Deli is short for Delicatessen, a historic culinary institution that dates back to 18th century Germany. In Germany, Delicatessen is a luxury food store featuring exotic specialty foods.
Delis in the US became popular in the late 1800s thanks to the large population of Jewish German immigrants.
Delis may be short for delicatessen, but I consider them short for delicacies or even delicious! In the US, Delis feature counters full of prepared foods and countless forms of deli meats.
Every grocery store has a deli section displaying countless brands of cold cuts, cured, smoked, and rotisserie meats.
Best Deli Meats
Below, I’ve listed the best deli meats you can find at your local delicatessen or grocery store deli section.
Named for the Italian city from which it originates, Bologna is a processed ground pork sausage seasoned with black pepper, celery seed, and nutmeg.
In the States, we know it as baloney, uniformly pink lunch meat served on white bread with loads of mayo.
Baloney is not a part of the Jewish deli culture, and yet it is one of the most widely available deli meats in the world.
Anyone that celebrates Thanksgiving will tell you that oven-roasted turkey tastes even better as a sandwich the next day.
Oven-roasted turkey is one of the best deli meats for sandwiches. It’s lean and lower in fat than pork.
I love to eat it with cranberry sauce and melted gruyere cheese on a potato bun to evoke Thanksgiving dinner year-round.
It is brined, dried, seasoned, smoked, and steamed, resulting in one of the most delicious and complex deli meats you’ll ever eat.
Your life isn’t complete if you haven’t tried pastrami on rye.
Roast beef is a cut of beef that’s seasoned and roasted in the oven.
Delis serve it both hot and cold, thinly sliced on sandwiches.
Roast beef is juicier and fattier than turkey or chicken and tastes delicious with bold condiments like hot mustard or horseradish.
Roast beef sandwiches are a staple at Delis and sandwich shops everywhere.
Another Italian delicacy, salami, is fermented and cured pork with considerable fat marbling.
It used to be a peasant food because it had a long shelf-life without refrigeration.
Today it is a prized deli meat to enjoy on charcuterie boards with fine cheeses and pickled vegetables.
In Jewish-American delis, salami is beef-based and elaborated with vinegar, garlic, herbs, and minced fat.
In my opinion, smoked turkey is a much more flavorful deli meat than oven-roasted turkey .
It involves cooking the turkey for a much longer period at much lower temperatures, thereby maintaining moisture and locking in flavors.
Smoking also infuses turkey with that unique smokey flavor. I enjoy eating it plain or with a smear of spicy mustard.
Black Forest Ham
Originating in Germany in the 1950s, Black Forest Ham is named for the Black Forest region.
Black Forest ham is a salted and cured pork product that gets aged and cold-smoked after curing.
It has a blackened crust and a distinct sweet and smoky flavor. It reminds me of prosciutto in deli meat form.
Honey-Baked Ham is both a type of deli meat and a trademarked company that invented it.
Honey-baked ham is an American invention made by smoking and cooking ham with honey glaze.
It can be bone-in or boneless. I think the bone-in ham is more flavorful.
It is a flavorful trifecta of sweet, savory, and smoky. It’s great thinly sliced on a sandwich, and it’s a common centerpiece for Christmas dinners.
Chipotle is a dried and smoked jalapeno pepper that’s usually served in adobo sauce.
It is an incredible flavoring agent in Mexican cuisine and comes in sauce and powdered form.
Chipotle Chicken uses this dried chili to infuse brined and baked chicken.
I love to use chipotle chicken in southwestern-style sandwiches with pickled jalapenos, jack cheese, diced tomatoes, and pickled red onions.
Best Deli Meats
- Oven-Roasted Turkey
- Roast Beef
- Smoked Turkey
- Black Forest Ham
- Honey-Baked Ham
- Chipotle Chicken
What’s Your Favorite Deli Meat To Put On a Sandwich?
I love a good deli sandwich, whether it’s a classic Italian hoagie or a turkey and cheese sandwich with mayo.
What’s your favorite deli meat to use? Tell us in the comments, or check out iconic sandwiches from every state!