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Turkey vs. Ham

This is a close look at a holiday dinner spread featuring a turkey and a ham.

There has always been a great debate between turkey vs. ham. For as long as anyone can remember, turkey has taken center stage at Thanksgiving, while ham takes the stage at other times of the year, such as Easter. There is a strong opinion of when which of these two types of meat should be the main course and which should be off to the side. This article digs into the debate between turkey vs ham and gives you an in-depth look at both of them.

Personal preference plays a critical role in the choice, and while this article may not change your mind, it will certainly be informative. 

Related: Ham Substitute Options | Types of Ham | Side Dishes for Ham | Honey Glazed Ham Recipe | How to Store Ham | Canadian Bacon vs. Ham | Thanksgiving Turkey Alternatives | Types of Stuffing

What is Turkey?

A whole homemade roasted turkey.

Turkey is a poultry that has a rich taste and a meaty flavor. Turkey has white meat and dark meat. You can find whole turkey or just turkey breast. If you opt for turkey breast, you can find it bone-in or boneless.

The white meat of turkey comes from the breast. The dark meat of turkey comes from the wings, thighs, and drumsticks. The skin of the turkey is where you are going to find the highest amount of fat. 

Turkey is known to be a fantastic source of protein, with a whopping 32 grams of protein per four-ounce serving. There are some that believe turkey may help prevent cancer because it contains minerals like selenium to help improve the immune system and thyroid health. Turkey has many more vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, including phosphorus which is essential for healthy teeth and bones.

Just one serving of turkey provides you more than 35 percent of your daily allowance of Vitamins B3 and B6. These vitamins help your body process fat while maintaining blood sugar levels. Turkey can help lower your cholesterol and help stabilize insulin levels in your body. 

What is Ham?

A holiday spread with a sliced glazed ham.

Ham is a specific cut of pork, which comes from a pig. Ham comes from the back end of a pig, including the thigh and rump. One pig yields two hams. Ham can be fresh, cured, or smoked. Ham has a slightly smoky, sweet flavor with a juicy and soft texture.

Ham often takes on the flavor of any sauce or glaze that is covering it. You can find ham as boneless or bone-in. There are many different styles and types of ham, mostly having to do with the specific place it is found on the body and how it is cooked or cured. 

Ham is typically low in calories. A three-ounce serving has 139 calories. Ham gives you a solid amount of iron and protein, as well as high amounts of thiamine, also referred to as Vitamin B1. This vitamin allows your body to convert carbohydrates into energy. As a result, ham has the potential to increase metabolism. Another positive about ham is that it is low in saturated fat. 

What is Turkey Ham?

A sliced turkey ham with herbs and carrots on the side.

Turkey ham is meat that is made from the meat of the thigh of a turkey. This turkey thigh meat is smoked and cured and can be eaten directly from the package. When turkey ham is packaged, it looks like ham and tastes like ham, but it is turkey.

The shape and size of turkey ham are different based on how the meat has been processed. You can find it in half or whole portions. It is a great alternative to ham from pork because it is low fat and just about 95 percent fat-free. 

Turkey ham is often pre-cut when it is packaged. It can be eaten cold or hot. It can be sliced thin or thick. While today, many different companies manufacturer turkey ham, it was originally created by Jennie-O in the mid 1970s.

Traditional Turkey Dinner

This is a traditional whole roasted turkey with fruits and berries on the side.

Everyone is unique and has their own Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner traditions. Despite this, there are some staples that you expect to see with every Thanksgiving turkey dinner. When you think about Thanksgiving, you think about stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and sweet potatoes in some form. All of these foods are the icing on top of the cake, that is, the turkey. 

Traditional Ham Dinner

A traditional smoked ham dinner with multiple side dishes.

You may have ham for dinner for different occasions. Some have ham for Easter or Christmas, or it could be a random Sunday dinner. No matter when you are eating ham, there are some side dishes that you expect. You probably expect to have a honey baked ham, dinner rolls, baked beans, some version of carrots, or broccoli. In addition, you are going to see some style of potatoes, perhaps au gratin or roasted potatoes. You can expect to see your favorite recipe on the table. 

The Differences Between Ham and Turkey

There are some major differences between the two types of meat that separate ham from turkey. When it comes to nutritional information, three ounces of ham has 21 grams of protein, and three ounces of the whole turkey has 20 to 24 grams of protein. It may be surprising to you that ham has 5 grams of fat, but the same amount of turkey has 8 grams of fat.

Ham provides more zinc and niacin than turkey. Therefore, it takes less ham to feed your family. When planning a meal, you should plan a half pound of ham per person, but you will need one to two pounds of turkey per person.

The thawing time is the same per pound for both ham and turkey if you use the cold water method. If you thaw them in cold water, it takes about 30 minutes her pound. If you choose to thaw them in the refrigerator, it will take about six hours per pound for turkey. It takes only about four hours per pound for ham. 

You can expect the cooking time for an unstuffed turkey and ham to be about the same, which is 15 minutes per pound at 350 degrees. You want to make sure that they are completely thawed. If your turkey is stuffed, you can add five to ten minutes to the time. The price per round is about the same for a ham and a turkey. You can expect to pay about $1.60 to $1.90 per pound, depending on the store. 


Which Has Less Sodium, Turkey, or Ham?

Turkey generally has less sodium. It has about 1,100 fewer milligrams of sodium. This explains why ham often tastes like salt. 

Which Has Less Saturated Fat, Turkey or Ham?

As surprising as it might seem, ham has less saturated fat than ham. 

Does Ham or Turkey Contain Sodium Nitrite?

Ham contains a high amount of sodium nitrates. If you are eating deli ham or deli turkey, it is going to have nitrates. Just about any deli meat you buy has nitrates, unless the packaging specifically states it does not contain them. 

What is Ham Steak?

Ham steak is a thick cut slice of meat cut from a whole ham. It may have the bone in, or it may be removed.