-New Jersey can be a very confusing state. I should know, I grew up here. It’s a land of endless contradiction. But there is one thing that binds the Garden State together: pork roll. Pork roll is the unofficial — but indisputable — state meat of New Jersey. It’s somewhere between Spam and baloney and kielbasa, very rare outside the Mid-Atlantic, but totally ubiquitous here. And even though everyone in North Jersey calls it Taylor ham, pretty much the entire state agrees it’s an essential part of our culinary heritage.
So from iconic diners, to wacky festivals, to down-the-shore towns on the come up, we hit the road to see what makes pork roll so damn important to New Jerseyans. You could call it a road trip. Or you could call it… a pork roll. -I’m Pete Genovese, a reporter and food writer for nj.com and the Star-Ledger. I’ve been writing about food pretty much nonstop for the last 20 years.
-So this is a classic, right? -Taylor ham, egg and cheese -This is how most of New Jersey wakes up on any given day. -This is the unofficial state sandwich. Taylor ham, egg, and cheese. Or pork roll, egg, and cheese, if you’re from South Jersey. I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it to the day I die: All Taylor ham is pork roll, not all pork roll is Taylor ham. It’s the quickest way to tell somebody’s from North Jersey. They’ll say Taylor ham.
And South Jersey, it’s pork roll. There’s really a whole technique here. First of all, the Taylor ham, and it is Taylor ham, goes on the grill first. The egg goes right next to it. And then the tricky part is the cheese is put on the roll and it’s put in a little broiler. The egg, put on top of the Taylor ham. Taylor ham sandwich. I’ve lived in Jersey all my life. Nothing says Jersey like a diner. -The Summit diner is a special diner, even by diners standards. -It’s probably the oldest diner in the state, goes back to the late 30s. The booths, spinning stools…c The great guys behind the counter. This is a peculiarly Jersey thing. Taylor ham pork. It’s ours. It’s not anybody else’s. You want it? You’ve got to come across the bridge and hunt it down. It’s a Jersey thing. Why it hasn’t spread, who knows. It’s kind of cool that it hasn’t spread because we can claim it as our own. So, I’m a Trenton guy. I was born in Trenton. Trenton makes the world takes. What the world refuses, Trenton uses. Trenton is of course, the center of the pork roll universe.
They have not one, but two pork roll festivals on the same day. You should check them out. -Sounds like I have to! -I eat pork roll, like, daily, pretty much. If not, three four times a week. -It’s definitely a Jersey thing. -Pork roll, egg, and cheese on a toasted egg bagel. That’s what I like. I used to get them on our way to the beach when I was little. -I’m TC Nelson from Trenton Social and we’re at the Trenton Pork Roll Festival celebrating the iconic delicacy of Trenton, which is Pork Roll. -My name’s Scott Miller and we’re at the Fourth Annual Pork Roll Festival in historic, downtown Trenton, New Jersey. It’s basically a rust belt city with our share of poverty, crime, and things like that. But it’s a really great city it’s beautiful and we have great people. More importantly we have our native Pork Roll industry.
Which was started here in Trenton in 1856 by John Taylor. And Case Pork Roll Company, and George Washington Case was the founder of that. These two people have been manufacturing pork roll here since the 1800s. It’s New Jersey’s favorite processed meat. -You know, there’s spam, there’s baloney, there’s scrapple, there’s whatever but a lot of people don’t know about pork roll, still. So, you know we’re happy to celebrate it here. -It’s one of the few things people come back to Trenton for. -New York City is our big brother and Philadelphia is our big sister so a lot of the cities that are in New Jersey are dwarfed by bigger cities, but pork roll is ours. -The festivals were totally rad. While we were there, a bunch of people were talking up the same food truck, called “Johnny’s Pork Roll” which apparently does some really innovative stuff with everyone’s favorite meat product. He posts up in Asbury Park, which is a shore town on the other side of the state, so we’re gonna drive over there now, catch up with the man himself, talk about Asbury’s resurgent food scene and his time spent pushing pork roll forward.
-I grew up down down here, spent my whole life on the beach, and like everybody in Jersey, I grew up eating pork roll. It’s like the Springsteen of meat because you know, Bon Jovi sold more records than Springsteen but people don’t want to hear that. We all think of Springsteen as bigger and more prolific, pork roll is like Springsteen in that sense. It’s just something I think that we embrace from a food standpoint. -So Bon Jovi’s like bacon, like, the headliner. -So Bon Jovi’s like bacon, like, the headliner. -Yes! Yes! That’s exactly right. He’s bacon, I guess Skid Row would be Spam, -Yes! Yes! That’s exactly right. He’s bacon, I guess Skid Row would be Spam, maybe cause they’re from Jersey too, aren’t they? -We started with one truck four years ago.
Our standard big sandwich is the pork roll egg and cheese. But underneath that, we have a couple really unique sandwiches. The Hawaiian with swiss, barbecue, and pineapple. Our pork roll reuben: grilled rye, swiss, a grilled, spicy kraut And we do a grilled cheese that we’re pretty known for too, which does have bacon on it, so I do keep- -You compromise. -I keep pork roll’s half brother on at all times. -You’re a reasonable man. -You know, being in Asbury Park is really special because, this was the original gimmick town if you think about it. That building, Convention Hall, was built, the same architects that did Grand Central did that. Groucho Marx opened it and it stood for years, it’s just the jewel of the Jersey Coast.
A lot of things have fell by the wayside, things change, but it’s nice to see it coming back, and it’s almost coming back in modern version of what it was. I’m really stoked just as a food truck guy and the pork roll truck to just be part of the whole fabric of this town. Because there is a lot of cool food happening up and down the boardwalk. Pork roll is something for people in New Jersey that we’ve all had on our plates since we were little kids. It just became part of my life. It’s that deep emotional attachment. It’s comfort food. It’s who we are, and we’re proud of it, I think, in New Jersey. People really–as silly as it sounds, we’re truly proud of it, like it’s our little thing. .