Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mysteries of Pittsburgh: How to Make a BBQ Chipped Ham Sandwich by Cleo Coyle

Pssst... Want to play confuse the deli guy? Okay, here's what you do. Walk up to your grocery store’s cold-cuts counter and ask for a pound of Chipped Ham. Unless a member of the deli’s staff is from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, chances are he won’t have a clue what you’re talking about. 

Chipped Chopped Ham is unique to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as my husband and I discovered after moving to New York City decades ago--and watching deli guys blink in total confusion whenever we tried to order a sandwich with it.


The whole thing began with a chain of regional stores called Isaly's, a name you might recognize as the original producer of the famous Klondike ice cream bar. 



Little known fact:
The Islay's website actually brags...

"Boston has its Baked Beans. Philly has its Cheesesteaks. Pittsburgh, Ohio, West Virginia and surrounds? We have Isaly’s Original Chipped Chopped Ham."



With retro food as popular as ever, I thought it might be time to take a chance and decode the mystery of chipped ham for a wider foodie public. And so...

For this post, I am going to show you how to create that special sandwich from "someplace special" (what we Pittsburghers call our Three Rivers city). 

The BBQ Chipped Ham Sandwich was one of the most popular lunches served in Pittsburgh's school cafeterias when my husband and I were growing up. It was the retro sandwich of our youth. It was also delicious, easy, and cheap. In fact, cheap is the point!


The "chipping" of deli ham is a great way to make a less expensive brand of ham more tasty. There’s a good reason why it does, too, just keep reading... 




Cleo Coyle, cheap eats 
enthusiast, is author of 
Cleo Coyle's
Pittsburgh-Style
BBQ Chipped Ham
Sandwich


Makes 4 Sandwiches

Ingredients: 

1 pound of "Chipped Ham"
(Below, you'll learn how to order this at any deli.)

½ cup (8 tablespoons) ketchup

¼ cup (4 tablespoons) BBQ sauce

4 soft hamburger buns

(optional garnish) Relish, sweet or dill




Directions:

Step 1: Order the Ham - Although the original "chip chopped" ham was made with pressed ham, you can order up any ham at your deli for this sandwich. Note: Even if you usually order the more expensive black forest or baked Virginia ham, don't be afraid to try the less expensive or "on sale" hams for this sandwich. Here's how to do it...

Simply tell your deli person to shave the ham razor thin. Tell him (or her) not to be afraid to allow the ham to break up into pieces. The deli person is actually "chipping" the meat against the commercial meat slicer blade. Here’s what it should look like...




By shaving (chipping) the meat very thin, the ham is more tender and has more flavor than if it were sliced more thickly. In Western PA, Northern West Virginia, and Eastern Ohio (aka the Ohio Valley), this slicing process is known as "Pittsburgh Style."

Step 2: Make the Frizzle Fry - When you get the chipped ham home, you’re ready to create your “frizzle fry” sandwich. (Okay, from here on, it's stupidly easy. But if you never made a hot dog before, I suppose you'd need directions, right? So here goes...)

A. Heat the Chipped Ham: Place a large skillet over medium heat. Break the ham up into the pan and stir until heated through.

B. Make your Quickie Sauce: Mix the ketchup and (your favorite) BBQ sauce in a small bowl and add to the skillet. (Some people add a little mustard at this stage. We don't, but it's an option, depending on your taste.)


Quick tip: The new "Simply Heinz" ketchup is quite good. I just discovered it, and I'm hooked. No corn syrup. Huzzah! You can really taste the difference. I also like Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce, but you can use any BBQ sauce for this recipe.

C. Combine Ham and Sauce: Stir and cook for a few more minutes. The chipped ham should be evenly coated with the ketchup-BBQ sauce. The ham should be steaming and sticky.

D. Pile it high: Divide the ham up onto the four hamburger buns.

Garnish: My husband eats this simple sandwich with no other garnish. Many people in Pittsburgh, however, enjoy adding sweet relish. I really enjoy it with relish—but I prefer dill relish. So add what you like and…




Eat with  joy!
~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
Friend me on facebook here.
Follow me on twitter here
Visit my online coffeehouse here.

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44 comments:

  1. Ohmigosh! I was laughing all through your post, Cleo! (As you know, I live an hour south of the 'burgh). Another thing they don't know east of Harrisburg: "brick" cheese...and "pop"!

    Grew up on chipped ham. Won't touch the stuff now! ;o)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Janet - I knew yinz guys were from someplace special. :) Hey, I showed Marc your comment, and we just had a major discussion about brick cheese. We haven't had that in years, and now we're on the hunt! Thank you!

      You're so right about pop, too. New Yorkers just stare when you ask for a pop. They think you're talking about somebody's father.

      On the chipped ham. I know what you mean. After eating it in the school cafeteria for so many years, I couldn't touch it, either. Now I'm nostalgic for it. Must be old age. :)

      For the uninitiated I'd liken this sandwich to a ball park hot dog. There are certainly healthier foods out there, but this is cheap eats at its finest. Chow down, baby!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

      Delete
    2. I could never find brick cheese when I went to college near Philly! (LOL @ yinz) There's really nothing quite like it. Love the taste! I'm thinking provolone may be the closest to it, but still not the same. Where's Aavery...

      OMG, how did I miss that you had Sweet Baby Ray's in the pic?! I LOVE their BBQ sauce! I've only had Honey Chipotle, though (got it in the fridge...alongside Heinz ketchup, of course!) Definitely need to try that brown sugar one you have pictured...

      I can understand nostalgia, but chipped ham? :oP(Kidding!) You know how it was with we blue collar kids in coal country; chipped ham was like a food group! I never liked it then, but, admittedly, when slathered with BBQ sauce, it's not so bad. I'd rather just head straight to the good stuff...pulled pork! :o)

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    3. It can be made healthy. Uncurred organic ham , organic or simply Heinz ketchup. ( btw sweet baby rays has HFCS)...so I but guy feiri's all natural sauce. Homemade buns from organic ingredients. PRESTO!!! On the menu NOW

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    4. Thanks for commenting, Mom2Coy. Good tips!

      ~ Cleo

      Delete
  2. I had never heard of this sandwich before. It sounds delicious. I am going to try your original first. Then, since we in the southwest love our heat, I am going to use the brisk, less sweet BBQ sauce we use on brisket and pickled jalapenos. Thank you so much for a new recipe to try.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ellicia - You are very welcome, and thank you for the comment. I think pickled jalapenos would taste awesome on this sandwich. Great idea!

      As I said to Janet above, I'd compare this to a ball park hot dog - so the garnishes that work on a hot dog (like relish or even hot banana peppers) would work well on this sandwich, too.

      Thanks again for the comment, Ellicia. May you eat with joy!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

      Delete
  3. Throw a little sweet relish in there and you have my recipe! And as a life-long Pittsburgher, I ALWAYS use Isaly's chipped ham.

    Hope to see some of yinz guys at da Festival of Mystery n'at. Yes, I speak Pittsburghese.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joyce - Your Pittsburghese is perfect. Of course, you're a "Stillers" fan, too, right? As well as da bucs? You *have* to be. I'm fairly sure a "Go Steelers!" (or "Go Pirates!”) bumper sticker is required of every resident in the Ohio Valley. Frankly, I think they should give out Terrible Towels at the Pgh airport--like Hawaiian leis. :)

      On the post - Your note prompted me to add relish to the ingredient list rather than just throw it in at the end of the directions as an optional garnish. Basically, I pointed it out to Marc and said, "See, she likes relish in it, too!" (Where BBQ chipped ham is concerned, Marc's a purist.)

      Thanks so much for commenting today, Joyce. Hope yinz guys eat with joy, now I gotta go redd-up n'at.

      ~ Pittsburgh Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

      Delete
    2. Your Pittsburghese is pretty good!

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    3. Thanks! You said yinz were from Pixburg, so uhm glad I wasn't bein' too nebby n'at. :)

      Delete
    4. we'll, I used to get chipped ham ( you may try to have another store in another tahn take their best shot at duplicating the ham,,,but....forget it...nothing else tasted like Isalys...the ham was light pink, and soooo smooth...I loved it on mountain top rolls...)dahntahn at Isalys on Liberdy avenue...I saute' onions, celery in olive oil. then add ketchup, a little brahn sugar, a touch of lemon juice, and a pinch of mustard and a squirt of worchestire (sp?)....heat this all up and throw in the chipped ham till hot..........the juice leaks into the hard roll...and then you red up the kitchen, and make your sammich and sit dahn and enjoy..I'd love to call Isaly's " up " and ask where they got the ham...Gi'nt Iggle has Isalys ham...but, it's a joke...

      Delete
    5. Mare - Your Pittsburghese is great! Thanks for making me smile this AM.

      Your Three Rivers Homegirl
      ~ Cleo

      Delete
  4. By the end of this post, my mouth was watering (not an uncommon reaction to this blog!) and I was wondering if I could make this with turkey ham. I'm willing to bet I can. The challenge is on!

    Joyce, you made me laugh. I could actually hear your Pittsburghese!

    Laine

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    Replies
    1. Laine - Always a delight to see you in our Kitchen. YES! Turkey ham is a great idea. Nice way to make this a tad healthier, too. I know you're a spice queen, so don't be afraid to add jalapenos, as Ellicia suggested, and...

      May you eat your "Pixburgh sammitch" with joy,

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

      Delete
  5. I live just outside of Philadelphia and I never eat a sandwich with ham (imported) usless it is chipped. The deli people hate to see me coming!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! Thanks for the comment. This post will either have deli workers thanking me or cursing me. If anyone wants to write back and let me know how it goes, feel free! :)

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

      Delete
    2. At the Giant Eagle (or Jint Iggle) they always asked if you want you deli meat chipped or sliced. Some strange people actually want it sliced!

      Delete
    3. Maybe dahntahn they want it sliced. I always get my jumbo sliced. Sometimes tryin' to get what you want for a mill can be so flustrating!

      Delete
    4. me too...I lived in Destin Fla., and they would just roll their eyes when they saw me.....I had to walk them through it..." I want this pressed ham (and I pointed at the one in the case)....now, set the slicer on 1....then after the first 2 slices, let me see it..." I was a total PITA, but I wanted what I wanted..after a while the store got an automatic slicer...now I'm back in the Burg and the stores pre-chip it and keep it in the case..NO WAY...I demand freshly sliced...again, see a PITA...hahaha

      Delete
    5. Mare - I agree on the freshly sliced. Chipped ham must be freshly sliced! (Lol, on the PITA!) All kidding aside, my Queens grocery has a deli with a great staff and all of them know how to properly use a commercial slicer! They have no problem whatsoever creating "razor thin" slices (aka chipped ham) for me. I explained what I wanted and they did it fairly quickly. My point? Any deli counter person who claims he or she does not know how to slice ham razor thin was not properly trained in the use of their commercial slicer. If they tell you they can't, they're badly trained. Go to another deli, lol!

      Delete
  6. I made chipped ham sandwiches yesterday with Islays chipped chopped ham. I can even get Islays BBQ sauce in a jar at my local Walmart.
    Sandy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Islay's BBQ sauce - original and spicy flavor! Wish I could find it around here, Sandy, along with Reymer's Blend lemonade concentrate (the bottle with the BLEND logo in big, snow-capped letters). We love it. When we take trips back to Pittsburgh, we stock up! Thanks for commenting today!

      Have a great week...
      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

      Delete
    2. I have not thought of the Blend drink for a long time.
      Will have to check the next time I am at the store to see if it is still in my area. We did not have the chipped ham bbq at school very often, but I remember having the pizza burgers all the time. Ground meat sauce and cheese mixture on a bun half.
      Sandy

      Delete
    3. Oh, yes! I remember the pizza burgers, too! LOL!

      Delete
  7. What a fun easy sandwich. Who'd have thunk? Thanks, Cleo!

    ~Avery

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  8. I'm a Pittsburgher by birth, but lived in the South for most of my life. I'd only have it when visiting family. It was a staple in most of my relatives homes :D It's great mixing BBQ sauce in. Wish I could find my Aunt Dorothy's BBQ recipe! Thanks for a trip down memory lane :D

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    Replies
    1. You're very welcome, Kitten. Your aunt's BBQ sauce recipe must be wonderful if you still remember it. (I enjoy making it from scratch when I have the time. I'll post one here someday soon.) Thank you so much for dropping by our Kitchen today, Kitten...

      Have a great week!
      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

      Delete
  9. Youse guys in Pittsburgh got nothin' on us Michiganders! We get cold pop here, too. Along with a bag of Better Mades, some Sander's on our ice cream and a good ol' Untidy Joseph! Our Untidy Joseph's sound like your chipped ham except with burger! My mom used to order Cchipped boiled ham from the butcher but after he was gone so was the ham :-( She made ham spread with it and I will admit it kind of grossed me out ;-) But...I'm gonna make up a batch of this, get some ruffled Better Mades and a Natty Dadddy, for Les!!

    nanc

    p.s. Speaking of Hein...try their special edition Balsamic Ketchup...to die for!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nanc - I just love learning about local eats. A bag of Better Mades is in my future!

      Raising a glass of *pop* to you. Come on back now, y'hear?!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

      Delete
  10. Now this is fantastic - I'm going to have chipped ham from now on! Thanks for linking it in Cleo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're very welcome, Carole! Thank you for the chance to link in!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

      Delete
  11. what should I add to Islay's BBQ sauce. It is a little to tangy for my family? Should I use brown sugar or honey? Would honey make it too thick. Plan on making 100 Islay's BBQ sandwiches for a party in my crock pot. Do I cook the sauce first and then add the ham?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To counteract BBQ sauce that is too tangy, brown sugar is a good idea, but experiment for heaven's sake before you make 100 sandwiches with it! Here are my suggested ways to handle this: Measure out 1 cup of your BBQ sauce into a saucepan. Stir in 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and warm it through. Taste and see if that solves your "too-tangy" problem. If it does, then you know for every cup of sauce, you need to add 2 T of brown sugar. If the sauce is still too tangy, try 2 more tablespoons of brown sugar (now you know you've got to add 1/4 cup of brown sugar per 1 cup of sauce). If the sauce becomes too thick, add a bit of water to thin it out. If the sauce becomes too sweet from adding the extra sugar, add a few pinches of salt. You can continue to doctor it with a bit of warm bacon grease (which also counteracts the tangy taste), and you may need to add a bit of ketchup in to balance everything again.

      Finally, I'll try to address your question of how to make the BBQ sandwiches in a Crock-Pot. My BBQ chipped ham experience is entirely with stovetop pan cooking, but here's how I've heard others cook BBQ chipped ham sandwiches in a Crock-Pot...

      Grease the pot to prevent sticking, then layer in the sauce first and chipped ham, more sauce, more ham, and finish with sauce. On a high setting, it should be done in about 4 hours or so.

      WARNING: Do NOT add TOO much sauce—or you’ll end up with chipped ham swimming in sauce! Check it 90 minutes before it finishes and see if it needs a stir or if there is too much sauce. Then you still have a chance to fix it by adding more ham. (SO HAVE EXTRA HAM HANDY!) Again, I'm guesstimating based on what I hear others do, and I hope my advice works (but, as I said, I've never done this before in a Crock-Pot).

      One last note on the Crock-Pot cooking, in case it wasn't clear. The sauce should be finished on the stovetop and tasting exactly the way you want it before you add it to the Crock-Pot. As I said in my previous answer above, layer the finished BBQ sauce then the chipped ham, then the sauce...don’t add too much sauce and check it before it’s finished. If it’s swimming in sauce, you still have time to add more chipped ham so it’s not overly liquid for your sandwiches (have extra chipped ham on hand). Happy cooking!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

      Delete
  12. Definitely one of the best things about the 'Burgh. I live in southern Georgia (may as well be Florida) now. The first time I went to the deli here, I made the mistake of asking for chipped ham. The person behind the counter looked at me like I was an idiot. I had to explain that I wanted it Pittsburgh style and to shave it. They don't seem to understand why anyone would want any deli meat thinly sliced, I get my salami nearly paper thin as well haha. It does definitely depress me that I can't get Isaly's. That's all I ever ate growing up.

    In response to the person asking about cooking it in a crock-pot, that's how my family has always done it. We've always just mixed all the ingredients together, not layer it. We also make it more saucy. With more sauce it soaks up into the bun and makes it so the bun isn't as dry and you still get all the flavor. I mean who doesn't love the taste of a ham bbq sammich?!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cristin - LOL on your own personal experience with my "confuse the deli guy" game. I've heard all kinds of stories from all over the country about trying to explain what "chipped" ham is, and (for the most part) it seems possible to get shaved ham (when explained to the deli person, anyway). But it is a unique experience to the Pittsburgh area (including the Ohio Valley).

      Thanks very much for weighing in on the crock-pot method. As I said in my reply (above), I've never made it that way, so having your own notes is a nice addition to this post, and I appreciate it.

      Cheers and 'nat from a fellow Stillers fan from Someplace Special. (BTW - if you haven't seen the "Pittsburgh Dad" series on YouTube, check it out. I think you'll enjoy it!)

      ~ Cleo Coyle, author of
      The Coffeehouse Mysteries
      Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

      Delete
  13. The Pennsylvania Macaroni Company - www(dot)pennmac(dot)com - ships Isaly's and Blend, not to mention pierogis and Grasso's Italian sausage. You would have to look at their site to see if they ship to your area, but I think they ship to pretty much everywhere in the continental US. I had product shipped to Maryland when I lived there and I have looked at shipping to Colorado. I just haven't had the chance to sit down and order.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Your recipe is as close to the best (my moms is best) as I have seen! We just used chip chop ham, usually Dubuque brand we got at Ravitas market on Brownsville Rd in Carrick. If that wasn't available, then good ole Isalys chip chop ham. We only used dill relish and heinz ketchup, nothing else. Usually on Town talk while because we didn't have any buns!
    Now that I live in Denver, I bring home 10-1# bags of Isaly Chip Ham for months of BBQ's. It freezes well. I always have a small empty suitcase to bring home the Pittsburgh foods!!!

    ReplyDelete
  15. That's how I remember it! With just dill relish and heinz ketchup. Though I don't want high fructose corn syrup. I recently tried Annies organic and I was surprised how good it was. When I was a kid, my mother used to take us to Murphys 5 &10 once in awhile for a hot roast beef dinner. They had it once a week and it was incredibly good for a deli counter like that! We got the roast beef sammich, and you could get either french fries, or mashed potatoes, with gravy all over them, and peas. Does anyone remember this? Also, Mancini's bread with chipped ham, and mayo. Nothing like it! It's been fun reading the Pittsburgese. Brings back memories! I used to jump on a Pat bus and go dahntawn. I used to love going through Jenkins Arcade, then to Gimbels, Joseph Horne and Co. and Kaufmans for some good shopping, memories! I never saw brick cheese anywhere else. I entirely forgot about that! I don't remember what it tastes like. I also remember asking for a hoagie after moving and getting funny looks. I had to call it a submarine sandwich. Missed REAL fish sammichs all these years. In southeast Michigan where I moved, I was corrected when I said pop. When I went to high school, because of my accent I was called "Little Pittsburgh" by some people. I totally lost my accent now because it's been so many years. I know it when I hear it though! :) Sorry for such a long post. This was nostalgic.

    ReplyDelete
  16. That's how I remember it! with just dill relish and heinz ketchup! Though I don't want high fructose corn syrup. I recently tried Annie's organic and I was surprised how good it was. I also will try Simply Heinz. When I was a kid, my mother used to take us to G.C.Murphy and Co. lunch counter once in awhile for a hot roast beef dinner. I remember how incredibly good it was for a lunch counter! We got the open face roast beef sammich, and you could get either french fries or mashed potatoes, and peas with gravy all over them. Does anyone remember this? Also, Mancini's bread with chipped ham, and mayo, sometimes some pickles on it, nothing like it! I used to jump on a Pat bus and go dahntahn. I used to love going through the Jenkins Arcade, and then to Gimbels, Joseph Horne Co. and Kaufmann's for some good shopping, and the beautiful decorations at Christmas time! I entirely forgot about brick cheese! I've missed REAL fish sammichs all these years. When I went to high school, because of my accent I was called "Little Pittsburgh". I totally lost my accent now because it's been so many years. I know it when I hear it though! :) and hearing the Pittsburghese. This was very nostalgic.

    ReplyDelete
  17. My mother-in-law gave me her recipe for ham barbecue. Although it is not exactly barbecue, it's easy and tastes great. Just follow your directions for the chipped ham, but instead, add one bottle of Heinz's chile sauce per pound of meat. Heat together and that's it

    ReplyDelete
  18. we never had this at home, but my best friend's mom made it ... and i always loved it because it was special and reminded me of my friend. i like it with dill relish. :)

    ReplyDelete
  19. I've lived in Harrisburg for 10 yrs, I finally got the local butcher to get me Brick cheese. I keep true to my Pittsburgh roots and refuse to call pop "soda" . I'm slowly bringing western PA to central PA.

    ReplyDelete