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Jun 13, 2011 05:59 PM

What Is "Fresh Ham"?

When I was in high school, some ahum...40 years ago, we used to go to a little Italian grocery, near Yonkers High school, for lunch that made the best sandwiches. They had a cold cut called "fresh ham" that tasted like sliced pork. I left New York many years ago and have been trying to find that cold cut, but one body knows what I'm talking about. Does anyone know what this could of been?

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  1. Fresh Ham is pork that has not been cured, smoked, etc.
    It tasted like sliced pork to you because that's exactly what it is, the same shank or shoulder cut as would be used for a cured ham, without the cure.

    Fresh ham is, simply, basically roasted pork.
    (and it's my favorite form of "ham", by the way. More garlic, please...)

    1. it's just pork leg that's been cooked but *not* cured or smoked.

      1. If you see 'fresh ham' in the grocery or butcher shop is it most likely a whole pork (rear) leg, or in some cases a slice from that. It can be roasted in the same way as a pork loin roast. The loin is more common in groceries because most legs are cured.

        If you want to roast your own (whether leg or loin), I'd suggest looking at recipes for porchetta. There are various idea of what cut should be used for that (anything from whole pig to shoulder), but the seasoning might give some similar to what you remember.

        1. Fresh ham in the midwest is usually the uncured, fresh front leg of a pig. It is usually sold with the skin on. We roast it and slice it. You can also make pulled pork with it.

          11 Replies
          1. re: John E.

            I have never heard of the front leg being called "ham." Cured or "fresh" ham is the primal cut from the back leg of a pig. I agree that it is best roasted and sliced. It can also be used for barbecue, but as it has more meat and less fat and collagen then the front leg (picnic shoulder) it tends to get drier and therefore is not the preferred cut.

            1. re: MGZ

              Nor have I. Ham by definition is the hindquarters (buttock and thigh). Fresh ham would be the uncured version.

              1. re: MGZ

                That's why they call it fresh ham. They don't waste the back leg on fresh ham, those are made into, ham.

                1. re: John E.

                  Perhaps, it is a regional colloquialism. From a butchering perspective, however, the hind leg cut is called "ham." If it is cured or cured and smoked it is what is commonly referred to by consumers with the shorthand "ham." If it is not cured, it is called "fresh ham," i.e., it has not been cured to extend the time in which it remains edible as opposed to "fresh."

                  1. re: MGZ

                    Maybe it's just my local meat cutter that does this at his locker. He's the one that told me he wasn't going to waste the ham for fresh ham.

                    1. re: John E.

                      It seems that way. There are many places outside the "ham belt" (e.g. ) where curing was traditionally not an option. The hind quarters had to be consumed fresh.

              2. re: John E.

                Obviously someone from a part of the Midwest without a large Hispanic population because fresh hams are extremely common in Chicago markets with substantial Hispanic clientele. The supply is particularly large before holidays.

                1. re: Eldon Kreider

                  I never said they were not common. I see them in the meat department at the grocery store alk the time. I usually buy a pork shoulder without the leg bone, just the shoulder blade. I either make smoked pulled pork, roast pork, carnitas or pork chile verde. Monday we're having roast oork and with the leftover meat, chile verde.

                  1. re: John E.

                    You said "Fresh ham in the midwest is usually the uncured, fresh front leg of a pig." Not true in Chicago, which I believe is still in the Midwest. The uncured front leg is labeled picnic or picnic ham here and is much less common than the uncured hind leg, which is labeled fresh ham. Shoulders without the leg are very common and are more often labeled simply pork for tamales rather than shoulder or shoulder butt..

                    1. re: Eldon Kreider

                      Maybe I got picnic ham and fresh ham confuse, I have seen and heard both terms. I had at least one butcher describe fresh ham as the front leg of a pig. Hell, I don't really care that much wgat it is called. We have pork shoulder labled as pork shoulder, pork butt or very seldom, Boston butt. Although we have a sizeable hispanic population, pork shoulder is never labled as "pork for tamales" (in the mainstream grocery stores) which is not a cut of meat, but rather directions for use of the meat.

                      1. re: John E.

                        A while back a poster was ranting about the misuse of 'pernil'. The Spanish word evidently derives from 'pierna', leg, and properly speaking is used for the rear leg, ham. But the roast pork dish of the same name often is made with shoulder, especially among Puerto Ricans living off the island (e.g. in NY).

                        I also learned that in Catalonia, 'pernil' is the the equivalent to the Castilian 'jamon' - the cured pork leg.

                        The pernil thread reminds me of the origins of the word 'ham'. From the WIki article on 'hamstring'
                        "The word ham originally referred to the fat and muscle behind the knee. String refers to tendons, and thus, the hamstrings are the string-like tendons felt on either side of the back of the knee. Another commonly accepted origin is that legs of ham used to be hung by a hook through the space between the thighbone and the tendons behind the knee."

              3. In the New York/New Jersey area Roasted Fresh Ham in Diners and Latin Luncheonette/Cafeteria usually meant roasting the hind leg, not the front shoulder/butt portion.

                This is also the preferred cut for the Cubano sandwich. For the Philly Roast Pork sandwich with Broccoli Rabe, depending on the source, one of either cuts of pork could be used.