What Is Tasso Ham?

This flavorful Cajun ingredient is in everything from gumbo to jambalaya.

tasso ham on butcher paper

Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

Tasso ham isn't as ubiquitous as other cured and smoked pork products, but it should be. This staple of Cajun cuisine isn't enjoyed on its own, so much as it's used to season dishes, everything from Seafood Gumbo to Jambalaya.

This ultra-flavorful ham strikes the right balance of salty, spicy, and savory, and it beautifully imparts all that flavor in braises and other slow-cooking applications. If you're curious about this Southern Louisiana ingredient, here's what you need to know before you get cooking.

What Is Tasso Ham?

Tasso or Cajun ham is a spicy smoked ham from southern Louisiana often used to flavor or season Cajun dishes. It’s made from pork shoulder, which means it’s technically not a ham (as hams come from the back leg of the pig).

It is, however, more flavorful than your average Christmas ham, since pork shoulder is a fattier cut than the leaner hind legs of pigs. 

Unlike a traditional ham, which is served as a dinner centerpiece, tasso ham isn’t a main attraction. In fact, on its own, tasso ham can be intensely salty and spicy.

Instead, it’s most often sliced or diced and cooked with aromatics in a dish. Tasso ham’s concentrated spice and salt is used to season soups, stews, greens, and sauces while also imparting smoky flavor.

Tasso ham benefits from simmering or braising, where it has a chance to soften and become tender. In some recipes, it's browned like bacon at the beginning of the cooking process, so its flavorful fat can be used to cook other ingredients. It's often later returned to the dish as a crispy garnish like bacon bits.

How Is Tasso Ham Made?

Making tasso ham is a multi-step process. First, boneless pork shoulder is briefly salt-cured for a few hours before Cajun spices, like cayenne pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika are added. It's worth noting, the exact spice blend will differ from brand to brand. Lastly, the tasso ham is hot-smoked until it's fully cooked, and the meat has a rich smoky flavor.

Why Is It Called Tasso Ham?

There isn’t one definitive history of tasso ham, so its origins are a little murky. As for how it got its name, it is believed that tasso comes from the Spanish word tasajo, which translates to jerky or cured-dried meat.

Where Can You Buy Tasso Ham?

If you aren't in Louisiana it can be a little tricky to find tasso ham at a grocery store, although some Whole Foods and Walmart locations carry it, and if based in Texas, H-E-B sometimes has it, too.

The easiest way to get your hands on tasso ham is buying it online. Cajun Grocer delivers tasso ham nationwide and ships it with dry ice to keep it cold in transit. D’Artagnan and Amazon are good options as well.

Substitutes for Tasso Ham

Tasso ham has a truly unique flavor that we think is well-worth sourcing, but if you need a substitute, we have a few suggestions.

You can substitute tasso ham with regular ham, but know that traditional hams are sweeter and lack the depth of flavor spiced tasso ham has. Ham hocks can impart a similar smokiness, but again, you won’t get that same heat that the spices in tasso ham bring. If using either of these substitutes, plan to add Cajun seasoning to the dish to make up for some of that missing flavor.

Other alternatives include chorizo or andouille sausage. Both can provide some spice, but they will have a different taste and texture than tasso ham in the final dish.

Recipes That Use Tasso Ham 

While you can use Tasso Ham to season almost anything, here are a few places to start, especially if you haven’t cooked with it before.

Split Pea Soup With Ham

Instead of using regular ham or ham hocks, this split pea soup uses tasso ham to add a ton of spicy and smoky flavor.

Maque Choux

Instead of bacon, use tasso ham in this classic Cajun dish. It pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the corn and peppers.

Broiled Oysters with Tasso Breadcrumbs

These oysters topped with tasso-spiced breadcrumbs marry the smoke of the ham with the salinity of the fresh seafood for a delicious and flavorful appetizer.

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