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“Pittsburgh style” can refer to a few different things on a menu:

  • French fries on a salad
  • A charred steak with a rare interior
  • A type of barbecue ham sandwich

This original Northern Panhandle West Virginian is familiar with and enjoys all of the meals above, but the latter — the barbecue ham sandwich — is something I think more folks below the Mason-Dixon Line should experience.

Chipped chopped ham, or chipped ham, is a processed ham lunch meat made with ham chunks, trimmings and seasonings that is ground and packed into loaves. That loaf is chipped, or shaved, against a deli slicer blade for thin slices. These thin slices are often pan-fried in barbecue sauce and placed on a bun to create a delicious, regional sandwich.

So, it’s not really “ham.” And, actually, it’s not really “barbecue” — at least not in a traditional way. The ham has been processed umpteen times, and there’s no grill involved for the barbecue. But, that doesn’t really matter.

These barbecue ham sandwiches were made locally famous by a store called Isaly’s in the Pittsburgh area. They sold their own “Original Chipped Chopped Ham” and “Original BBQ sauce” and served up a combo of the two between two pieces of bread for customers to eat on site.

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“From our beginnings in the early 1900s, the Isaly family and its successors have pursued one mission: bringing deli and dairy products of consistent freshness, purity, and unbeatable flavor, made according to original Isaly’s recipes to your family table. We are best known for our ‘signature’ products, Original Chipped Chopped Ham, Original barbecue sauce, and Old Fashioned Whitehouse Cherry Ice Cream,” the store website reads.

Many still use those original ingredients to make their barbecue ham sandwiches at home. But there are a lot of variations, whether that’s adding green pepper, onion and celery to the ham mixture or topping the sandwich with pickle relish. Others may make their own barbecue sauce out of ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, worcestershire sauce and mustard.

Growing up, I had no clue this was a regional delight. My mom would make this for lunch and dinner; it was a quick and easy meal that was a crowd-pleaser. Our version was simple: Skillet, add chipped ham, add barbecue sauce and a little seasoning, cook until nice and crisp, pile inside a sandwich bun and enjoy.

It wasn’t until I moved from the Pittsburgh area that I learned the barbecue ham sandwich is a mystery to most others. But, it’s so simple and tasty that I have brought the “recipe” with me as I’ve moved south and share it with friends often.

These food traditions are what make our food culture so special. It’s these stories that help define who we are and what we value. It’s these little tidbits that could be lost to time if we don’t help preserve them.

So, tell me, what are some of your regional favorites? It can be a recipe or unique ingredient or different way to prepare a dish or a technique. What foods are important to your family? And why?

Candace Nelson is a marketing professional living in Charleston. She is the author of the book “The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll.”

In her free time, Nelson blogs about Appalachian food culture

at Find her on Twitter at @Candace07 or email

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