7 Amazing Tasso Ham Substitutes
Tasso, from the Spanish word Tasajo, meaning jerky, is a cured and smoked pork product similar to ham. It is most popular in Louisiana in dishes such as jambalaya, gumbo, étouffée, and red beans with rice.
It is popular in soups, stocks, and sauces that are simmered for a long time because tasso needs a long time to cook, soften, and tenderize.
Although tasso does have some similarities to ham, it is actually made from boneless pork shoulder not pork leg, which ham is. This fatty cut (sometimes called pork butt) is heavily salted with curing salt and then left to sit for several hours. It is then rinsed and generously rubbed with a spice blend heavy with garlic, pepper, and cayenne (or sometimes straight Cajun spice), and then hot smoked until it is cooked through.
It is often cooked on low heat so it doesn’t burn, but slowly renders some of the fat. It is then chilled and cut into slabs or strips.
Tasso is most commonly added to simmered foods so it cooks down and imparts its smokey, rich, salty flavor to anything you’re cooking with it. This works great with seafood, fish, tomatoes, vegetables such as kale and collards, meat, and poultry. It can also be fried in small cubes, like bacon or sausage, and it gets crispy and chewy.
Its main flavor profile is its signature smokiness, but it is also salty, sweet, savory, and spicy. Its texture is quite firm and may take some getting used to if you’re accustomed to ham.
Tasso is very easy to find… in Louisiana! If you’re outside of the area, it may not be quite as easy to track down. But there are a few great ways to get that same meaty, salty flavor. Here are our favorites.
As mentioned already, the closest thing to tasso is regular ham. Both are cured and hot smoked, and both have an intense, smokey, salty, meaty flavor. The main difference is the cut of meat—tasso is made from the extremely fatty pork shoulder, whereas ham is made from the leg.
Ham tends to be sweeter, often from the rub that contains maple syrup, brown sugar, or pineapple juice. It is also smoked at a lower temperature and is often finished in the oven, so it does not have the same smokey intensity as tasso.
It can definitely be used as a 1:1 ratio for tasso but will be naturally sweeter than tasso. You may want to add a few dashes of liquid smoke as well.
Smoked sausage such as chorizo makes a fantastic substitute for tasso. They are both heavily spiced and smoked and have the same dry, chewy texture.
Chorizo can be diced, sautéed, browned, and stewed, or can be eaten on its own. Another great option is Andouille sausage, which can be hard to find but is equally delicious!
Any sausage option will be tangier and sweeter than tasso, but won’t be as smokey, so you may want to consider this when substituting and make up for the smoke in other ways.
Like tasso, bacon is cured and hot smoked, but bacon is a very different product. Bacon is made from pork belly—the fattiest cut of pork. It is salted for a much longer time and typically isn’t spiced with anything other than black pepper.
It is also cured with a blend of salt and sugar, whereas tasso is likely just cured with curing salt (which does contain a little sugar, but not nearly as much as bacon).
Bacon, for this reason, is an excellent replacement for tasso! When diced or sliced and fried, it is hard to tell the difference—bacon may be sweeter and fattier, but otherwise is a very close (and delicious!) substitute for tasso!
Bacon can be purchased from specialty shops in slabs (unsliced) and fried, and is often called lardon or speck in this case, and is very close to tasso!
Like bacon, pancetta, an Italian cured meat, is made from rolled pork belly and is a close substitute for tasso. It has a very similar look and texture. Pancetta is cured in a similar way to tasso but is left unsmoked and therefore uncooked.
Pancetta needs to be cooked before consuming, and is often baked in thin pieces, or diced and fried to make crispy bits that will very closely resemble tasso. It can be chewy like tasso, and when cooked low and slow like in a braised dish, becomes quite tender.
5. Peameal or Canadian Bacon
One other form of bacon (which is not really bacon) is peameal bacon, which is a staple in Canada. It is made from brined, smoked pork loin that is rolled in cornmeal.
Before eating, it is sliced thin and fried and is most commonly consumed on sandwiches or for breakfast. It is also a popular ingredient in eggs benedict and can be found in just about any store.
You can certainly cube it and fry it to add to braised vegetable dishes or soups, and it makes a fine replacement for tasso! Canadian bacon is not nearly as smokey or intense in flavor as tasso, which may be a good thing depending on what you’re making, but also important to keep in mind.
6. Braised Pork or Ham Hocks
The final pork product we recommend to replace tasso is any braised pork product, especially ham hocks. All of these products will require a long, slow cooking time and aren’t typically salted or spiced.
The seasoning is infused into the meat through the slow cooking process. Afterward, this meat can be pulled off the bone and shredded into a variety of dishes, or eaten all on its own, as a replacement for tasso. It does not have quite the same effect but is equally delicious, you can be certain of that!
7. Tempeh or Smoked Mushrooms
If you want to enjoy the smoky salty delights of tasso but don’t eat meat, you can still get the same effect from plant-based options such as tofu or mushrooms! Smoked tofu is often sold in stores and can be diced like bacon, fried, and added to any dish!
You can also hot smoke your own if you have a smoker. Smoked mushrooms also offer a certain meaty, umami-like flavor that you just can’t get from unsmoked foods. Vegetarians unite! Now you can have your tasso… and eat it too!
Tasso is one of those things that when you have it once, you dream of it forever, and nothing but the real thing really cuts it… but we think any of the items from this list are a close second! Bacon and ham are the closest to tasso as they are both cured and smoked, but pancetta probably has the closest texture.
If you don’t eat meat, you can certainly try tofu or mushrooms, and if you’ve got ages to braise, try using braised pork belly or hocks in place of tasso. Sausage and peameal can be fried in a pan and added to any dish to make it more delicious if you cannot find tasso… please, if you ever get the chance to try the real thing, do not miss out!