WTF is it? New York City has the beloved bacon-egg-and-cheese. To the west, its funkier neighbor’s morning sandwich includes egg, cheese and an enigmatic pig product whose toothsome texture on the meat Venn diagram falls where bologna and summer sausage overlap. Basically, it’s “processed pork” mixed with spices, then sugar-cured and smoked. Every red-blooded New Jerseyan loves its splendidly salty but slightly tangy taste.
So, where’s the beef, so to speak? Locals argue about what to call it—“Taylor ham” or “pork roll”? While the invention of this mystery meat is unknown (apparently, Revolutionary War soldiers ate it), John Taylor—who live in the Trenton area in the mid-1800s—popularized his as “Taylor’s Prepared Ham.” But the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 forced a name change to “Taylor’s Pork Roll” because the product could no longer be marketed as “ham.” Somehow both names are still in heavy use. In 2016, when NJ.com surveyed the state’s 565 municipalities about the proper nomenclature, Team Pork Roll (38,185 votes) edged out Team Taylor Ham (32,395). We’ve seen friends tussle over the correct name.
What the hell do I call it once I get to Jersey City? The pork-roll converts live in southern Jersey, which includes the Trenton area, whereas northern New Jerseyans still call it Taylor ham. Jersey City’s hottest bagel spot, Wonder Bagel, has “Taylor ham” on its chalkboard, you can add “Taylor ham” to your French Toast at the Brownstone Diner, and dullboy serves Brussels sprouts with shrimp, Korean chili and—you guessed it—“Taylor ham.”
Okay, so Taylor ham it is. Not so fucking fast. We asked a Trenton-area native who has spent the past decade in Jersey City for an official ruling. “I refrain from eating a pork roll at any place that calls it ‘Taylor ham’ out of respect,” says Jeff Ashbock. “Somehow, ‘Taylor ham’ became the Kleenex of salted meats. Many places that list Taylor ham on their menus are using other brands, such as Case’s Pork Roll or Trenton Pork Roll. There’s not much city pride where I’m from anymore. Sure, we have the ‘Trenton makes, the world takes’ bridge to boast about, but now what is it that Trenton manufactures that the world is clawing for? My only answer is pork roll, not Taylor ham.”
So, to stop the cultural obfuscation of Trenton’s fine swine delicacy, we should all call it a pork roll.