Serious Eats

Anyone Else Like Pork Roll?

"It's Spam for people who don't want to admit they like Spam."

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Mr. Taylor (of ham fame). [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, except where noted]

I've got a number of cousins on my mom's side who live in the Bordentown/Trenton area of Central Jersey, and while the area may be widely known for its awesome tomato pies, it's got another culinary tradition reaching back over a half century before the first pizzeria was even opened: Taylor Ham.

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[Photographs: Wikimedia Commons]

A ham-like product made from spiced ground pork emulsified into a log about four-inches across, wrapped in cloth, and cooked. Because of its preparation, pork roll doesn't technically fall under the government's umbrella of "ham," which is why ever since 1906, it's been referred to by its current name, pork roll.

For years, my cousins have pressured me to come out to Mastoris, a Greek mega-diner in Bordentown where they've been eating pork roll sandwiches and Jersey Breakfasts (that'd be fried pork roll, eggs, and American cheese on a deli-style roll) for years. I finally made the trek out there this past weekend, when I discovered that pork roll is essentially really good-tasting round Spam. Not that that's a bad thing.

Super salty, porky, fatty, and heavily spiced with the somewhat spongy but not unpleasant texture of bologna that's been slightly inflated. I could immediately see the appeal. It's Spam for people who don't want to admit they like Spam, if you know what I mean.

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The sandwich from Mastoris comes with three thick slices of pork roll, each one slit inwards from their outer edge to allow it to stay flat as it shrinks while it cooks on a flat griddle. This is a common practice known to all pork roll aficionados, and the resulting shapes are referred to variously the "fireman's badge" cut or the "Pac Man" cut.

Though it's been around for over 150 years now, it still remains largely a regional product, available in any diner, deli, or lunch truck in the Trenton and surrounding areas, yet virtually unheard of as close by as New York, just an hour or so away (though you can get pork roll sandwiches at Court Street Grocer in Carroll Gardens, see our review here). Anyone else a fan?

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