Pork roll is a processed meat commonly available in New Jersey and neighboring states. It was developed in 1856 by John Taylor of Trenton, and sold as "Taylor's Prepared Ham" until 1906. Other producers entered the market, and subsequent food labeling regulations required Taylor to designate it as "pork roll" alongside its competitors. In regions of North and parts of Central Jersey, all brands of pork roll may or may not be referred to colloquially as "Taylor Ham".
While a similar item, packed minced ham, may have been produced in the later 1700s, John Taylor is credited with creating his secret recipe for the product in 1856. George Washington Case, a farmer and butcher from nearby Belle Mead, created his own recipe for pork roll in 1870. Case's was reportedly packaged in corn husks.
Taylor originally called his product "Taylor's Prepared Ham", but was forced to change the name after it failed to meet the new legal definition of "ham" established by the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Marketed as both "Taylor's Pork Roll" and "Trenton Pork Roll", it saw competition from products with similar names like "Rolled Pork" and "Trenton style Pork Roll". Of particular note is the "Roll of Pork" produced by Adolph Gobel, the "Sausage King" of Brooklyn. Gobel was sued by Taylor in 1910, but the court ruled that the words "Pork Roll" and "Roll of Pork" could not be trademarked.
The 1910 legal opinion which established the generic term "pork roll" described the product as:
a food article made of pork, packed in a cylindrical cotton sack or bag in such form that it could be quickly prepared for cooking by slicing without removal from the bag.— CHATFIELD, District Judge
Both the "cylindrical cotton sack" and vacuum-sealed sliced forms are widely available in the region. Variations on this, including hot dog sized "pork roll links" may also be seen. For some time, Taylor also made "Taystrips", which was the same kind of meat, but shaped into rectangular strips, similar to bacon or sizzlean.
Larry Olmsted of USA Today has described the taste of the meat as "a cross between Canadian bacon and bacon, less hammy and smoky than Canadian, fattier and saltier than bacon, with a unique texture, both crispy and slightly mushy."
Companies that make pork roll include Taylor Provisions (USDA EST 256) as Taylor and Trenton, Case Pork Roll (USDA EST 184) as Case's, Spolem Provisions (USDA EST 5421) as Loeffler's Gourmet and Mercer Meats, Clemens Food Group (USDA EST 791) as Hatfield, Leidys (USDA EST 9520) as Leidy's and Alderfer, and Rob-Dave Distributors (USDA EST 2159) as Johnston.
ShopRite (regional grocery store's private label) Tangy
Though the packages commonly suggest barbecuing or grilling the product, pork roll is most often prepared by frying slices in a pan or on a griddle. No oil or butter is necessary. Slices of pork roll naturally curl up into a cup shape as they are heated. To make the slices lay flat, a single radial cut (Pac-Man style) or 4 four inward cuts (fireman's badge style) are commonly made, leading to distinctive shapes once cooked. The product is ready once it is hot and a bit of crispiness has developed.
Pork roll is typically eaten as part of a sandwich and frequently paired with egg and/or cheese. A popular breakfast sandwich in the region is the "Taylor ham, egg and cheese" or "pork roll, egg and cheese" in which fried pork roll is joined with a fried (or scrambled) egg and American cheese and served on a hard roll, bagel or English muffin. New Jersey eateries noted for their Jersey Breakfast include Slater's in Middletown, and Starks United in Keansburg. Popular condiments include black pepper, ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, lettuce, and tomato.
In popular culture
The first of several Pork Roll Festivals was held in Trenton on May 24, 2014. At the inaugural festival, hundreds of pounds of pork roll were served to thousands of visitors and a Miss Pork Roll Queen was crowned. The following year, the organizers split up and held competing festivals. The 7th annual Pork Roll festival was scheduled for 2020, but was delayed and ultimately cancelled due to the COVID pandemic.
The Trenton Thunder minor league baseball team hosted their inaugural "Trenton Thunder World Famous Case's Pork Roll Eating Championship" on September 26, 2015. Joey Chestnut won the contest by eating 32 pork roll sandwiches in 10 minutes. On Fridays in 2018, the team rebranded itself as "Thunder Pork Roll" with pork roll themed uniforms and merchandise.
On April 14, 2016, Assemblyman Tim Eustace introduced an Act in the New Jersey State Legislature designating the Taylor Ham, egg, and cheese sandwich as the New Jersey State Sandwich. The bill did not make it out of committee.
On May 15, 2016, President Barack Obama gave a commencement speech at Rutgers University's 250th graduation ceremony in which he referenced the "Taylor Ham vs. pork roll debate", saying, "I come here for a simple reason – to finally 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."
On October 28, 2020, Montana gubernatorial candidate Mike Cooney released a video of former New Jersey governor Chris Christie on the app Cameo requesting Cooney's opponent return to New Jersey. Christie, who had been tricked into recording the video by a Cooney aide, invoked pork rolls.
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- The Sausage King of Brooklyn, Part 1
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- Courier Post - Recipe: Jersey Burger
- Simple and Savory -Recipe: Jersey Burger with Cheese
- Grilling 24x7 - Recipe: Taylor Pork Roll Deviled Eggs
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- UPDATE: Trenton Pork Roll Festival (scheduled for tomorrow) canceled
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- Bizarre Foods Delicious Destinations Episodes - Season 7
- Bromwich, Jonah Engel; Ezra, Marcus (29 October 2020). "Chris Christie Makes Cameo Video For Montana Democrat (By Mistake)". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
- Rojas, Christina (May 21, 2015). "Trenton mayor declares 'Pork Roll Day' to coincide with Saturday festivals". The Times (Trenton).