Regional Meat Week

The upcoming Presidential debates have got nothing on one of the hotly disputed deli meat questions of our time: Is New Jersey’s most iconic breakfast food item called Taylor ham or pork roll? The Garden State is split on what to call one of its most beloved breakfast foods—which actually isn’t “ham” by definition, merely a pork-based product—with much of the north going Taylor ham, and the south calling it pork roll. The cold cut was invented in Trenton in 1856 by one John Taylor, and has since spread to a couple of neighboring states, but chances are, if you aren’t from The Jerz, you probably haven’t experienced the joy of an egg and cheese on a hard roll with a thin slice of griddled, slightly slick, super-salty Taylor ham.

As a proud North Jersey native, I have been elected by Extra Crispy to get to the bottom of what the mystery meat is, why it’s so delicious, and why people can’t cross the aisle to agree on what to call it. Here are five New Jersey natives who joined the campaign.

Ken Oringer, chef and restaurateur

It’s the New Jersey version of Spam but doesn’t have the chunks. It’s almost a more intensely salty-sweet version of bologna, but bologna is too smooth, whereas pork roll has more of an “artisanal” texture. I put it on the Jersey Shore sandwich at our new restaurant Little Donkey in Boston to create a breakfast sandwich that’s better than the prototypical sandwich I grew up with, which was a fried egg, processed orange American cheese, and pork roll on a hard roll. It was a practically a religion. We rarely ate sausage. It was always Taylor ham.

Katie Parla, Italian food expert and author of Tasting Rome

On whether to call it pork roll or Taylor ham, in spite of its small dimensions, Jersey is incredibly regionally and dialectically diverse (I think I just made up that word). There’s a unique character to the sub-regions between counties: There’s shore culture, Princeton culture, horse country culture—and they’re all drastically different, which is fascinating. 

But it’s super weird that people are obsessed on voting on what it should be called; it’s a function of the maniacal food culture we’re creating. Rather than using the various names as a jumping-off point to discover more regional specialty, people just use it as a competitive thing.

Kyle Newman, director and writer (Fanboys, Barely Lethal

After a major pork roll drought, it’s finally landed in L.A., at a place called Alfred Coffee. They’re working with Yeastie Boys Bagels on the menu, and they have a pork roll sandwich. You’d think someone would have thought of it before, considering how many East Coast transplants there are out here.

Jen Davidson, general manager of Barbuto in New York City

I don’t know what’s in it and I don’t care. I recognized Taylor ham before bacon. My grandmother would cook it in a pan; it has sort of a four-leaf clover shape, so the ends would curl in and get crisp and darker. I just assumed it was part of everyone’s diets until I went to college and no one knew what I was talking about.

Alan Ram, aerospace executive and entrepreneur

Anyone who confuses it with Canadian bacon has clearly never had it. Canadian bacon actually tastes like ham to me. Taylor ham does not taste like ham, ironically enough. It’s the perfect breakfast meat for a sandwich because it’s exactly bagel/English muffin-sized.

Karen Palmer is the editorial director of Tasting Table and a proud daughter of New Jersey.