If you're from New Jersey, pork roll — also known as Taylor ham — has been a breakfast staple since pretty much birth. Love for the sliced meat lasted through adolescence, where it was the ideal hangover cure, and into adulthood, where a fancy brunch is often bypassed for the perfectly-seared, sausage-like meat on a roll. It's listed on diner menus as a possible meat option, right next to bacon, ham, and breakfast sausage. Pork roll is so popular in New Jersey that a Pork Roll Festival is held in its honor every year; In fact, rival pork roll festivals are held in the state. Here, now, is everything you need to know about pork roll/Taylor ham.
What is pork roll/Taylor ham?
Pork roll/Taylor ham is a processed pork product made with a mix of spices, salt, a sugar cure, and preservatives that is smoked before being packaged. If you ask the manufacturer, Taylor Provisions of Trenton, N.J., they'll tell you the official name of the product is John Taylor's "Original Taylor Pork Roll," due to the fact that it originally only came in a tube-like casing. While other companies also produce it (Case Pork Roll Company, Kohler Provisions), Taylor Provisions is the originator and Jerseyans will tell you all other brands are impostors.
Where did it originate?
While there are rumors of Union soldiers carrying pork rolls with them onto the battlefields of the Civil War, the creation of the product was made official in 1856. According to every source, a state Senator and well-known businessman by the name of John Taylor from Hamilton Square, N.J., originally named his product "Taylor's Prepared Ham." Taylor was forced to omit the "ham" part of the name because it didn't meet the new new definition of "ham" established by the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Not long after that, Taylor tried to protect his invention from competition by trademarking "pork roll," but failed.
Taylor Pork Roll persists as the state's most popular and most prevalent pork roll product.
Where is it sold?
It can be found at almost every bagel shop, deli, or diner in New Jersey in the form of a pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwich. The packaged meat itself can be purchased at almost any supermarket or corner store in New Jersey, into Pennsylvania, and parts of Maryland.
How much does it cost?
Although it may vary from location to location, the average Taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwich costs about $3.50 or $4; a six-ounce package of pork roll at the supermarket is also about $4.
How is it prepared?
Sold sliced and unsliced, pork roll or Taylor ham is always sliced before it is fried, seared, or grilled.
Four to six cuts must be made in each slice, from the outer edges inward, to prevent the meat from curling up while cooking.
Before it's cooked, it looks a little bit like Canadian bacon — but don't invoke this comparison in front of anyone from New Jersey. After it's cooked, the meat is almost always served as part of a breakfast sandwich.
What do you eat it with?
It is usually eaten in what is arguably New Jersey's most popular breakfast sandwich: pork roll (or Taylor ham), egg, and cheese. This combination can be served on a croissant, English muffin, or stuffed between any two carb-loaded ends, but is most commonly eaten on a bagel (another Jersey food staple).
Because it's a well-known regional staple, and because of its specificity, it is now sometimes used to elicit nostalgia. At Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop in New York City, there's Taylor ham on the menu, and it's served julienned atop a heavy bowl of ramen noodles.
Pork roll vs. Taylor ham — who wins?
Back in the early 1900s, after John Taylor removed the word "ham" from the name, he redesigned the label to read "John Taylor's Original Taylor Pork Roll." But this proved too long for fast-talking Jersey folks.
This is where the great divide began, as those from Southern New Jersey shortened the name to "pork roll," while Northern residents chose to nickname it "Taylor ham." Breakfast menus in Central or Southern Jersey will list "pork roll," while those in the North print Taylor ham.
These two different terms are one of several ways to tell if somebody is from the Northern or Southern part of the state. A proud Jerseyan explains the debate to NJ.com, "Our identities often revolve around Philadelphia or New York City. Taylor Ham [vs] Pork Roll is something that is solely ours. That's why we will forever fight about it."
Where can you find a great pork roll sandwich in New Jersey?
661 Broad St., Shrewsbury, NJ
The Committed Pig
168 Main St., Manasquan, NJ
Sissy's at the Harbor
8 Simon Lake Dr., Atlantic Highlands, NJ
704 10th Ave., Belmar, NJ
45 Main St., Madison, NJ
62 State Rte. 36, Leonardo, NJ