Having grown up in Jersey, I grew up with this product and I assumed it was a pretty modern invention - sort of a Jersey SPAM.
It actually goes back to 1856 and was invented/popularized by John Taylor of Trenton, New Jersey, although other variations, including a packed minced ham, may date back to the Battle of Trenton which took place on December 26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War.
Did General George Washington have a Jersey Breakfast sandwich before crossing the Delaware River near Trenton, New Jersey? No wonder they kicked Hessian butt!
|a 3 pounder - http://jerseyporkroll.com|
John Taylor kept the recipe for his "Taylor's Prepared Ham" a secret. But he was forced to change the name after the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was passed, since the product did not meet the new legal definition of "ham".
He rechristened it "Pork Roll" and it was sold as both "Taylor's Pork Roll" and "Trenton Pork Roll".
The real thing is sold 1-3 pound unsliced rolls packed in a cotton bag. But in Jersey, you're more likely to buy it prepared at deli, diner, or food trucks. Its classic presentation is some pan-fried or grilled pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwich, known as a "Jersey Breakfast." Condiments include salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, or hot sauce. The sandwich is normally served with American cheese on a hard roll or bagel.
|Sliced halves of a Jersey Breakfast sandwich|
In Philadelphia, the hard roll is commonly replaced with the local favorite "long roll" which is also used for hoagies and cheesesteaks.
When you pan-fry or grill the slices, people will make one to three cuts from the outer edges inwards towards the center to prevent the pork roll from curling up in the middle.
The resulting cooked slices have been nicknamed things like "fireman's badges" or "Pac-Man bacon" based on the resulting shapes.