In Don’t Mess with My Bacon, Egg and Cheese, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells poetically describes the greasy, street cart breakfast sandwich as “a secret handshake that New Yorkers exchange, not with one another, but with the city.” Wells contends the BEC should stay a simple staple, steering clear of gourmet variations found on trendy brunch menus.
Across the Hudson, New Jerseyans skip the bacon and heap on juicy slices of Taylor ham—or Taylor pork roll, or simply pork roll, depending on your longitude. Listen to someone order this sandwich and you’ll learn which half of the state they call home faster than you can say, “What exit?” Taylor ham enthusiasts hail from the north, pork roll purists from the south. (Since New Jersey Monthly is based in Morristown, we say Taylor ham.) Technically, Taylor ham is a brand—like mistakenly calling all tissues Kleenexes—so South Jersey folks are correct to call it pork roll. All Taylor ham is pork roll, but not all pork roll is Taylor ham.
Thicker than deli ham and often mistaken for Canadian bacon, pork roll is cured, smoked and pre-cooked, then vacuum-sealed and shipped to delis and grocers throughout the state—even some lucky parts of Eastern Pennsylvania. Just before slapping it on the griddle, cooks make the signature slits to prevent the slices from rising, forming a decadent star fit for the state flag.
For the New Jersey palate, the deliciously unhealthy combination of salt and nitrates found in the cured pork roll is the perfect complement to fried egg and cheese on a Kaiser roll. While New Yorker’s might prefer bacon, and those south of the Mason-Dixon Line crave sausage and a biscuit, the Garden State will always choose Taylor ham/pork roll.
What’s the best place in the state to get a breakfast sandwich? Let us know in the comments!