Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Deviled Ham but Were Afraid to Ask

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega searches old newspapers to learn more about deviled ham and other deviled foods, including recipes. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.

It was an American staple: deviled ham sandwiches on white bread. Its low-priced canned version mixed with mayonnaise made a frequent appearance at lunch when I was growing up, along with tuna fish and bologna sandwiches. Have you ever had a deviled ham sandwich?

Maybe you’re not sure what the term “deviled ham” even means. While the unfamiliar may erroneously believe deviled ham is a weird food from the 1950s, the history of this meat spread actually has roots in the 19th century and has long been a stable for some families.

I searched in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and found some interesting articles about the history and popularity of this tasty, convenient food.

Deviled Foods

“Devil” is more than a name. Most people are familiar with deviled eggs, but other deviled foods may be more unfamiliar. So what does it mean to “devil” a food? The food term “deviled” has been around since at least the 18th century.*

This 1984 newspaper article on foods named after the devil explains that “Deviled foods are usually red-hot dishes, highly seasoned with spices or tangy condiments.” When we think of deviled eggs, that spicy addition of mustard provides a tang to the normally subdued and dry egg yolk.

Of course, not all foods that include the term “devil” in their title employ spicy ingredients, as in the case of Devil’s Food Cake. As this article notes:

But there is one deviled dish that defies the description of red hot and spicy. One can only believe that devil’s food cake was named because this dark, moist, fudgy dessert is so tantalizing that it could cause the most devout dieters to fall from grace. Most people agree that devil’s food cake is divine. Perhaps Oscar Wilde had this dessert in mind when he said, “I can resist everything except temptation.”

An article about deviled food, Daily Advocate newspaper article 11 November 1984
Daily Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 11 November 1984, page 94

If you enjoy cooking like me, then this article’s last line will interest you: “Since deviled foods have proven so popular, recipes for some of these dishes are printed below to tempt you.” Don’t worry – I include these recipes at the end of this blog article.

This 1975 newspaper article explains that the spices used in deviled foods may include “black pepper, cayenne, hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, powdered mustard, horseradish, hot paprika and garlic.”

An article about deviled ham, Boston Herald newspaper article 9 October 1975
Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 9 October 1975, page 34

The Underwood Devil Trademark

While there have been various food companies that sell deviled ham, the most recognizable brand is Underwood Deviled Ham in the white-paper-covered can. Trademarked in 1870, Underwood Deviled Ham is still being sold branded with the recognizable Underwood company red devil trademark. In this 1931 newspaper advertisement, we see an early version of the Underwood red devil trademark.

An ad for deviled ham, Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisement 18 April 1931
Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 April 1931, page 3

William Underwood began selling preserved food in 1821 but it was decades before the company was known for its canned meat products. According to an early 20th century recipe booklet published by the William Underwood Company, its foray into deviled meats came at the conclusion of the American Civil War.

During the Civil War, Mr. Underwood supplied the armies with various canned meats, clearly demonstrating the fact that it was possible to preserve perishable food in large quantities. After the war, he employed his energy in developing an old family recipe, famous among the neighbors, consisting of a process called “deviling,” a method of mincing meats and adding a piquant dressing made of a great number of spices skillfully blended.

According to the Underwood recipe booklet, people soon stopped deviling meats at home for it became apparent that the canned product was even better than what they could make in their own kitchen. [p. 6]**

While most of us are familiar with deviled ham, that is not the only deviled meat product the Underwood Company made. Other canned deviled meats included tongue and chicken.

An ad for deviled meats, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper advertisement 30 August 1918
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 30 August 1918, page 10

When I searched GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for other examples of deviled foods I found recipes for deviled crab, biscuits, lobster, scallops, turkey, olives, and even nuts.

Deviled Ham: It’s Not Just for Sandwiches!

So it’s obvious that you would use a meat spread for making sandwiches – but what other recipes could deviled ham incorporate? This 1958 newspaper article points out that deviled ham is versatile and can be used to make other foods including appetizers. This recipe for Spicy Devil Ham Balls “saves the day” when you need a quick appetizer for guests. Once you mix all of the ingredients you pan fry the appetizers and serve with mustard.

A photo showing a deviled ham appetizer, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 29 December 1958
Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 29 December 1958, section 3, page 6

Here is the recipe:

A recipe for deviled ham appetizer, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 29 December 1958
Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 29 December 1958, section 3, page 6

One of the more “interesting” deviled ham recipes I found in the newspaper was published in 1963. The Deviled Ham Ring is:

A ring of full-flavored squash and meaty, deviled ham surrounds a center of color mixed vegetables…You’ll find Deviled Ham Ring nourishing, too, and so easy to use left-over vegetables although we suggest munchy lima beans and opulent small boiled onions.

A recipe for a deviled ham dinner, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 17 October 1963
Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 17 October 1963, section 5, page 2

Of course you can use that canned meat spread for sandwiches and I’m always amazed at how creative some sandwiches were in generations before the submarine sandwich ruled. This 1915 newspaper article includes ideas such as deviled ham sandwiches that mix deviled ham with butter, chutney, and minced chives.

An article about meat sandwiches, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 14 January 1915
Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 14 January 1915, page 10

Here are some of those ham sandwich recipes:

Ham sandwich recipes, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 14 January 1915
Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 14 January 1915, page 10

For those who lack sandwich creativity, you can heed the advice of this 1950 “weekly advertising column of things new and interesting” and add deviled ham to “egg salad, peanut butter, tuna fish and all kinds of cheeses.” The deviled ham and peanut butter sandwich may be an acquired taste.

An article about deviled ham, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 3 September 1950
Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 3 September 1950, page 37

Devil Your Own Ham

You make your own deviled eggs at home, so why not try your hand at deviled ham? Making deviled ham is one way to use up those ham leftovers after the Easter and Christmas holidays. This 1961 recipe for Valentine Day treats includes one for deviled ham that uses mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne peppers to devil the ham. Basically, homemade deviled ham is a combination of finely minced ham and those deviling ingredients.

A recipe for deviled ham, Advocate newspaper article 22 January 1961
Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 22 January 1961, page 60

As promised, here are some more deviled food recipes.

A recipe for deviled crab cakes, Daily Advocate newspaper article 11 November 1984
Daily Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 11 November 1984, page 94
A recipe for chicken a la diable, Daily Advocate newspaper article 11 November 1984
Daily Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 11 November 1984, page 94
A recipe for devil's food cake, Daily Advocate newspaper article 11 November 1984
Daily Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 11 November 1984, page 94

The Devil Is in the (Ham) Details

Do you have memories of eating deviled ham sandwiches? Do you still enjoy them today? Have you ever made your own deviled ham? Please share those food memories and recipes with us in the comments section below.


* Bramen, Lisa. Deviled Eggs and Other Foods from Hell. Smithsonian. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/deviled-eggs-and-other-foods-from-hell-123267449/?no-ist
** The Little Red Devil Recipes. Boston: Massachusetts: Wm. Underwood Co. [no date]. In the possession of Gena Philibert-Ortega.

16 thoughts on “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Deviled Ham but Were Afraid to Ask

  1. Hi Kymberley,

    Always great to meet a fellow food history lover! I will definitely read your Smoked Salmon Spread article. I’ve been meaning to write even more about various canned meats. I just love historical food history!

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting.–Gena

  2. I just had my first taste of Underwood Deviled Ham in decades. I used to love it on saltine crackers when I was a child and wanted to see if it still tasted the same to me 5 decades later, and it does! Still delicious! Love that it’s still packaged in little tins and wrapped in paper like I remembered. Thanks Underwood!

    1. Mila,

      That Underwood can looks exactly the same as when I was a kid and my mom served it to me for lunch. Sounds like you grew up with it as well. Thanks for sharing about your food memory!


  3. I remember deviled ham sandwiches and I still love them. They were served as tea sandwiches along with tuna sandwiches and egg salad sandwiches. The crusts were trimmed off and they were cut into little squares and triangles and stacked on tiered serving trays. Sometimes different breads were used, and sometimes there was cheese. Little pickles and radishes were offered. That was many years ago, but lately I have been feeling nostalgic and craving these little sandwiches! I was wondering if it was just used straight out of the can or if there was a recipe that called for adding relish and mayo, and that’s how I came across your blog. Thank you and now you have my comment – maybe others had these too!

  4. Pua, you’re making me hungry! That’s a good question about the recipe. I recently met someone who told me she uses it straight out of the can so maybe it’s just individual or family preference?

  5. My 6 brothers and sisters and I grew up eating this all the time! Sometimes we would use it straight out of the can on saltines or in a sandwich. Other times, we would add a little mayo and onion to it and do the same thing with it. I still eat it today, and have found the deviled chicken to be even better than the ham one! Chicken is my favorite meat, though, so I’m kinda biased toward it. Loved the article! Amazingly, my husband says he had never heard of it until I bought it. He was missing out!!

    1. Linda, your husband never heard of it?! How could that be? I will have to check out the chicken version. Thanks for mentioning it. And thank you for your comments.–Gena

  6. Gina – really enjoyed your talk today at SCPD Genealogy Club!!! Thanks so much for bringing deviled ham sandwiches – I haven’t made one in probably 30 years – brings back many memories..

    1. Thanks Bob! That’s what I love about food history. It does bring back memories and it’s an important element to our family history. Thanks for your comment! I appreciate it.

  7. I first had deviled ham in the early 80s when on a week-long Boy Scout trip. Our snack one particular day was an oddly creamy meat substance over crackers. It had a flavor like nothing I’d ever known. I asked the Scoutmaster what it was and, trying to be funny, he told me it was horse meat. I think I disappointed him with my response because I rather enjoyed it. He later told me the truth and I made sure to have mom get some from the grocery upon my return home.

    I’ve made sandwiches of them ever since. In fact, my lunch today, deviled ham and fried egg sandwich, is what led me to find this blog post. I’ve never considered doing anything other than sandwiches with it. I think I am going to have to give a few of those recipes a try.

    1. Robert, What a great story! Thanks for sharing that. I’m so glad you found the article and have some more reasons to enjoy deviled ham!–Gena

  8. You forgot to mention the one change which has occurred with deviled ham in the last 100 or so years: a can-opener is no longer required as the can has a poptop lid, which makes it much easier to open the can! Thanks for your article. Now we need a can-contemporary cook book.

    1. Pamela, you’re right, that pop top lid makes it more convenient. That’s a good point about the evolution of this one product. Thanks for mentioning it.

  9. Funny, I’ve never thought of it as inexpensive. As a kid in the ’80s only my dad got the deviled ham in his sack lunches. The kids got tuna or peanut butter. Once in a while we’d get it at picnics. As an adult I only buy it for special occasions, usually associated with outdoor excursions. Something about those white bread and deviled ham sandwiches that are easy to make, keep, and pack on a trip to the mountains. The other food that comes along is corned beef hash, which makes an excellent easy hot breakfast in the field.

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