When you're serving a holiday dinner, what's better than having the main course arrive dressed up for the occasion?
That's the allure of a mail-order spiral-cut ham. Consumer Reports recently tasted six brands and found one that was clearly the best of the bunch. (Note: It wasn't from Harry & David, a mail-order biggie whose website says that “dinner guests won't be able to help but swoon” at the very scent of its ham. That ham turned out to be somewhat dry and chewy.) The winner: HoneyBaked, which was flavorful and consistently moist and tender.
A fancy appearance isn't the only reason these hams are an occasional treat. All score just Fair for nutrition, based on calories, fat, sodium, sugars and other nutrients. Per 3-ounce serving, they have up to 160 calories, 10 grams of fat and 1 to 4 grams of sugars. Applewood Farms is lowest in calories and fat; Omaha Steaks is the highest. (Numbers differ based on how pigs are raised and processed.) The hams' main nutritional problem is sodium – up to 960 milligrams per serving in top-rated HoneyBaked, almost half of the recommended daily limit.
All of the tested hams are sold online. HoneyBaked is also sold in 400-plus company stores; Omaha Steaks in more than 80; Harry & David, in about 50; and Smithfield in certain supermarkets. If you can find a store, buy it there: Shipping can more than double a ham's cost. Hams should arrive nestled in cold packs or dry ice. One delivery that testers received from Applewood Farms wasn't, and they had to request another shipment, which arrived properly chilled.
Bottom line. HoneyBaked was best. Others might please for different reasons. If you like less-sweet ham, consider Smithfield. Want the fruit and brown-spice flavors of apple pie? Try Applewood Farms. Love smoked meats? Pick Hickory Farms. HoneyBaked has a sugary coating; Smithfield has no coating; Applewood Farms and Hickory Farms have glazes that you can add.
Three of the Ratings, summarized below, give details from taste tests in which Consumer Reports' experts sampled three hams per brand. (Please note that shipping refers to the cost of shipping to New York. Costs vary depending on the number of hams ordered, delivery speed and delivery location.)
•HoneyBaked Ham. Rating: Excellent. Price $74; Shipping: $16 to $36; Weight: 9 pounds. Flavorful and complex, with balanced tastes of clove, fruit and brown sugar that complement ham's natural flavors. Consistently moist and tender. Reheated well; didn't dry out. It has a store at 6410 W. Jefferson Blvd. in Fort Wayne.
•Applewood Farms. Rating: Very Good. Price $35; Shipping: $17 to $55; Weight: 9 pounds. Flavor varied from ham to ham, but moist and (at its best) sweet, with fruit and brown-spice flavors. Low smoke, not very complex. Included glaze enhances flavors and balances salt.
•Harry & David. Rating: Good. Price $70; Shipping: $13 to $33; Weight: 7.5 pounds. Strong smoke and light sweetness indicate a lack of balance and complexity. Consumer Reports' testers found it dry and chewy. Included glaze adds complexity and balances salt.
Makin’ the best bacon
Chocolate-covered bacon, bacon martinis — Is there any doubt that bacon is beloved?
Unfortunately, there's also no doubt that bacon isn't health food. Just two slices of pork bacon can have about 80 calories, 7 grams of fat (about a third saturated) and 200 to 400 milligrams of sodium. Eating turkey bacon can cut those numbers in half, but you'll cut taste, too, Consumer Reports' tests showed.
In its tests of regular and thick-sliced uncooked bacon, pre-cooked bacon and turkey bacon, Kirkland Signature was the only Excellent product. It crisped up nicely and consistently, had balanced fat and meat flavors complemented by wood smoke, and a hint of sweetness. The other pork bacons that were tested were close in quality and Very Good overall.
The turkey bacons, cheaper but lower rated than the rest, were uniform slices of seemingly re-formed meat. Bottom line: Enjoy bacon occasionally.