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The Controversial History of the Pork Roll (or Taylor Ham)

Jan 5, 2021 | Press

The pork roll or Taylor ham is one of the most beloved dishes known to originate in the state of New Jersey. It is routinely served as a hearty breakfast dish, chock full of delicious, meaty flavors that Americans know and love. However, there is more to this dish than meets the eye, especially in its ties to the history and heritage of the state. 

The Much-Debated Origins of the Pork Roll

Many have said that New Jersey’s favorite breakfast dish can trace its origins in the Revolutionary War at the Battle of Trenton. Rumor has it that the Continental Army needed food that could withstand travel and be stored indefinitely, which ended up in rolls of salted and cured ham carried around as part of provisions and supplies. 

Others trace it back directly to a John Taylor in 1856, who was reported to have created and sold the roll, calling it the “Taylor Ham.” There are so many proponents of this theory that the entire state of New Jersey is divided on the subject, with the Southern half calling it the pork roll, and the Northern half referring to it as the Taylor Ham. 

Others report that the term “pork roll” was actually the product of policies in the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, which mandated that the Taylor Ham could no longer legally be classified as a type of ham. Many claim that this was when the dish was rechristened the pork roll. To this day, it remains a controversial subject among the residents of the Garden State. 

The Process Behind It

Even though there is still much disagreement as to what it’s actually supposed to be called, there is not much disagreement as to how it should be made. A mixture of salt, sugar, spices, and preservatives are packed into a tube-like mass with pork. It can be bought and sold in slices, or as a whole chunk of meat from which you can take small portions to put in sandwiches and other dishes. 

Typically, small cuts made on the outer edges are pan-fried or grilled. Cutting from the outer edges prevents them from bubbling in the middle and cooking unevenly. After being cooked, they are usually placed with egg and cheese in a bagel or hard roll. This may be further garnished with other ingredients, like tomatoes, lettuce, and so on. This may vary from home to home, and from establishment to establishment. 

The Dish in the Present Time

On April 14, 2015, the pork roll or Taylor ham sandwich was declared the regional dish in the State of New Jersey. This is a testament to its deep roots in New Jersey heritage, and its longstanding cultural importance. Festivals are even held in Trenton every year to celebrate the scrumptiousness of this beloved meat, and it is highly likely that more dishes springing from this marvelous meat are likely to pop up in the future. 

We at Joe’s Rotisseria love Taylor ham—in fact, we made one of the best toppings you could put on your pie! Check out our Mega Pinwheel Taylor Ham Slice and you’re sure to be wowed. You can also have Taylor ham and cheese sprinkled on your unique specialty pie, added into your calzone, or even tucked into a pinwheel crust. If you ask us, there’s no better way to soak up those delicious flavors than this!

Final thoughts

America is a wide and diverse place in terms of culinary traditions, with each state offering its own unique contributions to the flavor profile of this great nation. In New Jersey, few are as important as the pork roll or Taylor ham. Whatever you might decide to call it, try it first. What the residents of the Garden State agree on is that it is delicious, and that it is a breakfast staple no native New Jerseyan should be without.

If you’re looking to try some of the best New Jersey cuisine in Asbury Park, give us at Joe’s Rotisseria a call. We have been making the best pizza in New Jersey since 2015, and our other dishes are also definitely worth trying. 

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