Ask a New Jerseyan: What Is Taylor Ham/Pork Roll?

Taylor Ham on an Everything Bagel
via lisaclarke on Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

If you're like us and are from the northern part of the Garden State, you'll know it only as Taylor Ham. The rest of the state calls it Pork Roll, but regardless of the name, one thing is certain: this is one very Jersey-centric staple. We've met plenty of folks from out of state who have never even heard of this breakfast-meat-of-breakfast-meats. So, dear reader, maybe you don't know what this glorious dish is all about, or maybe you order it every time you stop at one of our diners but know nothing about its origin. Maybe you're just hungry. We've got you covered – read on!

What Is It?

Plain and simply, it's processed meat. Made up of a mysterious concoction of pork, salt, sugar, spices, and yes, preservatives, the substance is packed into a tube-like mass and then either sliced and packaged or sold to be sliced. It's probably not the best thing for you, health-wise, but it sure is delicious. Especially when it's fried up and served with gooey yellow American cheese and fried eggs on a hard roll or bagel. It's also delicious atop a burger (many eateries will dub this a "Jersey Burger" if it's on their menu).

Typically the meat is indeed fried until crispy, but it can also be microwaved or grilled. Slits are cut into the sides so as to prevent the meat from curling up during the cooking process, giving it that classic "fireman's badge" look. 

What Does It Taste Like?

Think bologna, thinly sliced mild sausage, or Canadian Bacon. It's a salty meat product. Some say it tastes like SPAM. We say it's rife with umami.

Who Came Up With the Recipe?

John Taylor in Trenton, in 1856, dubbing it "Taylor's Prepared Ham" ("Booyah" to South Jerseyans who refuse to call it Taylor Ham! That's the original name, people). It was only due to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 that the name needed to change, due to the product not meeting the actual legal definition of "ham"–"ham" is a certain cut of the pig, technically. The name became John Taylor’s Original Pork Roll, as it stands today, manufactured by Taylor Provisions in Trenton. Unfortunately "Pork Roll" could not be trademarked, and there were already some competitors creeping up, namely Case Pork Roll Company in 1870. Case is still a huge competitor today, and chances are, if you order up a PEC (pork roll—ahem, Taylor ham—egg and cheese), you'll only be eating one of the two.

So, Is There Only One "Official" Kind?

Remember: Taylor Pork Roll is to Band-Aids, as pork roll is to first aid bandages. If you want the best (and the original), though, you'll go the "Taylor" route. 

Can I Only Get Pork Roll in New Jersey?

Pretty much. However, great news for those who've moved away from the Garden State, or folks just wishing to partake in the phenomenon: ships nationwide! You also might see it on menus or in grocery stores in Delaware, and parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania, especially Philadelphia. Anywhere else its served is doing it for the irony or nostalgia. Dunkin' Donuts is even hopping on the bandwagon with a Pork Roll Breakfast Sandwich, offered in the Philly area (as well as Northern New Jersey – we noticed a sign in our Essex County location) for its second summer.

Yes, There are Two (Rival) Festivals Celebrating It

Two festivals celebrating the glorious pork treat take place every year, both in Trenton. Yes, there are two Pork Roll festivals happening on the same day in the same town. Residents and Philly visitors alike will tell you that the rivalry between the two festivals is on the same level as Pat's vs. Geno's.

In 2014, T.C. Nelson and Scott Miller hosted the inaugural Pork Roll Festival at Nelson's restaurant and bar, Trenton Social, to over 4,000 pork roll foodies. The following year, the two brawled about the location of the festival and split off. Miller, the producer of the inaugural festival, hosted the 2nd annual festival at Mill Hill Park. Meanwhile, Nelson hosted his own at Trenton Social, dubbing it the Trenton Pork Roll Festival. Needless to say, it got ugly, with Miller sending Nelson a cease-and-desist letter. However, the dueling festivals were back in 2016 – same day, same town, 10 minutes apart. 

The Pork Roll Festival (Miller's) at Mill Hill Park is more family oriented, with lots of contests (be the Pork Roll Queen, name the festival's mascot, a recipe contest, and a coloring contest) and kid-friendly activities, while Nelson's Trenton Pork Roll Festival is a bit more "high brow," with a guided bike tour and vendors serving up pork roll sushi, pork roll poutine, and funnel cake with diced pork roll and Jameson caramel apples. Both events feature live music. 

Yes, Our President Even Commented on It...

As you can already gather from this article, the name of this processed meat product is surely a hot-button issue. So hot in fact, that President Obama mentioned it during his 2016 commencement speech at Rutgers University. "I come here for a simple reason... to settle this Pork Roll vs. Taylor Ham question. I'm just kidding. There's not much I'm afraid to take on in my final year of office, but I know better than to get in the middle of that debate." Smart move, Obama, smart move.

In other political news, NJ Assemblyman Tim Eustace has proposed a bill to make the Taylor ham/pork roll, Egg, and Cheese the official state sandwich, which would indirectly put the debate "to rest". He's even set up a ​poll on Google Forms to settle the score.

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