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Pepperoni Rolls: West Virginia's Delicious Pride

Magic happens when pepperoni and warm bread become one in the oven.

Published Oct. 27, 2021.

No dish is more West Virginian than the mighty pepperoni roll. The pillowy creation is ubiquitous in the Mountain State, and for good reason. Not only are the rolls delicious, but they were also created to be the ultimate food of convenience.

Pepperoni rolls were first popularized by Italian immigrants working as coal miners in north-central West Virginia. The basic concept is simple enough: a fluffy, white roll filled to the brim with thin, finger-length sticks of pepperoni. Nothing more, nothing less.

But magic happens during the baking process, when pepperoni oil seeps into and seasons the bread. The outcome is a unique flavor and textural experience, with the chew and saltiness of the cured meat plus the sweet notes of white bread. Part of the rolls’ appeal is that they are enjoyable at any temperature, but they are best served warm from the oven.

In 1927, a miner named Giuseppe “Joseph” Argiro opened Country Club Bakery in the town of Fairmont. Argiro is believed to be the first to commercially produce pepperoni rolls. Since the dish is hearty and low-maintenance, requiring no heat to serve or refrigeration to store, its portability made it ideal for miners working long hours in the state’s coalfields. (Country Club Bakery still stands today, selling pepperoni rolls for just $1.50 each.)

Pepperoni rolls have since spread in popularity throughout the state and its bordering areas. The rolls are versatile, as perfect thrown into a lunch box or hiking bag as they are served at a family gathering or tailgate party.

How to Make West Virginia Pepperoni Rolls

From the land of ramps and fried pickles comes this warm, savory, delicious roll, with enough pepperoni in every bite. Learn this Cook's Country recipe today.  

New versions of the dish abound, along with debates about whether stick, sliced, or ground pepperoni is best. While the dish is great as is, some up the ante by adding ingredients such as cheese, peppers, and marinara sauce to their filling.

During sporting events, West Virginia University’s concessions sell warm, cheesy versions of the roll from Chico Bakery in Morgantown, made with provolone or hot pepper cheese. No home football or basketball game feels complete without the indulgent dish dripping from your fingers. 

For a starter recipe, try Cook’s Country’s version. The recipe is full of helpful tips, such as microwaving the pepperoni beforehand to prevent too much grease from puddling in the finished product and using the leftover oil to season and soften the dough. This recipe doesn’t skimp on pepperoni, packing plenty of meat into each bite. And for added flair, Cook’s Country suggests sprinkling sesame seeds atop the rolls.

The humble dish has garnered such popularity in the state that West Virginia’s State House introduced a bill in March 2021 to declare it the official state food. The bill honors the roll’s humble beginnings, noting that the “simple food continues to sustain West Virginians from every walk of life” and equating its iconic status to that of the New York bagel or Philly cheesesteak.

But you don’t have to be a West Virginia native to enjoy making and eating pepperoni rolls. Regardless of where and how you choose to serve these up—warm or cold, cheese or no cheese, sauce or no sauce—there is something inherently comforting and satisfying about the dish.  

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