A Delicious History of the Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Sandwich

Jon Mayer
A bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich (on a controversial bread).
A bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich (on a controversial bread). / Shutterstock: J. Lee - Jeffrey's Photos

The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells said the humble bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich was  “designed to satisfy practical needs rather than voluptuary desires.” But is that selling the sandwich short?

The delicious sandwich is a surprisingly recent phenomenon. In Heather Arndt Anderson’s Breakfast: A History, she points to an 1897 cookbook for the “first recipe for a true breakfast sandwich.” For what it’s worth, it calls for chopped meat, not bacon, and doesn’t include cheese. 

Various breakfast sandwiches were documented throughout the early 20th century, but a Google Books search for “bacon, egg and cheese” specifically doesn’t turn up anything relevant until 1990; “bacon egg and cheese on a roll” doesn’t show up until the end of that decade. 

Egg McMuffin on wrapper
The Egg McMuffin played a key role in breakfast sandwich history. / Justin Sullivan/GettyImages

Fast food might have helped popularize the concept of a grab-and-go breakfast sandwich. In the early ‘70s, Jack in the Box locations had started operating 24 hours a day. They eventually came up with the Breakfast Jack—ham, fried egg, and American cheese on a hamburger bun. Around the same time, in what we can generously assume was a coincidence, a McDonald’s operator in California decided to create a breakfast version of the eggs Benedict. It became known as the Egg McMuffin.

The bacon, egg and cheese isn’t as conformist as a McMuffin, and the history of its various components actually takes us through thousands of years of history and the science of “plastic” cheese.

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