Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Chipped Chopped Ham

Isaly's Ad from 1950s

Isaly’s ad from the 1950’s

You know you are from Youngstown if you know what “chipped chopped ham” is and think it is the best way to eat ham in a sandwich. There is a taste to chipped chopped ham that is so much better than sliced ham of whatever variety. It had a kind of sweetness and lightness, and lacked that “slimy” feel of sliced ham. Piled up on a good hamburger bun, maybe with a piece of swiss cheese and a good deli mustard, and you had heaven on a bun.

I first learned about chipped chopped ham when I was staying at my grandparents home on the south side. My grandma sent me up to the Isaly’s near the house to get a pound of chipped chopped ham. I said “what’s that grandma?” She just said, tell the man at the meat counter what you want and he’ll know what to do. I came home with the package and grandma made me one of the tastiest sandwiches I’d ever eaten!

Isaly’s, the home of the skyscraper ice cream cone was the place most associated with chipped chopped ham. They made it by taking chunks of ham, ham trimmings with lots of fat, and seasonings and grinding it up and forming it into a loaf. Then at the deli counter, it was “chipped.” The meat slicer was set at its finest setting so that the slices came out very thin, almost translucent. Like cookie tables, there is a rivalry with Pittsburgh on this one. There, they call it slicing it “Pittsburgh style.”

Reading up on it, I learned that in Pittsburgh, it is also popular to put some of the ham in a slow cooker with barbecue sauce, and make barbecued chipped chop ham. It was also fried and called “frizzle-fried” ham sandwiches. I have to admit I don’t remember any of that in Youngstown, but others might.

All I know is that eventually, any self-respecting deli counter in Youngstown would sell some version of chipped chopped ham. Sometimes, when I was back in town, I’d pick up some groceries for my parents at the old Sparkle Market on Mahoning Avenue and get some chipped chopped ham there.

The Isaly brand is still alive and you can still buy Isaly’s chipped chopped ham and other Isaly products in the grocery store. Their corporate website offers a video of their history and information about where you can buy their products. Anywhere that has Giant Eagle stores sells chipped chopped ham, as well as many Walmart Supercenters in Ohio, including in my current home town of Columbus. In Youngstown, in addition to these stores, Isaly’s lists Golden Dawn, IGA, Santisi, and Sparkle Markets as places where you can buy their products. The website also offers recipes including one for “chipped chopped ham nacho rolls” that uses lasagna noodles!

I also learned that if you are a Steeler fan or Pirates fan, Isaly’s has stands at Heinz and PNC Fields where you can buy a chipped chopped ham sandwich at the game. Beats a hot dog any time!

All this talk about chipped chopped ham is making me want to check out the local options to buy some. I’m not sure I can make a sandwich as good as grandma made, but it would still be a treat. By the way, thanks, Cindy, for the idea for this post!