Non-Ironic, Artisanal Spam at Carnivore

Beloved, derided and now handmade with high-quality ingredients

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By David Hammond


My dad would pan-fry Spam for breakfast. He came to love this "spiced ham" while in the Army during WWII. To him, a poor kid from Hamtramck, Michigan, Spam was what he rarely had growing up: meat. It was still, even years after the war, a favorite for him. One day maybe six years ago, I bought some Spam and made it for breakfast, much to the very verbal disgust of my wife and daughters. I called my dad later that day.

Me: "Guess what I had for breakfast?" [pause] "Spam! When's the last time you had Spam?"

Dad: "I had it for breakfast this morning."

Spam is a much-disdained food on the mainland, but in Hawaii, it's beloved, as it is in the Philippines. Spam needs no preservatives, and it's no surprise that it caught on among the military and Pacific island populations, both of whom were sometimes deprived of sustenance during wartime.

But why is Spam now so disdained? Prejudice and misunderstanding. A quick Google reveals this explanation of "why Spam is not good for you" – "A single serving of spam has about 53% of the recommended amount of sodium…it has no nutrients or vitamins." 

Of course, Spam has nutrients; it's meat: 100mg (about 3.5 ounces) of Spam yields 13 grams of protein, over a quarter of the daily requirement, and there are small quantities of minerals and vitamins. If salt is a worry to you, get the reduced sodium version (there are around twenty varieties of Spam on the market, including Spam with Black Pepper, Jalapeno Spam, Spam Boricua to please Puerto Rico and Spam Macadamia Nuts to further delight Hawaiians).

Then there's artisanal spam, as prepared by hand, in-store, by Brad Knaub and his crew at Carnivore.

When I posted a pic of Hawaiian Spam musubi on Facebook, Knaub announced he would make some for his in-store luau last Saturday. I stopped by to get some.

"Spam has changed the course of history," Knaub – clearly a fan – told me.  For instance, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev said his troops would have died without Spam, and without battle-ready Russian troops, WWII might have turned out very differently.

Knaub is sincere in his efforts, explaining "There's a lot of nostalgia around Spam, but I'm not making this for hipsters who eat Spam as if to say, 'I'm so cool and ironic.'  No, you're an idiot."

And, of course, Knaub is not making Spam to be served during wartime (although, technically, I guess he is). Knaub is going for taste, saying "I want to make Spam that people want to eat, not Spam they need to eat."

I tried Knaub's Spam on several occasions, and, no surprise, it has a much finer taste than the Hormel original (more subtlety, less salt and fat). It's basically high-quality pork shoulder and ham, with some salt and sugar. For those of us who grew up on Spam, it may not be crappy enough to hit the right taste memory buttons, but we (including Carolyn) really liked it for what it is: a non-ironic casing-free pork sausage that people will like.

You can pick up the best Spam you've probably ever had at Carnivore (while it lasts), $12/pound.



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