture and can be prepared in a variety of ways.

When we buy pork, we usually buy it as raw meat that needs to be cooked before it can be eaten. It’s important to handle raw pork carefully to avoid foodborne illness.

You should always wash your hands and any surfaces that come into contact with raw pork, and cook it to the appropriate temperature to kill any harmful bacteria before consuming. 

What is Ham?

When it comes to pork, ham is one of the most popular and recognizable cuts. It is a versatile meat that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, from sandwiches to holiday dinners. Like pork, there are a few different types of ham. 

Cured Ham

Cured ham is a type of ham that has been preserved through the use of salt, sugar, and other curing agents. This process gives the ham its distinct flavor and texture. Cured ham can be further divided into two categories: dry-cured and wet-cured.

Dry-cured ham, such as prosciutto, is rubbed with a mixture of salt and other seasonings and left to air dry for several months. This process results in a firm, dry texture, and a rich, salty flavor.

Wet-cured ham, on the other hand, is soaked in a brine solution that contains salt, sugar, and other curing agents. This process results in a softer, more moist texture and a milder flavor. One example of wet-cured ham is the popular honey-baked ham.

Fresh Ham

Fresh ham, also known as green ham, is a cut of pork that has not been cured or smoked. It is essentially a raw pork roast. Fresh ham has a milder flavor than cured ham and can be cooked in a variety of ways, such as roasting, grilling, or braising.

Interested in buying a fresh ham? Find out more information in our What is Uncured Ham article. 

Whole Bone-In Ham

Whole ham refers to a ham that has not been sliced or portioned. It can be either cured or fresh. Whole hams are often sold bone-in, which can add flavor and moisture to the meat during cooking. They can also be sold boneless, which makes them easier to carve and serve.

In conclusion, ham is a popular and versatile cut of pork that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Cured ham, fresh ham, and whole ham all offer unique flavors and textures that can be used in a wide range of recipes. 

Interested in Black Forest Ham? Well, this is a special type of ham which you can find out more about in our article What is Black Forest Ham?

How to Serve Pork

There are many delicious options to choose from for serving pork. Here are some of our favorite ways to serve pork:

Roasted Pork

Roasting a pork loin or pork shoulder is a classic way to serve this meat. Rub the pork with your favorite spices and roast it in the oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F. Let the pork rest for a few minutes before slicing it and serving it with your favorite sides.

Smoked Boston Butt

Smoked Boston Butt is our favorite cut of meat as far as cooking pork goes! This can be a little of a challenging cut for a beginner smoker, but you’ll get the hang of it. Check out our Smoked Boston Butt recipe to get started.

Pulled Pork

Pulled pork is a popular way to serve pork at barbecues and casual gatherings. Slow-cook a pork shoulder in a crockpot or smoker until it is tender and falls apart easily. Shred the pork and serve it on buns with barbecue sauce and coleslaw.

Curious how you can make smoked pork? We have the perfect recipe for Smoked Pulled Pork here. 

Grilled Pork

Grilling pork chops or pork tenderloin is a quick and easy way to serve this meat. Marinate the pork in your favorite marinade for at least 30 minutes before grilling it over medium-high heat until it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F.

Other Pork Dishes

Of course, there are many other ways to serve pork. Some other ideas include:

  • Pork tacos or burritos
  • Pork schnitzel
  • Pork chops with applesauce
  • Pork and bean soup
  • Pork fried rice

No matter how you choose to serve pork, it is a delicious and versatile meat that can be enjoyed in many different ways.

What is the Difference Between Ham and Pork?

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that ham is actually a specific cut of pork. It comes from the upper hind leg of the pig and is always cured, which gives it a distinctive dark pink color. Therefore both pork and ham are pork, but ham is a specific variation of pork.

One of the biggest differences between ham and pork is the way that they are prepared. Ham is typically cured, which means that it is treated with a combination of salt, sugar, and other ingredients to help preserve it and give it its unique flavor. Pork, on the other hand, is usually sold raw and can be prepared in a variety of ways depending on the cut.

Another key difference between ham and pork is their taste and texture. Because ham is cured, it has a distinct flavor that sets it apart from other types of pork. It is also typically more tender and moist than other cuts of pork, which can be drier and more chewy.

Nutritional Differences Between Ham and Pork

When talking about nutritional content, ham and pork are fairly similar. Both are good sources of protein, but ham tends to be higher in sodium due to the curing process. Pork can also be higher in fat, depending on the cut.

How to Cure and Smoke Ham

Interested in curing and smoking your own ham? It is possible! We’ll cover how to do so below. 

Step 1: Brine Your Ham

The first step in curing ham is to prepare a brine mixture. The brine typically consists of salt, sugar, and spices, along with water. The ham is then submerged in the brine and left to soak for several days. 

During this time, the brine penetrates the meat, infusing it with flavor and helping to preserve it.

Step 2: Salt You Ham

Salt is a crucial component of the curing process, as it helps to draw moisture out of the meat, which in turn helps to preserve it. However, it is important to use the right amount of salt, as too much can make the ham overly salty. A good rule of thumb is to use about 1 cup of salt for every 1 gallon of water in the brine mixture.

Step 3: Add Sodium Nitrate

Sodium nitrate is another key ingredient in the curing process. It is a type of salt that is used to help preserve the meat and give it a distinctive pink color. However, it is important to use sodium nitrate in moderation, as excessive consumption can be harmful to health.

Step 4: Smoking

Once the ham has been cured, it is time to smoke it. Smoking adds flavor to the ham and helps to further preserve it. Typically, the ham is smoked at a low temperature for several hours, using wood chips or other types of smoking materials.

The length of time required for smoking will depend on the size of the ham and the desired level of smokiness.

What is the Sodium Content in Ham?

When comparing ham and pork, one of the most significant differences is the sodium content. Ham is known to be high in sodium, and the amount of sodium present in ham can vary depending on the type and brand.

According to the USDA, a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of roasted ham contains an average of 1,117 mg of sodium, which is about 48% of the recommended daily intake (RDI). This amount of sodium is quite high and can be a concern for people who are watching their sodium intake.

It’s important to note that the sodium content in ham is mainly due to the use of salt in the curing and flavoring process. Some types of ham may also contain other additives that contribute to the sodium content.

If you’re looking to reduce your sodium intake, it’s important to be mindful of the amount of ham you consume. Eating smaller portions of ham or choosing lower-sodium options like other cuts of pork can help you stay within your daily sodium limits.

Here are some tips to help you reduce your sodium intake when consuming ham:

  • Choose fresh pork instead of ham, as pork is naturally low in sodium.
  • Look for lower-sodium options when buying ham, such as reduced-sodium or no-salt-added varieties.
  • Rinse the ham before cooking or consuming it to remove excess salt.
  • Limit your portion sizes of ham and pair it with low-sodium sides or vegetables to balance your meal’s sodium content.
Photo of author

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

Leave a Comment