I was hanging out in the meat section of the grocery store, thinking about sandwiches (again) and I found a small plastic and cloth wrapped hunk of meat. I checked the label, and it was a pound of John Taylor’s Pork Roll. I had heard about Taylor ham/pork roll, but I had never seen it in real life, so I decided to buy it and see what the fuss is all about.
Some Taylor ham/pork roll history
A gentleman named, John Taylor, has been credited with the invention of pork roll back in 1856 in Trenton, New Jersey. Taylor originally called it “Taylor Prepared Ham,” but was forced to change the name since this product didn’t meet the legal definition of ham at that time.
In 1906 Taylor Prepared Ham was renamed Taylor’s Pork Roll. Around this time or a few years later, there were several competing companies that were marketing similar products using the words “pork roll,” “rolled pork” and “roll of pork” in their product names. Taylor tried to sue at least one of these companies and the court ruled that “pork roll” and “roll of pork” couldn’t be held as trademarks.
Fast forward to the current time and there are still multiple companies making a product classified as pork roll, Taylor Provisions (John Taylor’s original company) and Case’s are two of the most well-known. The phrase “Taylor ham” is still being used by Northern New Jerseyites and those living in Southern New Jersey (and Philadelphia) typically will say “pork roll.” People living in Central New Jersey are known to say one or the other.
This is a much bigger rivalry than I originally knew about when starting to research this blog post. There are several well documented investigations into this naming convention rivalry and one of those was posted last year on the New Jersey Digest: “Taylor Ham or Pork Roll? A New Jersey Civil War.”
If you want to see the Taylor ham/pork roll divide on a map, the tweet below is citing a map created from a poll that NJ.com held in 2016. More than 40,000 votes were cast in the poll that created this map, and many folks joined in the conversation, including such notable names as Chris Christie and Bill Clinton. The live google results map is no longer available, but the map in this tweet will give you a good representation of the demarcation of the Taylor ham/pork roll divide.
What is Taylor ham/pork roll?
John Taylor’s pork roll is not just a big hunk of meat like an actual ham. It’s finely ground pork shoulder with added spices merged in a way similar to other processed pork like bologna or mortadella. It’s fully cooked, so you could just grab a big hunk and start taking bites out of it like an animal. But we’re not animals, we’re sandwich enthusiasts. I did take a bite of one of my first slices, but no one needs to know about that.
The flavor of this brand of pork roll actually reminds me a little bit of country ham that I grew up eating in the Southeastern part of the United States. John Taylor’s pork roll isn’t quite as salty as country ham, but it does taste saltier to me than most regular ham. I would say it reminded me of a combination of country ham and bologna and some of the bologna flavors are coming from the similar way that the two meats are traditionally seared for sandwiching.
The way that pork roll seems to be cooked most often is on a flat griddle or flat top. Almost every video or photo of pork roll being prepared for sandwiching has three or four slits cut into the edge of the meat. This is not done for looks. The slits are cut so that the pork roll slice doesn’t curl up or cup on the flat, hot surface.
- Four slits in the Taylor ham/pork roll = fireman’s badge style
- One slit in the Taylor ham/pork roll = Pac-Man style
One thing to note is that the one-pound version of John Taylor’s pork roll (like the pound I bought) has a smaller diameter than the larger versions. I would assume that New Jersey restaurants are buying the six-pound version and they’re slicing theirs with a deli slicer. I was able to use a sharp knife and sliced mine into about 1/8th of an inch slices.
What is a Taylor ham/pork roll, egg and cheese?
A Taylor ham/pork roll, egg and cheese sandwich contains: seared Taylor ham/pork roll, a fried or scrambled egg and American cheese. The typical condiment options at that point are: “salt, pepper, ketchup.” The sandwich is served between a sliced Kaiser or “hard” roll.
Some griddling action shots
This is just to keep your interest and excitement levels high. We get into the process of making these a bit further down the page.
From all the videos I’ve watched it appears if you order a Taylor ham/pork roll, egg and cheese you will likely get a fried (over easy) egg with a broken yolk. Wikipedia claims that occasionally it’s a scrambled egg, but I didn’t see any confirmations of that in the few videos I’ve watched or articles I’ve read.
From my non-New-Jersey perspective, the egg could be cooked to your favorite cooking style. Over easy with a breaking of the yolk before flipping is just the most common way.
The Kaiser roll or hard roll
For this sandwich we need Kaiser rolls. In the process of researching this sandwich I learned that people from New Jersey (as well as some Mid-Atlantic US states like New York and Connecticut) call a Kaiser roll a “hard roll.” I get why they might call a Kaiser roll a hard roll, but it still bothers me because I don’t pride myself on making hard bread.
The use of bread flour in this recipe is crucial. Often you can substitute all-purpose flour for bread flour or vice versa, but in this case, you need the chewiness that bread flour contributes to a recipe. This texture is what leads to the roll being “harder” while still not being a heavy or dense bread.
A Kaiser roll doesn’t really need to have the design on top, but it’s what people expect when they hear the name. There are two techniques that I know of for making that design:
- Using a Kaiser roll stamp
- Making a fancy dough knot
I’ve done both techniques and they both taste the same, so it’s all up to personal visual preference. The Kaiser stamp takes a bit of technique to learn. You must make sure to keep flouring your stamp in between each dough stamping. The flour keeps the splits in the dough from sealing back up during the final rise. You also have to let the dough rise upside down after stamping. This can lead to some problems deflating the dough when you flip it back over.
Let’s build some New Jersey
hangover breakfast sandwiches!
Slideshow of the cooking process
Brought to you in 4K slideshow Dolby max stereo. Or maybe just photos.
At this point, I’ve basically described in photos and words how to make this sandwich. It’s quick and easy, but if you are the type of person that prefers a step-by-step recipe, here you go:
If you can get your hands on Taylor ham or pork roll from New Jersey, you need to know how to make this sandwich. In theory, it's a breakfast sandwich but I'm pretty sure it would be great any time of the day.
- 1 Kaiser roll (hard roll)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 or 4 slices of Taylor ham or pork roll
- 1 large whole egg
- 1 or 2 slices of American cheese
- salt, black pepper, ketchup
Slice and toast your Kaiser roll if you desire. To do this, get a medium pan or large griddle over medium heat and butter each cut side of your Kaiser roll. Cook, butter side down, for a few minutes until the roll has toasted and picked up a light brown color.
Remove the Kaiser roll to a plate and keep the pan over medium heat. If you have a large griddle, you can set one burner to be a lower heat and move your rolls to that side to keep them warm.
Cut small slits into the edges of your slices of Taylor ham or pork roll. This helps your pork sear better.
Place each piece of pork roll into your medium pan still over medium heat. Sear for 3 to 4 minutes per side. This meat is already fully cooked, we're just trying to brown things and get the pork warm.
Once each slice of pork is browned to your liking, stack the meat and remove to a plate or cooler part of the griddle. If you're using multiple slices of cheese, you can add the first slice in between the pork layers to help the melting start.
When all of your pork slices are stacked and moved off the hot part of the griddle/pan, add one tablespoon of butter to the pan. Once the butter starts bubbling (should be almost immediate), crack an egg right on top of the butter. Don't stir the egg or move it around.
Salt and pepper the egg.
After about 2 minutes, using a spatula or turner, flip the egg and add a slice of cheese on top of the cooked side of the egg.
Cook the egg with cheese on top for another 2 minutes until done. If you like your egg with no runny yolk at all, you can cook it another minute.
Assemble the sandwich: add the stack of Taylor ham/pork roll to the bottom of your Kaiser roll. Layer the egg and cheese on top of the slices of meat. If you opt for ketchup, squirt some on the Kaiser roll top and close the sandwich.
Stand back and be proud of your creation. Take a big bite and enjoy.
If you can't find Taylor ham or pork roll, you can use a few slices of bologna or slices of Spam. If you do this, it WILL NOT be a Taylor ham/pork roll, egg and cheese (do not yell at me, New Jerseyites!), but it will still be a tasty sandwich.
Some finished Taylor ham/pork roll egg and cheeses.
Gaze on these tasty beauties and let me know how you think I did down in the comments.
A non-traditional sandwich
I made this one just for fun and I changed a couple of things up.
Is it Taylor ham or pork roll!?
I’m not going to get into this. You folks in New Jersey can work it out without me. What I can say is that this is a tasty sandwich. It might be a bit salty for some folks, but I doubt there are many people who are eating these sandwiches every day (except for the week I spent doing just that – and I seem ok?).
The main takeaway I’ll come away with from Taylor ham/pork roll week is that I think it’s fantastic to find sandwiches like this that have such a strong connection to an area. I think the North/South New Jersey naming rivalry has contributed to some of the passionate feelings that locals have to this meat product, and I think that has driven the excitement and interest for the sandwich even more.
What do you call it? Let me know in the comments or tweet it at me!