What Makes Pittsburgh's Chipped Chopped Ham Unique?

You might be from Pittsburgh if your favorite colors are black and gold, you refuse to consume any ketchup that isn't Heinz, and if you grew up eating — and continue to enjoy — chipped chopped ham. The "City of Bridges" has contributed a lot of cool things to the world like "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," first place in the steel race, Andy Warhol, and the polio vaccine, per blog Made in PGH. And some of the food created in Pittsburgh has proven to be both epic and questionable, such as the presence of french fries on both sandwiches and salads. Love it or hate it, chipped chopped ham ranks as one of the most beloved of all inherently Pittsburgh foods.

Created by Pittsburgh-based Isaly's Dairy Stores, the brand's signature ham and ice creams were favorites among consumers in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia particularly from the 1930s to the '80s, but are still adored today by many, per Allrecipes. Although most of the standalone Isaly's Dairy Stores have closed, a handful still exist. Their products, though, can be purchased online or at other grocery stores. Several other deli meat companies offer chopped ham, but they are not the same as chipped chopped ham, of which Pittsburgh does the best.

So what is chipped chopped ham?

According to Allrecipes, the ham must be chopped, meaning the meat is a combination of ham, ham trimmings, and seasonings. The mixture is ground together and molded into a rectangular shape with rounded corners, creating a sort of loaf. This loaf is then sliced thinner than paper (or chipped), creating a very fine textured meat that, honestly, often falls apart when handled, per blog Brown Eyed Baker. The style originally became popular because it was more economical than buying a standard cooked ham. The most popular way to eat chipped chopped ham in the Pittsburgh region is to make ham barbeque, which is basically the ham heated up with barbeque sauce. The concoction is then served on a bun, per Good Food Pittsburgh.

Biting into a sandwich made with chipped chopped ham is different than eating a regular ham sandwich. First off, the texture is noticeably different. The chipped chopped ham is so fine and thin that people tend to pile it on bread for a tasty sandwich. The meat is tender, not semi-firm like a leftover slice of Smithfield ham.

Can you get chipped chopped ham outside of Pittsburgh?

This style of ham is so popular in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia that most deli counters there will have chopped ham already chipped up for customers. If this doesn't sound like your regular deli counter, have no fear. You can ask the person working the counter to "chip" whatever kind of ham (chopped or not) is available and that you like. If they look confused, just explain that you want it sliced as thinly as possible. Allrecipes advises that, while you can use any kind of ham for standard deli sandwiches, if you want to experience ham barbeque, it's chipped chopped ham you want to look for.

If you can get to the 'Burgh, as the city is so affectionately called by its locals, you can stop by one of the remaining Isaly's stores which still serves up ham barbeque and other types of sandwiches at lunch time. Save room for a scoop of one of their equally famous ice cream flavors.