Why Is It Called Tavern Ham? A Look at the History Behind This Unique Cured Meat

If you’re a fan of deliciously salty and smokey sliced ham, you’ve likely encountered tavern ham on a sandwich or charcuterie board. But besides its robust flavor, what makes tavern ham stand out from other types of ham? As it turns out, the name itself reveals a fascinating history behind this popular cured meat.

In this article, we’ll explore what exactly tavern ham is, where it got its name, how it’s made, and why it’s different from other hams. We’ll also provide some background on the history of ham curing methods.

So grab your favorite ale or lager and settle in as we investigate the story behind the distinct moniker of tavern ham!

What Is Tavern Ham?

Tavern ham refers to a specific style of cured and smoked ham that is sliced and served in taverns and pubs. It’s typically made from the hind leg of a pig that has been salt-cured, slowly smoked over hardwood, and then aged for tenderness.

Some signature attributes of tavern ham include

  • Hearty, bold smoky flavor from prolonged smoking time
  • Dry, firm texture that makes it easy to slice thinly
  • Saltiness from dry-curing process
  • Deep pink color with slivers of fat marbling

Tavern ham emerged as a go-to food served in Colonial American taverns back in the 18th century The smoking and curing process helped preserve the meat without refrigeration The distinct smokiness paired perfectly with alcoholic beverages, Folks could snack on salty tavern ham all day at the bar with their drinks,

Over time, tavern ham became a popular menu item at pubs, delis, and restaurants. Today, it’s still prized for its traditional curing methods and robust, nostalgic flavor.

Where Did The Name “Tavern Ham” Originate?

So how exactly did this type of ham garner the iconic moniker of “tavern ham”?

Historians trace the term back to the Revolutionary War era of American history. During this time, taverns functioned not only as watering holes but also important community hubs. Tavern owners would smoke and cure hams to feed the influx of hungry patrons.

When soldiers, travelers, and townsfolk bellied up to the bar, tavern ham was there for the taking. The salty, smokey ham was the perfect counterpart to downing several pints of beer or hard cider. Folks could nosh on tavern ham all day long while exchanging news and gossip.

The meat was so ubiquitous in these early taverns and so commonly served that it adopted the name “tavern ham.” The moniker stuck, and even now conjures imagery of Colonial-era pubs, pewter mugs, and the distinctive pink ham waiting on wooden tables.

So while the taverns themselves have disappeared over centuries, the enduring legacy of tavern ham remains.

Traditional Methods for Curing Tavern Ham

Tavern ham follows time-honored traditions of pork preservation: salt-curing and smoking. Curing meat dates back thousands of years across many cultures as a strategy to extend the shelf-life of fresh pork.

The general process includes:

  • Dry-curing – Coating pork legs with mixtures of salt, sugars, and spices. This draws out moisture and preserves the meat.

  • Smoking – Exposing cured meat to smoke billowing through the air of special smokehouses. Traditionally over hardwoods like hickory or applewood. This adds flavor and an extra layer of preservation.

  • Aging – Allowing the smoked meat to hang in dry storage for several months. This allows flavors to meld and textures to develop.

Compare this to other popular styles like honey ham or “wet-cured” brine hams. Tavern ham relies on the drying salt-curing method vs. submersion in a salty brine. And it undergoes prolonged smoking for a more intense smoky essence.

These traditional techniques deliver the distinctive dry, salty, and smokey character that makes tavern ham special. Modern commercial production still follows the same basic artisanal process.

What Makes Tavern Ham Different From Other Hams?

There are many types of ham out there like honey-baked ham, spiral cut ham, and country ham. So what sets tavern ham apart from its fellows?

Flavor – The deep smoky taste sets it apart. Tavern ham usually smokes for days, not just hours. This extended smoke time infuses it with a robust smoky flavor you won’t find in other hams. The dry-curing and aging also amplifies its salty zing.

Texture – Where some hams are moist and tender, tavern ham skews firm and dense with a concentrated meaty chew. This makes it perfect for thinly slicing and piling high on sandwiches.

Preparation – Most hams require additional prep like baking or glazing before serving. Tavern ham comes fully cooked and ready to eat right out of the package.

Usage – Its thin slice-ability makes it ideal for sandwiches, snacks, and charcuterie boards. Other hams work better for entree roasts or spiral cut centerpieces.

The bottom line? Tavern ham stands out for its emphasis on traditional old-fashioned curing and smoking methods. This gives it a signature flavor profile, texture, and application in the kitchen.

Fun Facts About Tavern Hams

Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are some fascinating tidbits about tavern hams:

  • The world’s oldest cooked ham dates back to 1703 and remains on display in Westphalia, Germany.
  • There’s an entire museum in Spain dedicated to Iberian ham curing called Museo del Jamón.
  • Certain Italian prosciutto hams can be aged up to 2 years!
  • The hind leg on an average hog weighs around 20 pounds. Large ones used for ham can weigh up to 30 pounds.
  • Italy, Spain, Germany and China lead the world in ham production.
  • The bones are removed from tavern hams prior to curing and smoking. Other styles like Smithfield and Serrano hams cure and smoke with the bone in.
  • Ham or bacon? Statistics show that ham actually edges out bacon in popularity for breakfast meats in America.

How to Cook with Tavern Ham at Home

Tavern ham’s intense flavor and thin slicing makes it extremely versatile in recipes. Here are some tasty ways to incorporate tavern ham at home:

  • Sandwiches – Pair with Swiss cheese, mustard, or pickles on rye or sourdough bread.
  • Omelets or quiche – Dice ham and add it to egg dishes for breakfast.
  • Salads – Toss diced ham into spinach salads or chef salads.
  • Snacks – Enjoy thin slices on crackers or fruit and cheese boards.
  • Soups – Drop ham chunks into bean soups, potato soup, or ramen. The smoky flavor pairs perfectly.
  • Pasta – Toss slivers of ham into your favorite pasta or mac & cheese for a protein punch.
  • Pizza – Sprinkle tavern ham slices over pizza pies before baking.

With its intensely rich flavor, a little tavern ham goes a long way. Start with small amounts then increase to taste. The smokey saltiness can quickly overwhelm other ingredients.

Where to Buy Authentic Tavern Ham

Want to get your hands on some delicious tavern ham? Here are some top brands to try:

  • Boar’s Head – This New York brand cures their tavern ham for 10 days and naturally smokes it using hardwoods. Find it pre-sliced at the deli counter.

  • Dietz & Watson – They make a premium tavern ham with no MSG added. It’s handcrafted and gluten free.

  • Nodine’s – This Connecticut smokehouse has made tavern ham since 1955 using original family recipes. Their hams smoke for days over oak and applewood.

Many small-scale artisanal smokehouses also offer their versions of classic tavern ham. Check your local farmer’s market or gourmet butcher.

You can also make tasty tavern ham at home with a basic salt cure and access to a smoker. But for convenience and consistency, cured meat experts recommend buying from quality ham producers.

Tavern Ham Through the Ages

Tavern ham earned its iconic moniker centuries ago in Colonial American drinking establishments. But the general practice of curing and smoking pork legs dates back thousands of years across cultures.

From ancient Roman recipes to Chinese drying methods to today’s artisanal smokers, humans clearly love their cured hams! The pork preservation techniques pioneered out of necessity now delight modern palates with delicious flavors.

So next time you bite into a salty, smokey slice of tavern ham, consider the fascinating history behind this pub classic. I’ll toast a pint of ale to centuries more of humans enjoying the mighty cured ham!

How Ham Is Made from a Whole Pig — Prime Time


What is different about a tavern ham?

Just like it was served in taverns of years gone by, Boar’s Head Tavern Ham is naturally smoked for a rich, full smoky flavor. Our Tavern Ham brings old-fashioned goodness to today’s family table. Just discovered Boar’s Head Tavern Ham.

What does tavern ham taste like?

The perfect balance of rich smokiness and subtle natural sweetness come together for a taste reminiscent of old-fashioned tavern suppers.

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.

What is the difference between deli ham and regular ham?

DELI HAM – Deli ham is a generic term for ham specially formed into loaves for thin, even slicing. The ham will have been cured and often smoked. CANNED HAM – This is boneless ham meat scraps crammed into a can.

What is a tavern ham?

Tavern ham is a unique type of ham that is heavily smoked and has a distinct salty flavor. It is typically made from a boneless cut of ham that has been salt-cured for a rich, traditional taste. Unlike other types of ham, tavern ham is meant to be served all day long and is often left out on the bar for patrons to help themselves to.

Why is Tavern Ham so popular?

Tavern owners would often smoke and cure their own hams to serve to their patrons. The heavily smoked flavor of tavern ham made it a popular snack to pair with beer or other alcoholic beverages. Over time, tavern ham became a staple food item in taverns across America.

What is tavern ham made of?

It is typically made from pork, but can also be made from other meats such as turkey or beef. Tavern ham is often boneless and easy to carve, making it a convenient option for serving to family and friends. One popular brand of tavern ham is Dietz & Watson® Tavern Ham, which is handcrafted and contains no added MSG.

Is Boar’s Head Tavern Ham smoked?

Boar’s Head Tavern Ham is naturally smoked for a rich, full smoky flavor. Just like it was served in taverns of years gone by, Boar’s Head Tavern Ham brings old-fashioned goodness to today’s family table. Now I can have a REAL ham sandwich!

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