The sound of scrapple sizzling on the griddle signifies more than just breakfast time. To those who love scrapple, it’s music that harkens back to their childhood and comforting meals shared with loved ones. But to those who detest it, that hiss when the scrapple hits the pan is a siren’s call luring unsuspecting diners into eating a mystery meat pâté. Scrapple opinions are often strong and polarized.
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Traditionally, the recipe calls for pig heads, hooves, hearts, livers, tongues, and any trimmings not used in other pork products — “everything but the oink,” basically. Once cooked, the scraps of meat are then added to a mush of cornmeal, buckwheat flour, and seasoning (oftentimes a blend of thyme, sage, pepper, and other savory spices) and then formed into a loaf and preserved for whenever you’re ready to fry up and serve. The result is a salty and savory slice of fried pork mush that sticks to your ribs.
Scrapple is a point of pride in Philadelphia. It’s eaten by locals as a badge of honor and by newcomers as a rite of passage. It’s a dish that has been reimagined by chefs and home cooks who now incorporate it into their own culinary traditions. Just like Philadelphia is the underdog of American cities, scrapple is the underdog of the breakfast menu. And when you diss scrapple, it only seems to make those who love it all the more passionate. “No one likes us, we don’t care,” as Jason Kelce once said, and the same applies to our scrapple. It is truly the pâté of the people.
Regardless if you’re a staunch supporter or a harsh critic, scrapple is an undeniably local dish with a story so intertwined with Philadelphia that it has become an integral part of our region’s identity.
Scrapple, as we know it today, begins with the Pennsylvania Dutch whose German ancestors brought panhaskröppel — which translates roughly to “a slice of pan rabbit” — over from the southwest corner of Germany. The repurposing of meat scraps was a thrifty way to reduce waste, plus, its method of preservation gave the dish a long shelf life, making it the perfect food to withstand the trans-Atlantic journey German colonists took to the Philadelphia region in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Like many foods that cross oceans and continents, scrapple had to adapt to its new environment. Its recipe, like a language, had to be translated into North American farm country, borrowing ingredients that were plentiful and readily available in order for its story to carry on.
Scrapple was truly born the moment that cornmeal was added — that was the game changer. “I like to say it’s the mix of German sausage making meeting Native American corn crop,” says Amy Strauss, author of Pennsylvania Scrapple: A Delectable History. “It is marrying two things that really define our heritage. Corn is a huge crop that really defined the Philadelphia and Mid-Atlantic region, and then the fact that German settlers came here is a huge part of who we are.”
Though scrapple can be found on menus all year round today, it was, for most of its history, a winter time food in Pennsylvania’s farmland.
“Scrapple is a butchering day tradition,” says Adam Diltz, owner and chef of Elwood. “When you slaughter your hogs and you make everything else — your sausages and your hams — you’d then make scrapple too to get through the winter.” Growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Diltz’s family’s butchering day was usually sometime around Christmas or New Year’s Day. According to Diltz, scrapple wasn’t usually eaten past March.
Times have changed and so has scrapple in many ways, despite being a nostalgic dish. What was once a dish that sustained families through the winter time, is now an iconic dish representing our region.
Here’s where to get scrapple in the region, whether served classic and crispy or made modern with unexpected ingredients.
Whether it’s your first time trying scrapple or you’re a seasoned connoisseur, the Dutch Eating Place in Reading Terminal Market is the standard for classic scrapple. Thick slices are fried and served piping hot, with a little bit of grease still bubbling on their crispy exterior. The best part is through that thin crusty layer — where you’ll be met with a smooth but slightly gritty (in a good way) meaty center that’s the ultimate comfort bite. If you’re planning to sit at the counter for breakfast, be sure to get there early. The line can get long.
“We do nose-to-tail sandwiches,” says Will Lindsey, co-owner of Stockyard Sandwich Co. “We get whole pigs and sides of beef and whole chickens and we break everything down in house.” In addition to making their own bacon, pastrami, and sausages, they make their own scrapple, too, a process that takes about four days. All of Stockyard’s breakfast sandwiches are build your own, so there are a multitude of ways to enjoy their house-made scrapple. Pro tip: Scrapple on an everything Philly muffin is a flavor bomb!
Vegan and gluten-free diners searching for a scrapple alternative will find a delicious option at Front Street Cafe. Made with lentils and mushrooms, their vegan scrapple gets really close to the flavor and texture of the real deal. You can order it as a side, as part of the Front Street Benedict, or as the centerpiece of a breakfast sandwich.
A prime example of how scrapple has become a culinary cornerstone of Philadelphia’s identity is Gabi’s interpretation: the duck and foie scrapple. Gabi’s executive chef and co-owner Kenneth Bush says the dish marries the Pennsylvania Dutch dish to a French rillette, a spread made with slowly cooked shreds of meat. “We’re basically using that similar technique [of making duck rillette] but adding those grains to make it like a scrapple,” says Bush. “[We’re] using the techniques of French cuisine, making recognizably French-styled dishes, but using the ingredients that are available and culturally.” The three-day process results in a complex dish with the rich and silky flavors of foie gras. You can get it for brunch next to caramelized potatoes, eggs, foie gras butter, and a pickled cherry mustard for a sweet and savory (and decadent) meal.
Owner Arnab Maitra opened Pizza Crime with the stated mission to make pizza so good it should be illegal. Earlier this summer, when conceptualizing brunch pizzas for the spot’s Sinatra Sundays, he knew he had to make one with scrapple. The Scrapple Jawn, only available on Sundays, is topped with parmesan and fontina cheeses, fried scrapple, an egg, and a drizzle of hot honey which, Maitra says, is the pièce de résistance that really brings the whole pie together. According to Maitra, the Scrapple Jawn is their top seller.
Scrapple is a deeply personal dish to Adam Diltz, chef and owner of Elwood in Fishtown. It’s a dish his family made from scratch every winter, but which he keeps on the Elwood menu all year. Diltz makes pork scrapple sure, but it’s his venison scrapple that has caught the attention of diners in Philadelphia since Elwood opened. “People think that I’m just swapping out pork and making scrapple with venison, but that’s not really the case,” says Diltz. “During deer hunting season, small, independent batches of scrapple are usually made from venison. So really, it’s truer to the roots of how scrapple would be made now for the average person as opposed to a corporate company. It’s a nod to the northeast hunting culture.” Venison scrapple is similar in texture to the pork version but expect a more rustic, gamey flavor amplified by the dab of pepper sauce. Bite-sized squares come served on deer antlers for a presentation that’s as wild as its flavor.
You can get your scrapple two ways at Westmont Diner: a classic slice or scrapple bites. Cutting scrapple into bite-sized cubes might not seem like it would make the experience of scrapple that different, but if you’re a fan of that crispy skin that forms on the outside, this one is for you. The entire surface area of each piece is perfectly fried so that when you bite into it, the crispy exterior gives way to a smooth meat pâté that satisfies your salty and meat cravings. It’s a perfect bite of scrapple every time.
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Coffee House Too’s Hangover Hoagies are hulking sandwiches stuffed with everything you’d want from a breakfast platter. There are several to choose from, but nothing beats an original with scrapple. It comes fried, with three fried eggs, hash, lettuce, tomato, onion, and cheese all piled high on a long seeded roll.
Scrapple hits different when it’s served in long, fry-like strips. The scrapple fries at Breakfast at Sullimay’s are as tasty as they are entertaining. They’re a little more fried than your average scrapple, but the extra crispiness helps each “fry” maintain its structural integrity. It’s also a fun side to split with friends.
Silk City Diner is a lot of things. It’s a lounge with great cocktails, an eclectic garden, and a live music venue, but above all it’s a retro diner serving up modern takes on diner classics. If you’re stopping by for brunch, whether you’re getting a fruity Belgian waffle or a spicy chicken sandwich, definitely add a side of their fried-to-perfection scrapple to your order.
It’s hard to see where the steak ends and the scrapple begins when biting into the Philly Special at Shank’s Original. This classic cheesesteak is slathered in whiz and American cheese and is stuffed not only with steak, but also with scrapple fries. As soon as you unwrap this behemoth sandwich, succulent bits of steak and scrapple tumble out of the roll. The scrapple, tucked between the roll and the steak, tends to get a little soggy, but the salty pork adds a depth of flavor. This is not a sandwich for the faint of heart.
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Kae Lani Palmisano is the Emmy Award-Winning host of WHYY’s Check, Please! Philly and of the food history series Delishtory. She is also a food and travel writer, podcaster, recipe developer and home cook exploring the journey food takes to get to the plate.