CORRECTION 8 December 2023: An earlier version of this article listed the price of the IGA Naturally Smoked Leg Ham as $5.59 per kilo. The correct price is $8 per kilo.
Hams are the centrepiece of many Christmas lunch tables around Australia, but they can be expensive, so can you go for a cheaper option without losing the festive cheer?
While many people wish to support local and independent businesses by buying from a butcher, these hams can cost upwards of $20 a kilo, which may be out of reach for some, this year in particular.
Supermarket hams are more affordable, but are they any good?
We enlisted the help of four food experts to rate eight Christmas hams from Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and IGA to help you find the best ham on a budget.
And the great news is that one of the favourites is the cheapest – so you can keep everyone happy and still afford some little luxuries to make your festive season special.
Before you start making your list (and checking it twice), find out which hams to seek out and which to avoid.
We have good news for budget-conscious shoppers: the most affordable ham we tested was also one of the tastiest, according to our expert judges. And while the other top-rated ham was the most expensive we tested, it's still likely cheaper than what you may pay at a butcher.
The two top scorers were neck and neck on taste, with just one percentage point between them for the taste test and the overall score.
IGA came in ahead of Woolworths by a whisker – just one percentage point – because it has a higher Health Star Rating. But Woolworths was a (tiny) step ahead in terms of taste.
Cheap but (Christmas) cheer-ful: this IGA ham was one of the judges' favourites.
IGA Naturally Smoked Leg Ham
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 73% (Recommended)
- Price: $8 per kilo
- Taste test score: 64%
IGA's Naturally Smoked Leg Ham costs a wallet-friendly $8 per kilo and impressed the experts with its mild but pleasant taste, even fat distribution, and natural appearance.
It's better served cold, however, as our testing found it becomes somewhat dry when cooked. But with a price this low, you can probably afford to pick up another cut of meat to roast if you'd like to serve a hot meat dish as well.
Read the full IGA Naturally Smoked Leg Ham review.
Woolworths' Gold missed out on gold by one percentage point on the overall score, but was ahead by a whisker on taste.
Woolworths Gold Triple Smoked Leg Ham
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 72% (Recommended)
- Price: $16 per kilo
- Taste test score: 65%
While it's the most expensive per kilo of all the hams we tested, $16 a kilo is still a great price.
Our expert taste testers liked its appearance and texture, and praised the balance between the smokiness and sweetness.
While opinion was divided over whether it's better served hot or cold, it scored marginally higher for taste when warmed, so you can probably take your pick according to whether you prefer a cold or hot Christmas lunch.
Read the full Woolworths Gold Triple Smoked Leg Ham review.
There was one supermarket ham that you should definitely not put in your cart: serve this up for Christmas lunch and you might find your gifts replaced with lumps of coal.
It was also one of the most expensive per kilo, so not only will it ruin lunch, it'll also leave less room in your budget for pudding.
Coles' Finest? Not according to our experts.
Coles Finest Gold Triple Smoked Free-Range Quarter Leg Ham
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 21%
- Price: $15 per kilo
- Taste test score: 17%
We almost felt bad asking our experts to eat this ham: it was described by every single judge as "unpleasant".
And the descriptors didn't get any more complimentary from there: "strong chemical smell", "acrid aroma", "lacks flavour" and "very dry" were their pronouncements.
And even heating it didn't improve their opinions. "Has only got worse with heat", "very dry and chewy" and "overall incredibly unpleasant" were some of the criticisms. Perhaps the worst was "inedible".
On the upside, it's made using free-range pork and is certified as a carbon-neutral product, plus it carries the RSPCA-approved farming logo. It won a gold medal at the Royal Tasmanian Fine Food Awards in 2022, which is surprising considering what our judges thought of it.
"I want my money back please!" quipped one expert.
Read the full Coles Finest Gold Triple Smoked Free-Range ham review.
Expert taste testers worked their way through eight supermarket Christmas hams, tasting them both cold and warm.
While the price may be right, the downside of a supermarket ham is that it's unlikely to be as good as one from a butcher who cures and smokes their own hams. But when ham from a butcher costs upwards of $20 to $25 per kilo, there's a big price difference.
If your budget only stretches as far as a supermarket ham, there are a few tricks that'll help take it to the next level.
CHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair shares her tips.
1. Keep the fat
"When you bake a ham you need to remove the rind; under the rind is a layer of fat. This layer of fat is going to help keep the ham moist as well as adding flavour," she says.
2. Glaze and dress
Fiona recommends glazing the ham to add a sweetness to the layer of fat.
"When baked the fat will render and caramelise, so when you slice the ham you also get a thin layer of fat that helps to balance the saltiness of the ham," she explains.
"Glazing the ham and dressing it with cloves and glacé cherries adds to the presentation."
Overcooking your ham will dry it out and intensify the saltiness, which could make it inedibleFiona Mair, CHOICE kitchen expert
3. Avoid overcooking
Fiona says that overcooking your ham will not only dry it out, it will intensify the saltiness, which could make it inedible.
"I recommend placing the ham on a rack in a baking tray, adding water to the baking pan then covering it with foil for most of the cooking time. Remove the foil for the last 40 mins to caramelise the fat."
4. Serve with sauce
And what if your ham is dry? Can you save it? There's only so much you can do, says Fiona.
"If the baked ham is dry there's not a lot you can do other than serving it with a sauce – try honey mustard sauce, cranberry sauce or even a simple gravy," she says.
From left to right: Adam Moore, Jan Boon, Brigid Treloar and David Stössel.
Our expert test panel included:
- Adam Moore – an experienced culinary judge with more than 25 years' of experience in the industry and qualifications in pastry, charcuterie and butchery, sensory evaluation, food styling and food photography.
- Jan Boon – a home economist who has been judging local, interstate and regional food and Easter shows for more than 35 years.
- Brigid Treloar – a freelance food consultant for more than 30 years who has published eight cookbooks.
- David Stössel – a highly experienced hospitality professional who now leads Feather and Bone, an ethical and sustainable butcher and providore in Sydney.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.