The History of Pork Roll vs Taylor Ham in New Jersey

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It’s the stuff of New Jersey legend: a simple, straightforward processed meat that’s perfect for sandwiches and lunches on the go. And this meat has spurred one of the most spirited debates in the state’s history. Read on to learn about the history of Taylor ham and pork roll and why New Jersyans are passionate about what the proper term for the cured meat is.

The Creation of Taylor Ham

pork roll taylor ham

{Photo credit: JerseyPorkRoll.com}

Pork roll, also known as Taylor Ham, was developed by John Taylor in Trenton in 1856. Taylor was a state Senator and well-known businessman from Hamilton Square, and he invented the cured meat with a mix of spices, salt, a sugar cure, and preservatives, and smoked it before packaging it. 

Read More: 5 Famous Inventions Created in Hoboken

He put it on the market as “Taylor’s Prepared Ham,” but later renamed it as the “Original Taylor Pork Roll”, after he was forced to take out the word ham because, according to sources, the cured meat in the tube-like casing did not meet the requirements to be considered “ham.” The definition of ham was, in fact, established by the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, and made John Taylor’s creation merely a “lunch meat.” 

Rebranding

taylor ham pork roll

{Photo credit: JerseyPorkRoll.com}

The rebranding caused an issue for John Taylor and his company {established as Taylor Provisions in 1939}, as they scrambled to trademark the new name, pork roll, for its cured, smoked creation. It would prevent other companies from competing with the product, and make Taylor’s ham the only pork roll on the market. 

Of course, the trademark didn’t work and, soon, versions of Taylor Provisions’ creations began popping up across New Jersey. Now, Case Pork Company, Mercer Meats, Thumann’s, and Kohler Provisions, among others, also produce pork rolls, but most true Jerseyans will call Taylor’s Provisions the originator. 

George Washington Case of Case Pork Company started selling hickory-smoked pork rolls from his farm in Belle Mead, Somerset County, in 1870, just over a decade after John Taylor started producing it. 

Now, both Taylor’s Provisions and Case Pork Company are headquartered in Trenton, which unofficially makes our state’s capital the center of the pork roll vs. Taylor ham debate. 

Becoming a Phenomenon

taylor ham pork roll

{Photo credit: Jersey4Sure.com}

The cured meat has now grown into a statewide phenomenon and can be found in almost every deli in New Jersey. It has even popped up in Pennsylvania and Maryland. 

So, which name do we call it? Officially, is it Taylor ham or pork roll? According to Taylor Provisions, the names are used interchangeably. While most of North Jersey refers to it as Taylor ham, South Jersey and Philadelphia call it pork roll. 

See More: How Hudson County Became the Embroidery Capital of the World

rok roll taylor ham

For now, the answer of what to call the deliciously salty breakfast sandwich meat is still up in the air because we know better than to say “both are correct” is a good answer in New Jersey. 

But, if it’s any sort of consolation or settlement for the debate, Peter Genovese offers up a simple observation in Thrillist: All Taylor ham is pork roll, but not all pork roll is Taylor ham. Basically, because of the competing companies, you can have a pork roll that is not Taylor ham, but you cannot have a Taylor ham that isn’t pork roll. 

But, if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s this: New Jersey is, without a doubt, the Taylor ham/pork roll capital of the United States and, probably, the world. 

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Erica calls Hoboken her adopted home, after moving from Toronto, Canada nearly three years ago. She completed her graduate degree from NYU's journalism school last year and now spends her days writing and reading. Her interests include everything from sports to books to fashion, and she falls more and more in love with Hudson County with each passing day.


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