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Ham Vs Turkey: The Thanksgiving Debate


Logan Farms Hickory-Smoked Turkey
Logan Farms’ Hickory-Smoked Turkey

Perhaps no food is more synonymous with Thanksgiving than turkey. Not only is it the centerpiece of millions of holiday tables every year, it’s also the focal point of Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of a family enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, and all of those classic side dishes – stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy – seem custom-tailored to complement its mild poultry flavor. And the statistics don’t lie: according to the National Turkey Federation, about 46 million turkeys are eaten every Thanksgiving, by about 88 percent of Americans. 

Read More: Best Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas

But turkey has some competition on some Thanksgiving tables by another crowd-pleasing main that’s big enough to feed a crowd: ham. There are obviously no rules about what to eat on Thanksgiving – there’s only tradition, and for some families, that tradition eschews turkey in favor of ham.

Why Eat Ham Instead of Turkey?

Mother’s Restaurant’s “World’s Best” Baked Ham
Mother’s Restaurant’s “World’s Best” Baked Ham
Pecan Lodge Whole Spiral Sliced Ham
Pecan Lodge Whole Spiral Sliced Ham

Ham is Easier to Cook

Turkey is so difficult to cook properly that it’s become something of a running joke; there’s even a hotline you can call for tips. Keeping the white meat juicy but not overcooked, and making sure the skin is golden brown and crispy can pose a serious challenge for even the most seasoned home cooks. And carving the bird is a whole other can of worms. Ham, on the other hand, is much more forgiving; all you need to do it put it in the oven until cooked through and slice it up.

Ham is Juicier Than Turkey

Cured ham is brined, so it’s all but guaranteed to remain juicy (as opposed to turkey breast, which is very lean and therefore prone to drying out). And fresh hams have far more fat dispersed throughout than turkey, so when cooked low-and-slow it’ll be very tender and juicy as well.

There are Many Different Types of Ham

There are countless types of ham out there, something for every taste. Along with your standard cured, smoked ham you’ll find at your supermarket (which in itself is either boneless, bone-in, unsliced, or spiral-sliced), there’s also fresh ham (which is just pork leg), smoked & dry-cured country ham, and even prosciutto.

Read More: Types of Ham: Explained

It’s More Customizable

Whereas Thanksgiving turkey required a fairly standard flavor profile of herbs and spices, ham can really go in any direction, from brown sugar glazed to mustard-rubbed. And all bets are off when it comes to side dishes to serve with ham.

Why Choose Turkey Instead of Ham?

Charm City Kosher’s Turkey
Charm City Kosher’s Turkey
The Cajun Turkey Company’s Spicy Fried Turkey
The Cajun Turkey Company’s Spicy Fried Turkey

It’s More Traditional

When you picture a Thanksgiving dinner, you more likely than not picture a golden brown roasted turkey (and the smell of it roasting filling up the house). If you’re having guests they’ll most likely also be expecting a Thanksgiving turkey, and could be disappointed if they arrive to discover a ham in its place – especially if any of them keep kosher.

It’s Arguably Healthier

Turkey is high in nutrients including phosphorus, selenium, and vitamins B3 and B6. White meat turkey is also very low in fat. Fresh ham tends to be much higher in fat, and cured ham is also very salty.

It Has a More Versatile Flavor

Ham has a very strong, distinct flavor. Turkey, on the other hand, is much more mild, which means that it pairs with many classic sides – and it’s not so salty that it doesn’t benefit from a nice glug of gravy.

Read More: Best Thanksgiving Sides

There’s Something For Everyone

Whereas ham is just ham, there’s a part of the turkey that’s perfect for everyone: some prefer the lean breast, some prefer the juicier and more flavorful dark meat, and some make it an annual tradition of fighting over the drumsticks and crispy skin.

Most Famous Hams & Turkeys

No matter which side of the aisle you fall on, there’s a perfect ham or turkey that’s shipping to your door in time for Thanksgiving.

Logan Farms Honey Glazed Ham

Logan Farms Honey Glazed Ham

Since 1995, Logan Farms has been making some of the South’s tastiest honey-glazed hams. They select only the finest hams, carefully trim and dry cure each one with a low-salt recipe, and then finish them with a luxurious spiral-slice. This Honey-Glazed Ham includes a pack of their signature honey & spice glaze. 

Melissa Cookston's Memphis BBQ Smoked Spiral Cut Ham

Melissa Cookston’s Memphis BBQ’s Double-Smoked Spiral Cut Ham

Melissa Cookston, the most decorated woman in competitive barbecue, is the only female to be named a world BBQ champion and the first woman pitmaster to be inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame. Her spiral cut ham is double smoked for maximum flavor and topped with a brown sugar glaze.

4 Rivers Smokehouse’s Whole Smoked Turkey

4 Rivers Smokehouse’s Whole Smoked Turkey

John Rivers spent more than 20 years traveling the country and learning everything there is to know about barbecue in his free time. 4 Rivers was born in Winter Park 2009. Since then it’s earned a reputation for serving some of the best barbecue in America, with 13 additional locations open across the state. This whole holiday turkey is brined and rubbed down with a signature blend of herbs including thyme, sage, and rosemary before being smoked in 4 Rivers’ legendary smokers.

Uncle Ray’s Fried Turkey’s Cajun Fried Turkey

Uncle Ray’s Fried Turkey’s Cajun Fried Turkey

Uncle Ray’s in Dallas, Texas, has been hand-selecting turkeys to fry to golden brown perfection since Ray Hartfield fried his first Cajun-style turkeys more than 30 years ago. The mild deep-fried turkey from Uncle Ray’s is a family favorite. Seasoned with traditional Cajun spices with just a hint of heat, these crispy-skinned, Southern turkeys bring a little soul to your holiday table.

If you’re looking to have America’s finest turkey and ham shipped straight to your door for Thanksgiving (or any time of year), look no further than Goldbelly!