he's on a roll
Over the course of my career as Houston’s leading discount restaurant critic, more than 1,000 fast food burger and pizza reviews, I never critiqued a sandwich that wasn’t available at every street corner drive-thru.
Let alone a sandwich that I had to assemble and cook in my professional test kitchen at home. But, here we are.
A friend visited New Jersey recently on vacation, came back and asked me, “Have you ever had a Taylor Ham breakfast sandwich? Everybody I met in New Jersey raved about them.”
Ever had one? I grew up in New Jersey — I practically lived on them.
But here we are … in Houston, where nobody knows about Taylor Ham breakfast sandwiches. In fact, once you escape the borders of New Jersey, Taylor Ham is pretty much unknown. Poor every other state.
The story behind the sandwich
Taylor Ham breakfast sandwiches are to New Jersey people what McMuffins are to the rest of the sadly deprived country. There’s just something about two slices of Taylor Ham, eggs, and cheese on a Kaiser roll that makes breakfast the most important meal of the day. (At least the most delicious.) It became the Official State Sandwich of New Jersey in 2016,
What is Taylor Ham? It’s processed pork flavored with spices, sweet-smoked and formed into a salami-style log, which Jersey people call a chub.
There’s an episode of MTV’s Jersey Shore where Snooki and The Situation get into an argument. Snooki calls it “Taylor Ham,” while The Situation says “Taylor Pork Roll.” It won’t remind you of Plato debating Socrates at the Lyceum in ancient Greece. (Or even Beavis and Butt-head.)
Even famed director Kevin Smith weighed in:
Taylor Ham (I’m with Snooki) was invented in 1856 by state senator John Taylor. He introduced it as Taylor’s Prepared Ham. However, Taylor had to rebrand his product because it didn’t qualify as ham after passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Your tax dollars at work.
The new name: John Taylor’s Pork Roll. However, spunky north Jersey people continue to call it Taylor Ham. The rest of the state adapted to the new name. That’s how you can tell if somebody is from north or south Jersey – if they call it Taylor Ham or Pork Roll. You could just ask where they’re from, too.
Today, Taylor Ham breakfast sandwiches are sold by the millions in every New Jersey diner, greasy spoon and bagel shop. I used to get some from a guy cooking them on the street in front of the Prudential Building in Newark.
It’s startling how a food item can be so dominant in one state and practically nobody’s heard of it anywhere else. It’s like New Jersey says, “We’ll share Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra and Mike Trout with the world, but our Taylor Ham sandwiches ain’t going nowhere.”
So when I was asked, “Have you ever had a Taylor Ham breakfast sandwich?” – that pushed my obsessive button. I had to have one again.
Hoffman hams it up
Of course, I tried our local supermarkets first. A couple say on their website that they carry Taylor Ham, but good luck. “It’s at our deli counter,” I was told. Nope, it’s not.
I gave up fast — it’s my thing. I am told that if you look hard enough, you can find it in Houston. The supermarket will deliver it to your house, if they have it, or when they get it in. If you know a restaurant here that makes Taylor Ham sandwiches, let me know.
It’s easier and less gas just to order Taylor Ham online from Jersey food distributors, like American Butcher Store or Jersey Pork Roll. You can get a 1-pound chub for $10.99, a box of four 6-ounce pre-sliced packs for $17.59, or a 3-pound chub for $31.99 plus shipping. I promise: You will love this sandwich.
I followed the blueprint at home: Taylor Ham, eggs, cheese, butter, salt and pepper, and a roll. I couldn’t find a Kaiser roll so I subbed a brioche bun. I may be onto something there. (Editor’s note: Oh yeah? At what point do we alert Eric Sandler?)
I threw two slices of Taylor Ham into a frying pan, making small cuts around the edges so they wouldn’t curl up like pepperoni on a pizza. I made the eggs over-easy (personal choice). I buttered the brioche bun and toasted it. Because there are no mystery, proprietary, or unavailable ingredients, you can make a Taylor Ham sandwich at home to exact New Jersey specs and it will taste identical.
My ex-pat Taylor Ham breakfast sandwich was perfect, as delicious as any diner down the Jersey Shore where you take a napkin and wipe the silverware before you eat.
Nostalgia is expensive, but still cheaper than a ticket to Newark Airport.