Ham Vs Pork: 5 Glaring Differences to Keep in Mind

Though sometimes used interchangeably, ham and pork differ in many ways. Ham has a deep pink color and a longer shelf life thanks to the curing process whereas pork has a light pink color and a comparatively shorter shelf life. Also, ham comes preseasoned and thus is available in several flavors. Unlike pork which needs seasoning and spices to enhance its natural flavor.

The ham vs pork debate has always been rife and as such, it is easy to get lost in the nuances. However, if you focus on the facts, you will be able to easily tell which one you need to take your dish to the next level. The rest is just noise. Let me help you clear the fog.

In this article, I will take a deep dive into the 5 major differences between ham and pork along with some recipes they are better suited to before I answer your most pressing questions regarding ham and pork.

Ham vs. Pork: What Are Their Differences?

Right off the bat, note that all ham is pork because ham is sourced from the carcass of a pig but not all pork is ham. Ham is derived specifically from the pig’s hind leg and as such, you can expect the two types of meat to differ. How so? Let’s explore that:

Variety of Pork Meat Assortment


The boldest difference between ham and pork is their appearance. At first glance, raw pork meat has a light pink color while ham has a deep pink color.

Depending on whether the cut of pork you are looking at is high in fat content or lean, it can either have just a light pink hue, almost white or it can have a darker pink color. For example, fattier cuts like pork butt, and pork belly are comparatively lighter in color than leaner cuts like pork tenderloin, and pork chops which have a deeper pink color.

Ham on the other hand has an unmistakable rich pink color and is much darker for 4 reasons:

  1. The pink color of curing salt.
  2. Nitrates and nitrites added during processing.
  3. Some hams are smoke-cured or cooked.
  4. It may be glazed with honey or other seasonings.


Ham and pork have wildly different flavors. Pork has a mild flavor that often pairs divinely with different sauces, marinades, and meat rubs. Fatty pork cuts have a richer flavor compared to lean pork meat.

The delicate flavor of pork makes it highly flexible because it gives you a clean slate to work with. You can impart a sweet, spicy, tangy, or smoky flavor to pork dishes. It all comes down to your palette.

Ham comes in different flavors based on how it has been cured and processed. Honey cured ham is sweet, Iberico ham has a deep nutty taste, Serrano is slightly spicy, hickory smoked ham has the heavy flavor of hickory hardwood, while Prosciutto has a mild sweet and spicy taste.


Pork is raw meat from any part of a pig ready to be cooked and turned into a meal. This gives you plenty of choices on what to prepare. You can make any dish from pulled pork and fried pork chops to pork shoulder roast.

When it comes to ham, what to prepare depends on the type of ham you buy. Remember, they all come pre-seasoned with some types of hams sold ready to eat.

While cold ham from the grocery store is acceptable, you must admit it tastes better when heated. You can serve it as the main dish or incorporate it into other meals like ham sandwiches.

Shelf Life

Ham has a much longer shelf life compared to fresh pork because it has been cured. Curing involves introducing nitrites to the meat to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, especially clostridium botulinum which in turn increases the shelf life of your meat.

Most types of ham will stay in tip-top shape for up to a week in the refrigerator. Dry-cured ham like prosciutto can even last up to 3 months at room temperature while raw meat generally has a shorter shelf life.

Fresh, uncured, and uncooked pork will last 3-5 days in the refrigerator and 6 months in the freezer while canned ham labeled ‘Keep Refrigerated’ will last in the freezer for up to 9 months.

Given the many ham and pork products available, how to best store your meat can be quite confusing so when in doubt, just stick to the guidelines. You cannot go wrong.


Ham is generally more expensive than pork because of the processing and value addition it undergoes.

Sliced Honey Glazed Ham

About Ham

Ham refers to meat that comes specifically from a pig’s hind leg. It is then cured which means it has added preservatives. You can either have smoke-cured ham, dry-cured ham, or wet-cured ham.

Curing not only serves to increase the shelf life of ham but also to add intense flavors to the meat. Although cooked ham tastes great, by the time ham lands on the shelves, it is usually ready to eat.

There are 3 types of ham namely fresh, smoked, and cured ham. They can also be boneless, bone-in, or partially boned.

Cured hams come in many different flavors so pick what tickles your fancy. They include country ham, gammon, picnic, york, city ham, black forest ham, Limerick, scotch ham, Bayonne ham, honey glazed ham, and culatello ham just to mention a few.

About Pork

Pork refers to all cuts of meat that come from a domesticated pig. Pig meat is usually sold raw and can be cooked in a variety of methods to make delicious pork dishes. Pork meat can be fried, grilled, seared, smoked, and even boiled.

Raw pork is normally served as the star of the dinner table in dishes like pork butt roast, pulled pork, stir-fried pork loin, pork roasts, and pan-seared pork chops. Ground raw pork is also commonly used to make hamburgers, meatballs, meat patties, and of course, sausages. The limit here is only in your imagination.

Any Recipe Ideas for Ham?

  • Skillet ham and rice
  • Bourbon baked ham
  • Grilled ham sandwich
  • Slow cooked ham
  • Sliced ham
  • Ham and bean soup
  • Casserole filling
  • Omelet filling

Any Recipe Ideas for Pork?

  • Grilled pork tenderloin
  • Crispy pork belly
  • Smoked pork butt
  • Roast pork butt
  • Slow-cooked pork chops
  • Spicy meatballs
  • Pork loin roast
  • Pork fried rice
  • Slow-roasted pork shoulder

Can I Use Pork in Place of Ham?

This depends on your recipe and the flavor profile you hope to achieve. As I mentioned earlier, pork and ham have very different tastes.

Ham has a bold and rich taste that is hard to miss while fresh pork has a delicate mild flavor. Pork requires the help of spices and seasonings to elevate its taste while ham just often only requires heating. With that in mind, you can use ham instead of pork for dishes like salads, soups, and sandwiches.

Likewise, you can use fresh ham in place of pork for recipes like pulled pork and pork patties with none the wiser.

However, when it comes to using ham instead of pork, you might want to consider the undeniable taste of cured meat in your dish. If you don’t mind the smokey flavor of ham in your stir-fried pork, use it instead of pork. If you prefer to work with a clean slate with regard to seasoning, I strongly suggest you stick to fresh pork.

What is the Difference Between Ham and Prosciutto?

Remember we said that there are different types of ham based on how they are processed? Well, prosciutto is just one of the many types of ham: an artisan type of ham much like Wagyu and Kobe beef. So in essence, all Proscuitto is ham but not all ham is Proscuitto.

Prosciutto loosely translates to ‘ham’ in Italy which is its place of origin. There are many types of Proscuitto, again, based on how it is processed. The creme de la creme is Proscuitto Di Parma.

Features that float to the top are that every leg that makes this ham should be aged for between 13-36 months and that it can only come from a domesticated pig in Parma province, North Central Italy.

This time commitment along with using only specific hog breeds on a specialized diet makes Prosciutto a very expensive type of ham especially when imported to the USA. That’s why its prices are simply, jaw-dropping.

Raw Italian Prosciutto Crudo


1. Is Ham Better for You Than Pork?

Just as is the case with pork, ham is rich in protein and low in calories. It is riddled with nutrients and minerals each with its own merits.

That said, ham, unlike pork is cured meat which means it features a lot of additives, particularly nitrites added to improve its shelf life and flavor.

The curing process makes ham high in sodium which is generally not advised. Additionally, high levels of sodium can cause high blood pressure which happens to be a risk factor for stroke and heart disease.

Of course, these drawbacks do not apply to fresh ham because it is essentially raw pork. My advice, enjoy pork in moderation and save ham for special occasions.

Last Call on Ham Vs Pork

To recap, all ham is pork but not all pork is ham. All pork cuts including ham are derived from the carcass of a domesticated pig.

Ham sets itself apart from pork because it is comprised of the hind leg of a pig only while pork is a general term for all meat derived from a pig. Pork is generally sold in its unprocessed raw form, unlike ham which is cured.

This distinction births all the other variations evident in their appearance, flavor, shelf life, preparation, and eventually, cost.

Armed with that knowledge, you can now decide which one of the two works for you and what to look out for keep in mind that there are fresh types of ham available just like there are cured pork products. That’s a wrap!