What is Tavern Ham? A Complete Guide to This Unique Cured Meat

If you’re a fan of deli meats, you may have come across tavern ham in the cold cuts section. With its deep mahogany color and robust smoky aroma, tavern ham stands out from other lunchmeat options. But what exactly is tavern ham?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about this unique type of cured ham. We’ll explore how tavern ham is made, its distinctive flavor profile, suggested uses, and more. Read on to become a tavern ham expert!

Tavern ham is a specific variety of cured and smoked ham that originated in old-fashioned American taverns and pubs. It gets its name from being served as bar snacks in these establishments.

Traditionally tavern ham was rubbed with salt and spices heavily smoked over hardwoods, and hang-cured for months to develop a concentrated ham flavor. The smoking and curing process gave tavern ham an intensely smoky, salty, and savory taste.

These days, commercial tavern ham is mass-produced but mimics the charcuterie methods of the past. It has a firm texture and deep reddish-brown color. When sliced thin, tavern ham showcases its signature bold, smoky flavor.

What Makes Tavern Ham Unique

There are a few key factors that set tavern ham apart from other cured hams

  • Heavy smoking – Tavern ham is smoked for many hours over wood fires much longer than typical hams. This imparts a robust smoldering flavor.

  • Dry curing – A mixture of salts and spices is rubbed directly onto the meat to draw out moisture. This concentrates the pork essence.

  • Aging – Tavern ham is hung to age for several months, developing its distinctive flavor.

  • Lower fat – As a boneless ham, tavern ham is often 90-95% fat free. The prosciutto-like leanness accentuates the smoke.

  • Firm texture – Extended curing results in a dense, chewy texture quite different from the silkiness of other hams.

These attributes make tavern ham stand out from milder breakfast hams or delicate prosciuttos. The intense smoky flavor and chewier texture give tavern ham enormous character.

How Traditional Tavern Ham is Made

Authentic tavern ham follows a multi-step process:

  • Curing – Pork legs are rubbed with a dry cure mixture containing salt, sugars, and nitrates. This draws out moisture and preserves the meat.

  • Smoking – Cured hams are placed in smokehouses and exposed to hardwood smoke for many hours to gain smoky flavoring.

  • Aging – Hams are hung in a cool environment for up to nine months to gently dry and tenderize, intensifying the taste.

  • Trimming – After curing, excess fat and skin are trimmed away to produce a lean, boneless ham.

  • Slicing – The finished ham is thinly sliced across the grain for an intense burst of flavor in each bite.

While commercial tavern ham today utilizes more modern mass production methods, traditional techniques are still used to achieve the signature flavor and texture.

The History of Tavern Ham

Tavern ham has a long history in America, dating back to the Colonial era and the early rise of taverns. These taverns and inns served as gathering places for weary travelers seeking rest, drink, news, and nourishment.

Tavern owners often cured hams to have on hand for guests. Heavily smoked for preservation and sliced thin for convenience, tavern ham quickly became a tavern staple. The prominent smoke flavor paired perfectly with beers and ciders.

Over time, tavern ham grew into a familiar American food, transcending the taverns where it originated. Today it remains a popular deli meat for its rich flavor and nostalgic roots.

Where to Buy Authentic Tavern Ham

You can find packaged tavern ham at many supermarkets, delis, and specialty food stores. Top brands to look for include:

  • Dietz & Watson
  • Boar’s Head
  • Sofia
  • Volpi Foods
  • Burgers’ Smokehouse

To experience true artisanal tavern ham, visit acclaimed charcuterie producers like Fra’ Mani, Edwards Virginia Smokehouse, or Newsom’s. Their meticulously crafted tavern hams follow time-honored techniques.

You can also make tavern ham yourself! Use a dry cure, cold smoke with hardwoods like hickory, and age the ham for 6 months or longer.

How to Serve and Eat Tavern Ham

Thanks to its bold flavor, tavern ham brings delicious smoky essence to many dishes. Here are some popular ways to serve it:

  • On charcuterie boards alongside cheeses, pickles, mustards, and crackers
  • In sandwiches like Reubens, club sandwiches, pressed paninis, etc.
  • Diced in salads, grain bowls, pasta salads, omelets, and more
  • Wrapped around asparagus, green beans, melon, or pickled vegetables
  • In soups, stews, beans, and casseroles for smoky depth
  • Fried up with eggs for a hearty smoked ham and eggs breakfast

For the best flavor, slice tavern ham paper-thin. This allows the fat to melt on your tongue, releasing maximum smoky aroma.

Tavern Ham Recipes to Try

Here are just a few tasty ways to use tavern ham at home:

  • Tavern Ham and Swiss Panini – With mustard, pickles, and melty Swiss cheese.
  • Smoked Tavern Ham Salad – Tossed with lettuce, pears, walnuts, and vinaigrette.
  • Tavern Ham and Kale Frittata – With onions, kale, and cheddar baked egg goodness.
  • Tavern Ham and Bean Soup – Smoky ham slices simmered in creamy bean and veggie soup.
  • Crispy Tavern Ham Rolls – Buttery crescent roll dough wrapped around tavern ham and baked.

The opportunities are endless with this intensely flavored cured ham!

Tavern Ham – A Deliciously Historic Meat

With its roots in colonial American taverns and its distinctive salt-and-smoke essence, tavern ham is truly a unique cured meat. Savor its intense smoky flavor in sandwiches, charcuterie, salads, and more. From its early pub origins to

Tavern Ham – Simple And Delicious – Cast Iron In Our Daughter’s Kitchen


What is the difference between ham and Black Forest ham?

Compared to other hams, Black Forest ham is salty and smoky. But it’s still mild enough to be versatile, depending on how you’d like to prepare and serve it.

Is Boar’s Head Tavern ham processed meat?

Our products are not highly processed. In order for you to enjoy optimum flavor, we recommend that you do not purchase more product than you can consume within three days. Are there nutritional brochures available? You can view several of our nutritional brochures online at www.boarshead.com/about/brochures.

Is Tavern ham already cooked?

Fully Cooked. Serve cold or heat through in a preheated 325°F oven, 15-20 minutes per pound or until internal temperatures is 140°F.

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