Thanksgiving Ham Is What Your Holiday Is Missing

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I’ll tell you what about turkey: I like it a lot. I think turkey is delicious. I am not one of those people who complains about turkey, because I make turkey several times a year—on purpose. Turkey is one of the great poultry options, I dare say.

But the thing about Thanksgiving is that it’s supposed to be a feast. And a feast implies excess. There should be options—possibly too many options! When you’re at a feast, you indulge, and then you indulge again, and then you realize there may be items you haven’t indulged in yet, so you go back for more. And when it comes to sides, we do a great job of this, with multiple dishes in the same category: mashed potatoes and yams. Green beans and collards. Stuffing and dinner rolls. Pumpkin and apple pie. So why—why!—is there only one protein on offer? Year after year the turkey sits on a throne alone, a queen without a king.

Photo by Alex Lau

Well it took me long enough, but I finally realized that ham is the king, and Thanksgiving might be lacking something without it on the table. I’m not talking about a fresh ham that you have to cure and do a bunch of other stuff to, or a spiral cut ham (like the beauty pictured at the top), which is a centerpiece all its own. I’m talking about a nice, tidy, compact little smoked ham like the one I order from my butcher, The Meat Hook, in Brooklyn. A few thin slices of salty ham draped over a turkey leg is a fine thing to behold, its smoky fattiness copacetic with every other side on the annual November menu. The ham requires an oven of its own, it’s true, but all you have to do is park it in there for the requisite amount of time to reheat before slicing it. Don’t even worry about it! Tell your incompetent cousin to bring it!

But ham’s true contribution kicks in on Thanksgiving Weekend, when the pajamas are donned and the sandwiches are assembled. With leftover ham in the mix, any old turkey sandwich can become a deluxe deli combo, and who wouldn’t want that? When ham is an option, all of a sudden there’s Dijon on my sandwich in addition to the usual mayo, and if the turkey’s a little dry, the nice juicy ham helps fix that. Ham: so much to be thankful for.

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