Introduction: Budget Meals: Cooked Ham

About: Building design/consulting in Vancouver, WA. Resource based problem solver... in other words, I always take a minute to look in construction dumpsters :) ---the way some have to workout everyday... i have to …

We get a lot of mileage out of a cooked ham.
Convenient about the ham is that it comes precooked so there is less raw meat to handle. Making it easier to use straight from the freezer.

Planning Basics. Our meal planning starts with the protein and varies around the season...

  • Veggies - we grow a lot of food in the garden and have about 6 weeks of surplus for each of our main veggies. There are also seasonal discounts at the grocery store.
  • Temperature - no one wants to cook soup in the summer... salads become a staple as we have fresh greens from the garden and can always put together one that uses a mix of veggies and grains.
  • Types of Meat - only learned this year that meat producers only produce certain types seasonally... such as the pork butt featured here. ~90% are harvested in the fall... they are then frozen and sold throughout the year but tend to be most expensive in summer.

Flow Chart. I've tried to show how we use the bone for soup and freeze the rest of the meat for use in dishes as needed. All the meals shown in this instructable were made over the past two weeks. (like infographics? here are two earlier ones... Apple Pecan Cake + Pineapple Upside-Down)

Dishes. Here I'll share a few of our favorites.

  • Noodles / Pasta - simplest dish I know.. one step over frying an egg
  • Pumpkin Curry - a stir-fry with added spices and coconut milk
  • Red Beans & Rice - a variation on the traditional recipe. similar to a quick chili
  • Ham and Cheese Rolls
  • Mushroom Barley Soup

On a budget? The cooked ham we buy goes for between $1.19 - $1.99 per pound. After adjusting for fat content that's $1.50 - $2.50 per pound. We used an 8 pound pork butt for the meals shown here and were able to get 22-24 meals. It works out to be about $.50/meal for protein. Not bad!


The two most handy supplies are a wok and a butcher knife.

  • Wok - It makes it easy to cook large dishes over direct heat. Most things turn into a soup/sauce if we put them in a deep pan and a regular pan never has enough room. After the kitchenaid the scanpan wok is our most valued item in the kitchen.
  • Butcher Knife - I've had this one for years. It cost $3.99 in San Francisco's Chinatown. The trick is to buy the cheapest you can find that feels substantial. If I was picking one off amazon I'd go with the winco cleaver at under $11.
  • Nice to also have an enamel pot...

Step 1: Cooked Ham - Carving

Carving a cooked ham is much simpler than quartering a chicken. Because the meat is precooked there really isn't much juice to deal with running all over the counter.

Carving Process:

  1. Fat Seam - Cut along the fat seam. In most cases it will pull apart.
  2. Section Meat - From there I slice meat into ~3/4 lb sections.
  3. Bone - try not to dull your knife by cutting into the bone. You'll find it easier to carve around the bone. The whole chunk goes into a soup so it doesn't matter if you leave meat behind.
  4. Scraps + Fat - most the scraps end up in the soup on day 1. The fat can be saved and cooked... it's just unrendered lard.

Step 2: Cooked Ham - Ratios

Cooked ham, or pork butt/shoulder, works out to be one of the least expensive meats available at our neighborhood grocery store.
The size of the bone and amount of fat varies. Here's what I plan for...

  • Meat to Bone to Water -- 84% meat (w/fat), 12% bone, 4% water... I expect just under 80% of the weight is meat. At $1.49/lb you can adjust the cost per lb of meat to be about $1.80.
  • Meat to Fat -- 90% meat, 10% fat.... if you adjust further for price/protein it's about $1.97.

---if you're budget conscious and like looking at the numbers I hope you enjoy the breakdown.

Step 3: Slicing

Yes, slicing deserves it's own step.

It really is satisfying... the knife cuts right through frozen pork butt. It's not at all like a block of ground beef. Simply place a little weight on the cleaver at the meat is ready for the pan.

Salt Note. Because of the salt brine used in preparation we rarely need to salt food where we add pork butt. Similar to baking with salted butter.

Step 4: Noodles Dish

Such a quick dish... simply fry in the wok and add to noodles.

  1. Onions, ham and garlic if you have it (mine is missing)
  2. Scrambled egg
  3. Add to pasta, ramen or in this case buckwheat noodles.

Regional variations.
Most dishes really are the same at the core. Here's how to make this simple dish taste more regional/ethnic.

  • Italian (light) - add a heavy pour of olive oil salt and lot so black pepper. A little white wine also adds to the flavor. Add a touch of cream and you have carbonara.
  • Italian (red) - drop in some tomato sauce from a jar or take a little more time and cook in fresh tomato.
  • Asian - spice the noodles with sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy and some red pepper sauce.
  • Backpacker/Traveler - whatever is on the free shelf at a hostel! From a tuna to veggies to baked beans... it all can end up over ramen. This is simple base is how I started cooking :)

Step 5: Pumpkin Curry

Curry is actually very similar to the noodle dish in the last step.
The key is to start/finish with a few ingredients that makes it more than a stir-fry:

  1. Starting Spices - bay leaves, whole cloves
  2. Finishing Spices - gram marsala, cinnamon... any other herbs you like
  3. Coconut Milk - here we used a small can... shame we were out of the large

When to add pork? The fatty bits go in early. Most of the meat gets added towards the end. For the curry it was just a few minutes before the coconut milk.

Don't forget rice! Easy to make it advance or the rice cooker makes it easy to add right when you start cooking. I picked up an older Aroma model from Target 6 years ago. Still going strong.

Step 6: Red Beans & Rice

True Red Beans...this is not. It's a variation that uses cooked ham in place of sausage. Much lower price with little compromise on taste.

The Variation. Here you can see the curry dish gets added to the base. Water and spices are added. Red beans are added. More ham. ---simple and so satisfying

Step 7: Ham & Cheese Rolls

Whether you make your own dough or pop a can from the grocery store this one is a crowd pleaser.

Simple Steps: Roll ingredients into the dough. Slice. Place face up in a greased pan.

----the ham used here came straight from the freezer

Step 8: Mushroom Barley Soup

This is actually the second stock made from the same pork butt. The first was a split pea that used the bone. Perhaps the most photogenic thing you can make! I didn't take photos but can share the second soup.

Mushroom Barley Soup - this one is featured in Homemade Stock. A recent instructable on using a utensil holder to simplify the process. The base for this soup was a costco chicken . The cooked ham was added towards the end right when the barley went in.

As always, thanks for reading!

Hope this is helpful and provides a few ideas for simplifying your meal planning process. You have a little glimpse into our process. Honestly, cooking never feels like a chore. The order of these dishes is to share the simple logic we follow in the kitchen that makes it easy to take the same ingredients in a lot of different directions.

Cheers! Jeff and Jess

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