Is Ham Considered Poultry? Exploring the Meat Category of This Popular Deli Favorite

Ham is one of the most popular sandwich meats and deli staples in the United States and abroad. But if you take a closer look at the ingredients label on a package of sliced ham you may notice it doesn’t specify what type of meat it contains. So this leaves many wondering – is ham considered a poultry product or a different meat category?

As it turns out the answer is more complex than you might think. Let’s closely examine what deli ham is made from how it’s produced, and why it doesn’t fit neatly into the poultry, beef, pork or other meat classifications.

What is Ham Made Of?

Ham gets its name from the method of preservation and aging rather than the type of animal it comes from. Traditionally, ham referred to pork from the hind legs of pigs that went through a curing process. Here’s what real ham contains:

  • The rear leg of a pig, usually from the thigh or rump areas.

  • Salt, used to cure the meat.

  • Smoking or air-drying for preservation.

  • Other seasonings added for flavor like honey, cloves, peppercorns.

So by definition, most genuine hams contain pork meat from pigs. But today, the term “ham” has become broader and can apply to meats from other animals.

What is Deli Ham Made From?

The packaged sliced ham you find at the supermarket deli counter contains a blend of meat products, rather than just cured pork:

  • Pork – Most contain a high percentage of cured pork.

  • Turkey – Turkey meat is often added to make ham less fatty.

  • Chicken – Chicken may be mixed in as a leaner meat.

  • Beef – Some hams contain small amounts of beef for texture.

  • Mechanically Separated Meat – The pink slurry produced by scraping bones for small bits of meat.

  • Water – For moisture and reducing production costs.

  • Binders – Helps meld all the meat bits into a sliceable loaf.

  • Flavorings & Preservatives – Smoky taste and long shelf life.

As you can see, packaged ham is far from just salted, aged pork. It’s an amalgam of cheaper meats, leftovers, and additives. But since most contain at least some percentage of cured pork, they are still labeled as “ham”.

Is Ham Considered Poultry?

Given that ham often contains chicken or turkey meat mixed with pork, some confusion exists around whether ham qualifies as a poultry product. Let’s clear up this debate:

  • Ham is not considered poultry by the USDA or conventionally defined. Poultry only refers to birds like chicken, turkey, duck.

  • Ham contains so little poultry meat compared to pork that it does not qualify as such.

  • Even ham lunchmeat with higher turkey content is still categorized as pork for labeling.

  • Sliced turkey and chicken deli meats are the true poultry-based lunch options.

So while ham sold at retail delis may include small bits of poultry for cost reasons, the dominant meat by far is pork. Therefore, it remains defined as a pork product rather than a poultry one.

Reasons Ham is Not Labeled by Meat Type

Given that deli-style ham contains a mishmash of animal meats, you may be wondering why the specific contents aren’t listed on the packaging. Here’s why ham gets this broad label treatment:

  • Cost Savings – Blending meats is cheaper than using just pork. More generic labels allow any ratios.

  • Consistency – Ham flavor and texture would vary batch-to-batch if meat percentages were listed.

  • Regional Tastes – Some markets prefer more smoky pork taste vs. milder turkey. One label fits all.

  • Food Safety – Since multiple meats are used, listing percentages would require more stringent monitoring.

  • Consumer Confusion – Most customers just expect the familiar “ham” name without worrying about meat types.

So the catch-all “ham” label allows manufacturers more flexibility and lowers production expenses compared to branding ham varieties by specific meat content percentages.

How Ham Differs from Other Deli Meats

The mixed meat composition of pre-packaged ham makes it distinct from other sliced deli products:

  • Turkey – Sliced turkey only contains turkey, no other meats.

  • Chicken – Chicken lunchmeat is exclusively chicken meat.

  • Roast Beef – Only beef, although may contain beef of varying grades.

  • Salami – Usually just pork and beef, no poultry.

  • Bologna – Typically a blend of beef, pork, and chicken.

So while ham does contain poultry meat, unlike turkey or chicken deli slices, it also contains pork and other meats. This blend makes it distinct in the lunch meat realm.

Should You Buy Ham Based on Meat Type?

At the end of the day, does it really matter that pre-packaged ham contains a mix of pork, turkey, chicken and other mystery meats? Here are some considerations:

  • Taste Preference – If you don’t love turkey or chicken taste, read ingredients carefully.

  • Dietary Needs – Avoid if require 100% pork for religious reasons.

  • Ingredients – Check if wanting no mechanically separated meat parts.

  • Nutritional Value – Varies less by meat than fat, salt, preservatives.

  • Price – Cheaper hams use higher percentages of turkey and chicken.

  • Brand Reputation – Some brands still use primarily pork and less filler.

For most shoppers, the specific meat composition of ham is less important than aspects like price, taste, nutrition, and ingredients. But understanding exactly what you’re buying helps make an informed choice.

The Takeaway: Ham is Primarily a Pork Product

While the definition has expanded over the years, traditional ham is cured and smoked pork from pig legs. Modern pre-packaged deli ham still contains mostly pork, plus small amounts of turkey, chicken, and other meats for cost savings and consistency.

The mixed composition means ham is not considered a poultry product, despite bits of turkey and chicken. And broad “ham” labeling avoids dictating specific meat ratios that would vary between batches.

At the end of the day, the type of animal meat matters less than the quality, nutrition, and taste of the ham you select for sandwiches or family meals. But hopefully this breakdown gives you a better grasp of what’s inside the plastic-wrapped slices at your neighborhood deli.

Homemade pressed chicken ham


Is ham considered poultry?

White meat, on the other hand, generally refers to poultry. This is why beef, lamb, and pork (including ham) are considered red meat. Red meat is high in protein, as well as vitamins like B12, iron, and zinc (per Healthline).

What kind of meat is ham considered?

Ham is the cured leg of pork. Fresh ham is an uncured leg of pork. Fresh ham will bear the term “fresh” as part of the product name and is an indication that the product is not cured. “Turkey” ham is a ready-to-eat product made from cured thigh meat of turkey.

Is ham 100% meat?

Because of the preservation process, ham is a compound foodstuff or ingredient, being made up of the original meat, as well as the remnants of the preserving agent(s), such as salt, but it is still recognised as a food in its own right.

Is ham pig butt?

A Boston butt has nothing to do with a pig’s backside—that’s the ham. The butt, counterintuitively, comes from the front end. You can buy a whole pork shoulder at some grocery stores, but you’ll commonly find the shoulder cut into two pieces.

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