Ham and pork come from the same animal – the pig. But there are some important distinctions between these two popular types of meat in terms of cuts, curing, flavor, and typical cooking methods.


Pork refers to meat from pigs, most commonly the muscles and fat from the loin, shoulder, leg and side. Pork can be fresh or cured/processed in various ways like smoking or salting.

Ham specifically means pork from the hind leg that has been cured, smoked, or both. So while ham is pork, not all pork is considered ham.

Cuts of Meat

Pork can come from many parts of the pig. Common fresh cuts are chops, roasts, ribs, tenderloin, etc. Ham is exclusively from the rear leg, which gets a lot of exercise, so the meat is lean yet still tender and flavorful when cured.

Curing Process

Pork is simply the fresh meat from a pig. But most ham is cured – treated with salt, nitrites, smoke, or other processes to preserve it and enhance the flavor. This gives ham its distinctive salty, smoky taste. A small amount of ham may be sold uncured.

Flavors and Fat Content

Pork flavor can vary greatly depending on the cut. In general, it has a mild, subtly sweet taste when fresh. Ham has a much bolder, saltier, smokier flavor. Fresh pork tends to have more fat and marbling, while ham leg is leaner.

Cooking Methods

Pork chops, roasts and ribs are best prepared by grilling, roasting, sautéing, or broiling. The quick cooking keeps the meat juicy. Ham is already fully cooked and cured, so it is ideally just gently warmed or glazed.

Serving Suggestions

In terms of usage, pork appears in many cuisines worldwide. It can be the focal protein of a meal or play a supporting role, for example in stir-fries. Ham makes an excellent appetizer, sandwich meat, soup addition or entrée.


Fresh pork provides high-quality protein, B vitamins, potassium and zinc. Cured ham tends to be higher in sodium due to curing salts. Both are excellent sources of thiamine, selenium, protein, vitamins B6 and B12, phosphorus, and niacin.

Cost Comparison

Pork prices can vary widely depending on the cut, from affordable chops to premium tenderloin. In general, fresh pork costs a bit less per pound than deli ham. But hams marketed for holidays often cost significantly more.

Health Concerns

Pork has minimal health risks when properly cooked. The main concern with ham is its high sodium content, averaging over 1000 mg per 3 oz serving. This makes it unsuitable for low sodium diets. Otherwise, ham offers comparable nutrition to fresh pork.

In summary, while pork and ham both come from pigs, ham differs in coming from the hind leg, undergoing curing, having a distinctive smoked flavor, and being used as a ready-to-eat product. Understanding their unique qualities helps select the right type of pork product for your cooking needs.

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Julia Jane is a home cook inspired by her mother's cooking. With the desire to share my cooking experiences with everyone, she created this website

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