Pork Roll vs Taylor Ham- The Great Jersey Debate
Updated: May 6
Except for a three-year stint upstate, I have lived all of my life in New Jersey. Full disclosure, by upstate I mean a suburb of Buffalo New York and the three years I was referring to was from 2nd thru 4th grade. I was born in South Jersey, raised in North Jersey and have lived in seven of the 21 counties in the state which pretty much makes me an NJ expert.
I was recently asked to be a moderator for the Facebook Page Jersey Sandwich Joints, 5,000 members and counting. The page is a daily bombardment of NJ’s greatest sandwiches like the italian sub, sloppy joe and a ton of sammiches with fresh mootz. And as expected from any Jersey food page, there are a lot of posts centered around the Great Debate: Is it Taylor Ham or Pork Roll? The exchanges get heated, plenty of passionate opinions by loyal foodies defending their home turf. It’s Taylor Ham btw! I probably just pissed off a few readers. It’s okay, come at me bro. I can take it.
But First the History
For those of you that don’t know, which should include most of everyone outside of New Jersey and the Philly and NYC metropolitan areas, pork roll aka Taylor Ham is perhaps the greatest culinary gift to come from New Jersey. It is a breakfast cold cut that was created by John Taylor in 1856 just outside of Trenton. Originally sold as Taylor’s Prepared Ham, the ham moniker was later dropped in the early twentieth century as it did not meet the legal definition of ham. In 1870, a Jersey farmer George Washington Case created his own recipe of minced, smoked and cured pork roll. The meat is served fried and is the center piece of NJ’s greatest breakfast, Taylor Ham or Pork Roll, Egg & Cheese on a hard roll with SPK (Salt, Pepper Ketchup). Any Jersey deli, diner or breakfast spot worth its salt will serve this and geography will likely dictate how it will be written on the menu. Anything north of the Driscoll Bridge aka North Jersey and you see it written as Taylor Ham. In South Jersey and the Shore it’s pork roll.
But As I Said, It’s Taylor Ham
I know all of the arguments: “You don’t ask for a Case taylor ham & cheese" or “It says Taylor Pork Roll right on the label!” and with typical Jersey attitude “What are you an asshole, you just said the word ham was legally forced to be dropped”. Technically you are correct it is Pork Roll but none of that matters. John Taylor originally called it ham, so it’s ham. Let me ask you this. When you cut yourself, do you ask for an adhesive bandage, no you ask for a Band-Aid. And when you come out of a steamy shower looking to clean your ears, are you reaching in your medicine cabinet for a cotton swab, no you are grabbing for a Q-Tip, even if it’s the generic brand. Perhaps it’s a bit of North Jersey entitlement that I insist it is Taylor Ham even if I am eating a Shop Rite brand pork roll, but to me and the rest of us overly hair gel’d , spray tanned, city going northerners it’s always going to be Taylor Ham. You guys got your chacalate ice cream with jimmies and your wooder ice so let’s just agree to disagree…but it’s Taylor Ham.
For the Out of Towners
Taylor Provisions, Trenton Brand and Case Pork Roll are all sold in cylinder loafs or in pre-cut slices. I suggest for any of you new to this indigenous food that you opt for the cylinder and experiment with how thick you prefer your meat. I recommend the thinner the better, but thickness might be as big of a disagreement as the name. Cooked correctly, the ham should caramelize on the edges and cup in the middle. For the full effect, take deep inhales of the aroma as you wait for your food to be cooked. Whatever the name, we should all be in agreement with how amazing it is.
PS- Full Disclosure I am a Philly Sports Everything Fan so you South Jersey readers, don’t take me too seriously 😊