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What is a Carvery?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A carvery is an eatery which serves meat sliced to order. Carveries take a number of different forms, and appear to be native to Great Britain. They can also be spotted in South Africa, Ireland, parts of the United States, and Australia. The offerings at a carvery tend to be fairly basic, with customers being provided with a simple, filling meal without many frills. The type of food is that which many people associate with Britain's culinary history; simple, filling, and made with ingredients readily available in the region.

At a traditional carvery, customers receive their choice of meat along with potatoes, vegetables, and gravy. Meats can include traditional roasts of pork, lamb, and beef, and the carvery may also offer seafood, along with more exotic meats. Traditional British vegetables like peas, carrots, and parsnips are common offerings, with sauces such as mint sauce for lamb being available as well. Some carveries allow people to take as much meat as they like, while others portion out the meat, charging extra if people want more.

Some carveries make sandwiches, using generous cuts of roast beef and other meats. Such establishments may focus on using high quality bread and other ingredients for a more gourmet sandwich, and may offer exotic ingredients and combinations to keep people interested in their offerings. Others provide basic, cheap sandwiches which may not be of the highest quality, but will be filling, and can be packed on picnics, hikes, and other outdoor activities for a quick lunch. Such sandwiches are also sometimes made at a carvery and sold to corner stores so that people can pick up a sandwich while making other purchases.

In some cases, a carvery is located in a hotel, although this practice is waning, as hotel guests have come to expect higher and more varied standards from hotel food. Pubs may also serve carvery meals, sometimes only offering such meals on set days or at specific times. People may eat the food at the carvery, or order a to go box with the meats of their choice.

Historically, some carveries marketed themselves as special occasion restaurants where people could take friends and family and eat amply, but reasonably cheaply. Some decorated themselves with themes which were meant to reference various historical eras or local products. Pubs which held occasional carvery nights would use the event as a way for everyone to socialize over a simple meal which would not require a great deal of work to prepare.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon996035 — On Jun 29, 2016

Here in the States? Try "Old Country Buffet." Also, a Brazilian churrascuro place is the same thing. You place the green side of your card up as you serve yourself salad, soups, etc from the buffet. When you're ready for the meat, you flip the card over to expose the red side. They will start bringing all sorts of meat to your table, on the spit, and you just keep going until you can´t manage any more.

I've never seen a carvery in my UK or Ireland travels, so can't say how similar or different it is, but the Brazilian places, both in the States and abroad, include steak, filet mignon wrapped in bacon, chicken, pork, sausage, etc. They're usually prix fixe and you shouldn't bother unless you´re insanely hungry.

By KaBoom — On Oct 03, 2011

@sunnySkys - One of my friends did a semester abroad during college and he went to London. There was a carvery near where he stayed, and he got totally addicted to it while he was there!

He told me that there were a ton of different kinds of meat to choose from. Chicken, lamb, beef, you name it! Apparently the vegetable sides at that particular carvery weren't very good, but the delicious sandwiches made up for it!

By sunnySkys — On Oct 03, 2011

Sadly, there is nothing like this near me. I think I would really like this kind of thing for lunch. A nice, no frills meat and potatoes kind of meal!

It actually sounds pretty "all-American!" I'm surprised that carveries aren't more popular in the United States. This kind of reminds me of when pit beef is served at special events.

By summing — On Oct 02, 2011

There is a place not far from me here in New York that bills itself as a carvery. They mostly do soups and sandwiches, but when you order a sandwich the meat is carved directly off of a much larger slab. If it is turkey they carve a turkey, ham a ham and on down the road. The cuts of meat tend to be a lot thicker and generally the taste is a lot better.

But something I always wonder about when I go in is what they do with the parts of the meat that they can't carve. For instance, they have a great southwest inspired chicken sandwich. You watch them crave the chicken and they use only the breast meat. So what happens to all the delicious meat on the legs, wings and thighs? It makes the carvery experience seem kind of wastefully decadent.

By gravois — On Oct 02, 2011

Its funny, I lived in several parts of the UK for almost five years and I don't know if I saw a single carvery as it is described here. What I did see everywhere was the ubiquitous chip and kebab shops that have huge slabs of donner lamb meat turning endlessly on a spit. Whenever someone orders food with this meat they go and shave slices off. The first time you see it it looks just disgusting but once you try it you will probably be hooked.

I really get a kick out of this idea though because not only do you not see many traditional carveries, the ones you do see are run by foreigners serving meat that no one in Britain had heard of 50 years ago. Just goes to show you how times and tastes can change.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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