There's a lot to love about New Jersey food — hoagies, diners and pizzas the size of cars — but here's one thing you might be unaware of: pork roll. If you're from the Garden State, you definitely know about Taylor Pork Roll, a delicious breakfast meat from Trenton, N.J.
Because Florida is home to lots of out-of-state transplants, many local grocery stores like to carry limited brands of beloved foods from around the country. My father's family lives in Jersey, and pork roll is always on the menu at our family gatherings. So I squealed with glee when I spotted a small red box among the breakfast meats at a St. Petersburg Publix recently. I quickly snapped a picture and sent it to my dad, who will take it from here:
"Pork roll is the nearly perfect processed food. The taste speaks for itself, but that's not the only reason pork roll has become a legendary New Jersey delicacy. Its flexibility is unsurpassed. How many other foods started out as a breakfast side dish and ended up as the main course in diners and cookouts at any time of the day or night? (Don't pretend you did bacon, because, oh no, you didn't.) It can be prepared fried or grilled, thick and juicy or thin and crispy, burnt or just hot, and it always comes through with the right amount of pork goodness. It stands alone or can be the centerpiece of a colossal sandwich with all the fixings. Finally, we love our Jersey pork roll because somehow we have kept it our own. It's as important as pizza pride in New Jersey, and while East Coast pizza has been imitated (often poorly) throughout the country, you can't get anything close to pork roll anywhere unless you have it shipped directly from Trenton, N.J. (sometimes in your relative's luggage — yes, it's been done)."
The best pork roll hails from Trenton, and most Jerseyans will tell you that Taylor Provisions is the only brand you need to know about. They're the originators, and the others are impostors.
But what is it, exactly? Taylor, and other companies, stay pretty tight-lipped about it. Is it ham? Sure. Is it pork? Sort of. It's basically a cured, smoked and precooked meat product that could belong in the bologna, or even Spam, family tree.
Pork roll is also known as Taylor ham in Northern Jersey (and, yes, the state fights about it). Here are some fun facts: It was first made in 1856, but years later the creator, John Taylor, a state senator and grocery mogul, had to stop calling it "Taylor's Prepared Ham" because it didn't live up to the "ham standards" that new laws established in the early 20th century.
So now this delicious meat product that originally came in a tubelike casing is forever known as pork roll. Taylor even tried to trademark "pork roll" to protect his tasty invention, but ultimately couldn't. Which is good for us, so now we can happily buy our I Heart Pork Roll shirts at the Pork Festival in Trenton, N.J., in May.
Pork roll is best when lovingly served between two loaves of bread (kaiser roll, croissant, bagel or English muffin) with a fried egg and cheese. When cooking it, either pan-fried or on a grill, score the edges of the slices in 3 or 4 places. This way, it won't curl up, and it'll be shaped like an odd Pac-Man. It will look a lot like Canadian bacon when you're cooking it, but please don't make that comparison (at least to anyone from New Jersey) when eating it.
You can buy a 6-ounce box of eight slices of pork roll at some Publix grocery stores in Tampa Bay for around $4. Or you can buy it online at jerseyporkroll.com.
Contact Brittany Volk at [email protected] or (727) 893-8455. Follow @bevolk.