This New Jersey staple freezes, thaws, and reheats well. Here’s how to do it properly—and what else you need to know.
In North Jersey, they call it Taylor ham. In South Jersey, it’s known as pork roll. Central Jersey, whose boundaries are also disputed and which sides with the North on most matters, sides with the South and also calls it pork roll.
Call this unique New Jersey specialty whatever you want; we’re not here to decide that great debate, and we wouldn’t be able to do it even if we tried. We’re here to answer the question of whether Taylor ham, um… pork roll can be frozen.
If that’s the question you came here to find out, then read on. We have what’s needed to sate your hunger for answers. So, can you freeze pork roll?
Yes, you can freeze Taylor ham/pork roll. It freezes, thaws, and reheats well. Frozen Taylor/ham pork stays safe to eat almost indefinitely, but will only be of the best quality for 1-2 months.
Unopened Taylor ham, whether sliced or in three-, six-, or twelve-pound rolls, can be frozen in its original packaging. However, it is advisable to wrap it twice in plastic wrap to protect the meat from freezer burn.
Freezer burn occurs when the air circulating in your freezer dries out the surface of the pork roll, usually in spots. The result is a piece of pork roll that’s tough and bland. Freezer-burned pork roll is edible, but the freezer-burned spots cannot be salvaged; it’s best to cut them off and eat what’s left.
Opened Taylor ham should be sealed in a freezer bag or airtight food storage container for freezing; even if you were to wrap the original packaging in Saran Wrap, it probably wouldn’t be enough to protect the pork roll from freezer burn.
Thawing and Reheating Pork Roll
The safest way to thaw pork roll, especially if you want to slice it thinly and make New Jersey’s popular breakfast sandwich, is to take them out of the freezer, put them in the refrigerator, and let them sit there overnight.
How quickly Taylor ham thaws depends on whether it is sliced or whole (if the latter, another factor is the size of the ham; smaller pork rolls thaw within a day, as expected, while their larger counterparts may take two to three days).
Alternatively, you can thaw pork roll by submerging it in ice water or using the “defrost” setting on your microwave. However, both of these methods are only suitable for smaller pieces that you can eat immediately after thawing; there should be no leftovers.
To reheat Taylor ham, cut it into thin slices or small cubes, then place it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and slide it in a preheated, 350°F oven. On the stove, you can do this over medium heat in a skillet with a tablespoon or two of butter, or a dollop of two of cooking oil.
The original Taylor pork roll, made by Taylor Provisions in Trenton, New Jersey, is pre-cooked—so all you have to do is heat it up. Most other brands of pork roll are also pre-cooked, but it’s still a good idea to read the instructions on the package to be sure.
How Long Does Pork Roll Last?
As with all pork products (and meat products in general), pork roll is a perishable food item. For food safety reasons, it must be refrigerated at all times and should never be left to sit out for longer than 1-2 hours at room temperature.
At room temperature, pathogenic bacteria—the kind that can cause food-borne illness—can quickly grow to dangerous levels on the pork roll and render it unsafe to eat. The pork roll itself can smell and taste fine, but can nevertheless give you abdominal pain or, worse, food poisoning.
The ground rules for refrigerating this New Jersey food staple are not so different from those for freezing it. However, instead of freezer burn, you have to worry about spoilage.
Store pork rolls in the refrigerator, where they will keep for 5-7 days after opening.
Unopened Taylor ham, sliced or whole, can be refrigerated in its original packaging. Opened Taylor ham should be wrapped tightly in plastic or butcher paper.
Despite lore to the contrary, it’s best to store ham on the lowest shelf of your fridge. It is a fact of physics that warm air rises to the top and cold air sinks down, so that’s where in your fridge it’s coldest.
Telling If Pork Roll Is Spoiled
Pork roll is a processed pork product made from pork, salt, sugar, and a mix of spices. The meat is cured, smoked, and packed in a cylindrical bag that makes it easy to slice the ham without removing the bag.
Other than the expiration date printed on the packaging, you have two main cues for when pork roll has gone bad: smell and texture. The golden rule is that if the meat has an off odor or weird texture, it’s probably gone bad and should be discarded.
When it is fresh, Taylor ham/pork roll should smell delicious and should have the clean, slick feel of cooked flesh. If you notice dull colors, a sour smell, and a slimy surface, these are sure-fire signs that the ham in your refrigerator has spoiled and ought to be thrown away.