The New Jersey entity that goes by the moniker pork roll or Taylor ham is neither roll nor ham. Locals say it’s more like sausage—though it tastes unlike any other breakfast meat—and definitely better than SPAM.
Pork roll is a sliceable slab of pork product, sugar, spices, and salt that gets processed, smoked, packaged, and sold in New Jersey. The meat comes fully cooked, but enthusiasts typically cut off slices (making four notches around the edges to prevent curling) and fry it into hot, smokey goodness. Where the rest of the country relies on bacon and sausage for breakfast sandwiches, restaurants in Jersey often feature egg-and-cheeses brimming with griddled pork roll slices instead.
But the term pork roll is uttered only in southern New Jersey. Farther north, it’s called “Taylor ham,” which refers to the first purveyor of the porcine treat. Pork roll is a generic term for the same product, which hasn’t been labeled “Taylor ham” for more than 110 years. Taylor’s Prepared Ham, the original company behind the pork roll, rebranded it as “Taylor’s Pork Roll” and the “Trenton Pork Roll” in 1906. This rebranding was in response to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, which prevented not-ham from being called ham, legally speaking. Still, thousands of New Jersey residents still say “Taylor ham” instead of “pork roll,” and the debate over the sandwich’s name remains divisive.
Many locals consider pork roll/Taylor ham New Jersey’s unofficial state food (the northern highbush blueberry is the official state food), and in 2014, several visionaries organized the first annual New Jersey Pork Roll Festival.
Taylor, Case, and Loeffler’s Gourmet—all located in Mercer County, New Jersey—make most of the pork rolls in the area. But outside of the Mid-Atlantic United States, you’ll be hard-pressed to find evidence of its existence at all.
Need to Know
The pork roll is ubiquitous fare in New Jersey, and it's easy to find in Pennsylvania. If you're north of Trenton, though, look for "Taylor ham" on restaurant menus.