Turkey vs Ham – Your holiday guide to choosing the perfect meal. If you’re wondering which protein you should cook this holiday season, be sure to consider all of the cooking methods for each protein when choosing your thanksgiving menu.

There is no easy answer to this debate and honestly, there are many different ways you can cook these meals for your thanksgiving dinner. My hope with this article is to inspire you to try something new and enjoy more flavor in your holiday meal!

Team Ham

Different types of ham – Boneless vs Bone-in ham

Both options provide different benefits and there is honestly no wrong answer. 

A boneless pork ham is typically priced more expensive per pound because there is no waste with the weight of the bone. Buying a boneless ham makes it easier knowing exactly how much ham you will need for your party. They are also a lot easier to carve compared to a bone in ham since you don’t need to work around the bone. 

Bone-in pork ham is by my favorite because it has better flavor and holds it’s moisture compared to a boneless ham.  There are different ways you can use the leftover bone. You can make stock, put it in beans or make a ton of different flavorful soups.

bone in ham

Within the bone-in family of hams, you have a few different options to choose from. 

You can pick a spiral cut hams or a whole ham. Spiral cut ham typically cooks quicker and it’s more convenient when carving since it’s pre sliced. A whole ham will take longer to cook, but it typically will stay more moist throughout the cook. 

spiral ham

Different ways to cook ham

Method 1: Smoked Ham

The ham you buy from the store comes pre-smoked and already has a ton of flavor in them. Some of them will come with different flavored glaze packets that you can put on top of your ham while cooking it. I personally like to use my own glaze instead of the store product.

If pre smoked ham isn’t enough for you, you can always double smoke it! This is a popular way to cook ham. It provides a deeper level of flavor to your holiday centerpiece and it’s quickly become my favorite way to make ham.

Buy a pre-smoked ham, then take it home and add your own flavors to it using different rubs and sauces such as this Cherry Bourbon Glazed Ham.

cherry bourbon smoked ham
Cherry bourbon double smoked spiral ham

Some people like to buy a raw whole ham from the local butcher shop and brine it themselves then smoke it. This is honestly a ton of work and after considering all the time you have invested into this method, I would personally just rather buy a fully cooked ham. 

Method 2: Ham cooked in the oven

This method is the most traditional way to cook a ham for a handful of reasons. It’s easy, reliable and not everyone has a smoker or wants an extra smoky taste of ham. Another great benefit of cooking a ham in the oven is you get to smell the delicious aroma throughout your house while enjoying time with your guests. 

There is a major convince of cooking the ham in the oven since it’s easily accessible being right in the kitchen. This method of cooking can also take up a lot of space in the oven leaving little room for other side dishes to be cooked in the oven. 

Method 3: Deep Fried Ham

This is by far the most unconventional way to cook your ham, but it’s different and delicious!

Like most things deep fried, it really helps to either marinade or inject your protein prior to cooking. For a deep fried ham, I would recommend injecting it with flavor! Since a ham is already cooked, you do not need to soak it longer in salt.

You can inject it with whatever kind of seasoning you want, I would just highly recommend avoiding anything too high in sugar as it will burn. 

The deep frying process will not take very long, but it will result in super juicy and delicious ham. 

deep fryer

What size ham do I need?

The recommended serving size of ham to have per person is, 1/2 pound for bone in ham and 1/3 pound for boneless ham.

Below is a guide on how many pounds of ham you will need for your party.

4-8 people you need a 2-4 pounds of bone in ham.

8-11 people, you need 4-6 pounds of bone in ham. 

11-13 people, you need 6-8 pounds of bone in ham.

16-19 people, you need 8-10 pounds of bone in ham. 

Team Turkey

Spatchcocked turkey vs whole turkey

Spatchcocked turkey is one of my favorite ways to cook turkey. It reduced cooking time down by nearly 25% because the turkey lays flat and is cooked more evenly. One of the down falls to spatchcocking versus cooking a turkey whole is that the spatchcocked turkey lays flat and takes up more room. Cooking a spatchcocked turkey works great on a pellet grill or smoker because it leaves plenty of room in the oven for those other delicious side dishes. 

Pro tip: I highly recommend that you use a meat thermometer to track the internal temperature of your turkey. This tool will help make sure that you’re not serving up a Clark Griswold turkey, but instead having some of the most tender, juicy turkey ever. I love using my MEATER Plus to track my cooks for the perfect bird.

rotisserie turkey
MEATER 2 Plus meat thermometer

Light meat vs dark meat

Light meat mainly consists of a turkey breast which is a leaner cut of meat. Since it has less fat, it can dry out a lot easier which is why it’s important to monitor the internal temperatures of the meat during your cook.

Brining or injecting your turkey meat prior to cooking it will help keep the white meat juicy. Light meat is usually considered the healthier option since it has less fat and fewer calories compared to dark meat. 

frozen turkey breast

Dark meat such as a drum stick or thigh is fattier meat, which means it’s juicer and has more flavor. Since it has a higher fat content in the meat, it’s also more forgiving when cooking it and will stay more moist over white meat.

Dark meat is considered to be the most popular between the two due to the taste and texture of the meat resulting in it typically being eaten first. 

If you are a dark meat lover like me, try making some smoked turkey legs with gravy instead of cooking the whole bird. It will save you a lot of time on preparing a whole turkey.

Dark meat: Turkey legs

Different ways to cook your turkey dinner

Method 1: Smoked turkey 

Smoky, juicy and one of the best ways to add a ton of flavor into your holiday centerpiece. This is easily one of the most popular ways to enjoy turkey, especially if you love smoky flavor.

smoked turkey legs

There are many different smokers you can use for smoking a turkey. Some of the most popular ones are a pellet smoker, charcoal grill and an electric smoker.

My favorite way to smoke turkey is on a pellet grill. Pellet grills are a lot like an oven and have great air flow. They’re designed to provide a well regulated cooking temperature and they honestly make some of the juiciest poultry you’ll ever eat. 

Regardless of the smoker of your choice, I am a huge fan of brining the turkey prior to smoking it. Brining the turkey meat allows the seasoning to soak deep into the meat, meaning more flavor!

turkey brine

Method 2: Rotisserie turkey

This is one of the most unconventional way to cook your turkey. It’s honestly a lot more work than other methods, but it’s by one of the most flavorful.

It’s essential to either brine or inject your turkey for this method since you’re cooking your turkey over hot coals. When you brine the turkey, it allows the juices inside of the meat to rotate and spin with the rotisserie resulting is ridiculously juice meat. 

After brining my turkey, I like to also inject the meat with seasoning. You can make your own injection or you can buy some stuff that is over the counter. Either way, if you’re doing this method – make sure you inject your turkey!

I cooked my cajun turkey on my Kamado Joe using the Joetisserie accessory which helped consistently turn the turkey resulting in a perfect, juicy bird. 

Method 3: Deep fried turkey

We’ve all seen the social media post, or know the ambitious dad who almost burned their house down deep frying a turkey. It doesn’t have to be that dramatic and honestly this is one of the easiest ways to cook a turkey. This method gets you SUPER crispy skin and it hold a lot of the moisture in the bird resulting in some delicious meat. 

You can safely deep fry a turkey by properly preparing for your cook ahead of time. Place your turkey (still in the packaging) in the unheated deep fryer pot then fill it with water so it’s just covering the turkey. Either make a mental note, take a picture or mark the water level with a marker for your fill line.

When deep frying the turkey, be sure not to exceed that line prior to pouring the oil in the fryer and the oil being heated. Oil expands when it heats up, so always use caution and take the highest safety precautions.

deep fryer

Peanut oil is by far the most popular oil to use for deep frying. Peanut oil provides better flavor compared to other options. It’s also a healthier option and has a smoke point of 450° F which means it’s safe for deep frying at higher temperatures.

peanut oil

An alternative to peanut oil would be to use canola oil. Canola is considered to be a less healthy option, but it tends to be a lot cheaper in price.


I skipped deep frying the whole turkey and made some Cajun Fried Turkey Legs and then I coated them in Alabama white sauce. This was honestly one of the best things I have ever made. Spicy, crunchy turkey coated in a creamy vinegar sauce.

Method 4: Baked turkey in the oven

Turkey cooked in the oven is by far the most traditional turkey method. An oven is consistent in temperature and it provides some of the juiciest turkey you can make when done properly.

As reliable as this method is, it is by far my least favorite way to eat turkey due to the lack of flavor compared to other methods of cooking turkey. Nothing wrong wrong with this method, I just prefer other ways over it.

Like every other method, you can brine or inject your turkey to add deeper levels of flavor. 

What size turkey do I need?

The recommended amount for a whole turkey is 1-1.5 pounds per person and .5 pounds per guest for boneless meat. 

Below is a guide on what size turkey you will need for your party. Consider cooking two smaller turkeys for larger gatherings, this will reduce overall cook time and likely result in a better outcome. 

4-8 people you need a 8-12 pounds of turkey.

8-11 people, you need 12-16 pounds of turkey. 

11-13 people, you need 20-24 pounds of turkey

16-19 people, you need 24-28 pounds of turkey. 

Note: the measurements above are total turkey weight, not pounds of carved meat needed.

frozen turkey

Turkey vs Ham Conclusion

There is no one size fits all answer to which protein is best to cook for your holiday meal. As I outlined in this article, there are many different ways that you can cook each protein. It all comes down to the personal preference of you and your guests.

I hope that you were able to draw some inspiration and ideas on different ways to enjoy your holiday centerpiece this year. Make it a family tradition to switch it up each year and trying something new at your holiday dinner. 

turkey vs ham

Looking for the perfect side dish to serve with your turkey or ham?

Be sure to check out some of my favorite holiday dish dish recipes below!

Smoked Mac & Cheese – Mac & cheese is one of the most icon side dishes around. My smoked version of this recipe will quickly become the only way you’ll ever want to eat it again. 

Smoked Mac and cheese in an aluminum pan.

Bacon Balsamic Brussels Sprouts – Bacon makes everything better, and that includes brussels sprouts! These delicious vegetables are served with crispy bacon, gooey dates topped with a balsamic glaze reduction for the best bite around.

balsamic bacon brussels sprouts

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