New Jersey is associated with many things. Sinatra, Asbury Park, fresh produce, shady politics, the turnpike….and then there is pork roll. It’s nearly impossible to find a grocery store, diner or boardwalk not selling pork roll. And as its 46k+ likes on Facebook will attest, it is the preeminent breakfast meat of the Garden State and parts of Philadelphia.
Pork roll is, like Canadian bacon, circular shaped. The flavor is somewhere between Canadian bacon and kielbasy- salty, mild and satisfying. It’s typically served with breakfast as a side to eggs and homefries or on a hard roll (Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese).
I didn’t know what it was called at the time but Ma would fry it up occasionally with breakfast. Years later, on a random visit to the state, the aroma immediately took me back. Sure enough it was the same stuff: smokiness, sweetness, and the meat that rises up when cooked on a pan (unless a slit is cut).
It was created back in 1856 by a man named John Taylor of Trenton, NJ. There are some interesting rumors in pork rolls contributions to the Revolutionary War:
According to the host of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern!,” pork roll may date back to the Revolutionary War, when the Continental Army toted rolls of salted, cured ham from battle to battle. Indeed, a vintage pamphlet touting “that good tasting Taylor Pork Roll” traces packed minced ham to the Battle of Trenton. Taylor Provisions doesn’t have a website with further explanation on the product. And after 150+ years of pork roll, the recipe is still very much a secret. For stuff like this, it’s best to not ask questions and enjoy. George Washington Case invented his own version, sold in corn husks at the time in 1870. Case is a brand still sold today. Source
In Northern Jersey it’s referred to as Taylor Ham, whereas in Central, South Jersey and PA it’s more often called Pork Roll. WFMU once did a mapping survey here showing the division which seems to occur mostly in the middle of the state.
Taylor Pork Roll is sold in small 6oz boxes pre-sliced or in giant cotton sacks, salami style that you can slice yourself. These days it’s getting wider distribution. I was surprised to see it on sale at my local grocery in New York as well as in my parents’ area of Atlanta Georgia. There are also website like this one which will ship to you. So If you cross the border to Jersey, pay your toll and enjoy a pork roll sandwich and maybe a Kohr’s Frozen Custard to cleanse the palate.