The traditional Full English Breakfast is an institution in its own right. Served everywhere in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland it should really be called the full British or full UK breakfast, but each country has its own twist on what should be served on the plate. From small “greasy spoon” cafés to London’s top name hotels, the sort I work in, this breakfast dish is enjoyed by people from all walks of life. This full breakfast is not restricted to the British Isles, it’s also served in the US, Australia, Canada, NZ and more. I’ve cooked, eaten and served a few full Aussie breakfasts in my time. People in England may also call it a “fry up” or a “cooked breakfast” to distinguish it from a very ordinary breakfast of cereal or toast.
Traditional Full English Breakfast
The dish has many different names. Fry-up is by far the most common alternative, although the Welsh, Scots and Irish would name it after them with Northern Ireland calling it an Ulster breakfast or fry-up. Sunday or country breakfast is another name this meal goes by in the US.
A full breakfast contains eggs, meats, and vegetables, along with bread, tea, coffee and preserves. The exact composition varies by region as we explain below.
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What’s in the Traditional Full English Breakfast?
Regional differences abound but there are core ingredients that go into making a traditional full English breakfast. As the “fry-up” nickname suggests, everything is likely to be fried. The more health-conscious may grill their sausages and bacon and omit fried bread. You may see grilled tomato substituted for fried tomato and your baked beans will be simmered in a pan.
The eggs in a full breakfast are most likely to be fried, sunny side up, or sometimes you may see scrambled eggs. A small omelette or poached eggs are possible but less likely on a British fry-up.
Starting with eggs, a traditional English breakfast also includes bacon, sausage, tomato, mushroom, baked beans from a can in tomato sauce, black pudding, maybe white pudding, and fried bread. Certainly enough to fill any hungry traveler. All of this can be enhanced with a small pool of tomato sauce (ketchup) or HP Sauce (brown sauce), on the side.
A good thick pork sausage or British “banger” is most likely at breakfast time. That said, you’ll also find excellent beef and game sausages in British cuisine. The UK is home to great sausages, but in a cheap establishment, you’ll see poorer quality meats.
Breakfast will most likely come with a side order of toast, butter, and jam, marmalade, a pot of tea or a mug of coffee. A glass of orange juice can also be found on some menus to go with your full breakfast.
You’re likely to be offered sliced white bread or brown bread for your toast. In good restaurants, hotels, or for home cooking the bread should be of better quality.
Full Scottish Breakfast
The Scottish version will often include haggis. This is a meat pudding containing sheep’s heart, lungs and liver, minced with oats and encased in the stomach. The haggis is then simmered. Haggis is an acquired taste outside of Scotland.
You may also see porridge served as part of a Scottish breakfast, sometimes with a little splash of whisky (Scotch).
Full Welsh Breakfast
The Welsh include Laverbread at the breakfast table. This is a type of seaweed gathered from Welsh beaches. Again this is rarely seen outside Wales.
Full Irish Breakfast
In Ireland, a “fry-up” is also quite popular, but here you may see soda bread added to the menu. You’re more likely to see potatoes here, either potato cakes, fried into a potato hash or traditional bubble and squeak.
If you order a full English breakfast in a cafe, don’t be surprised if it comes with a few chips (French fries) on the side, although these days hash browns are becoming common in the UK. Years ago they were unheard of.
The US has added grits, ground cornmeal, to their version.
Is the Traditional Full English Breakfast Healthy?
No, let’s face it, with so many fried things on one plate it isn’t going to win the heart foundation tick of approval anytime soon.
That said, it is just so delicious that really you need to throw caution to the wind and tuck in every once in a while.
Currently staying on the southern English coast our accommodation is B&B. Yes, you guessed it, we have the traditional full English breakfast each and every morning. Now on our 5th day, I’m still not bored with it.
Best of all it keeps me going past lunch and almost into dinner.
A traditional Full English Breakfast can save you money on lunch!
What Makes a Good Full English Breakfast?
The biggest factor for me in making a good full English, is the quality of the ingredients and that’s the trick with all British food. Poor quality or cheap ingredients will never give you a good result.
Full English Breakfast – British Sausages
What can be a great dish can fail badly if cheap products are used. Sausages make or break the meal, they can go either way, great, full-flavoured, plump, well-cooked delights or overcooked dry, filled with fillers rather than meat, and highly processed.
Hot dog sausages or frankfurters are never served as part of a British breakfast.
Full English Breakfast – British Bacon
Bacon is another component that needs to be right, regardless of who is cooking. British bacon is quite different from American or Australian featuring more meat, less fat. British bacon is normally raw cured so gives quite a different result to hot cured bacon.
Back bacon is the bacon of choice here, but streaky bacon is also available. Bacon can be smoked or unsmoked in the UK.
In Australia, you can now buy “British Bacon” in supermarkets. This is the best we’ve found in Australia for a full English breakfast.
Ham is not a substitute for British bacon and is almost unheard of in a British breakfast. Ham is commonly found on the breakfast table in mainland Europe and in parts of Asia.
The remaining ingredients need to be fresh and, of course, cooked correctly to really make this dish great.
Full English Breakfast, Toast and Fried Bread
Both toast, and fried bread can be part of a full English breakfast. White or wholemeal slices of bread can be used for either. The sweetened breads of Asia are not suitable for use in a full English breakfast and neither is raisin bread or malt loaf.
Fried bread is simply triangles of sliced bread fried in a frying pan with quite a lot of butter or oil. Fat from cooking the bacon adds to the flavour.
Toast can be made in a toaster or under the grill and should be served with jam and butter, or marmalade and butter.
The toast may also appear on the main plate to eat with the beans, eggs, etc.
French toast and pancakes are not served in a full English or British breakfast.
Full English Breakfast – Eggs
Go for the best quality free-range, grass-pastured eggs you can find. The eggs on a full English breakfast are most commonly fried, but poached or scrambled eggs can also be a part of this British breakfast dish.
Full English Breakfast – Vegetables
Vegetables served in a full English breakfast are normally tomatoes and mushrooms. Some versions may include spinach, and, occasionally potatoes in the form of hash browns or chips (French fries). These fried potato additions aren’t really traditional but are common in greasy-spoon cafes in England and the UK.
Mushrooms should be fresh not tinned and fried in butter or grilled. Tinned plum tomatoes may be served if you prefer them to fresh grilled or fried tomatoes, but tinned mushrooms just don’t work.
Full English Breakfast – Baked Beans
Heinz baked beans are the beans of choice to go with a full English breakfast. Cheaper brands exist but you can taste the difference.
You could make your own baked beans in tomato sauce of course, it’s easy, but not expected. Heinz baked beans are not labelled at “English” in the UK. They are in Australia.
You can find a recipe for home-made baked beans in tomato sauce here.
Baked beans on toast can also be served for breakfast in the UK, it can also be served for lunch, dinner or “tea.” Beans on toast (the toast must be buttered) if a quick, simple meal in the UK, popular with children. Beans on toast is not a “full” English breakfast.
I must confess to being a huge fan of the traditional full English breakfast, in fact, it was a major highlight of our last 5 weeks in the UK
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Sri Lankan string hopper breakfasts but nothing beats a full English for me. Read more about Sri Lankan breakfast food here.
What Can be Served in a Traditional Full English Breakfast?
Pick from any of the following ingredients, fry, or grill if you prefer. Frying the bacon along with the eggs, mushrooms, fried bread etc, gives everything a nice bacon flavour. Purists would fry in lard, but any oil or mixed oil/butter will do. Don’t just use butter to fry, it will burn.
- eggs, fried, but scrambled is acceptable
- sausages, pork is usual in the UK, but feel free to use beef sausages or another variety
- bacon, fried, but you can grill. Back bacon is preferred in the UK.
- black pudding (optional – but traditional) or white pudding
- fried bread
- tomatoes, tinned or halved then grilled or fried
- fried potatoes, sauteed, chipped, or hash browns (not very traditional – a new addition)
- mushrooms, fried or grilled
- toast, butter, and jam
- a nice pot of tea
What to Serve With a Great British Breakfast?
Serve with tomato ketchup or Original HP sauce (click through to order for an authentic touch) and a hot mug or cup of tea.
The HP stands for Houses of Parliament and this condiment is also known as “brown sauce”.
Do British People Eat a Full English Breakfast Every Day?
No, absolutely not, British people eat all manner of foods for breakfast and a full English is a rare treat for many British people. A few do, for sure, but the average person doesn’t have the time to cook like this every day and is too weight and health-conscious to eat this much fat, processed food, and cholesterol daily.
You’ll find a typical British breakfast more likely to be toast, cereal, eggs or yoghurt with a fry up saved for an occasional weekend treat.
Vegan or Vegetarian Full English Breakfast
With veganism and vegetarianism rising in popularity at breakneck speed, of course, healthier and more environmentally friendly versions of the full English are growing in popularity. To please a British plant-based eater, include the following ideas.
- eggs any way (omit if vegan)
- fried tofu or tempeh.
- tofu scramble
- vegan or vegetarian bacon or sausages
- laver (for the Welsh)
- vegan or vegetarian haggis (for the Scots)
- tomatoes any way
- just about any vegetable
- potatoes – fried, potato cakes or hash brown.
- toast and jam with non dairy spread
- pot of tea with plant-based milk
Cooking a Full English and Recipe
Cooking the dish is a real pleasure for me as a Chef on my days off. I like nothing more than getting all those ingredients together and turning them into something the whole family can enjoy. Other than my semi-vegetarian wife of course, she’s happy with a plate of spinach and mushrooms.
Do you need a recipe for a full English fry up? Of course not, just cook, fry, grill and assemble your cooked ingredients on a plate. If you need any advice on cooking any of these items let me know in the comments and I’ll help you as best I can.
What is your favourite breakfast dish?
Photo credit, the second full English breakfast photo isn’t mine, the owner is Sarah Ross, on Flickr through Creative Commons. Thanks Sarah!
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6 thoughts on “Traditional Full English Breakfast”
A adore a full-English. Other breakfast faves for me are eggs Benedict (if the Hollandaise is up to scratch) and, when I’m in Switzerland, muesli. Great post, Chef, thanks!
*I* adore a full-English. 🙂
Thanks for reading Renee, eggs Benedict is also a favourite. I know what you mean about hollandaise sauce, it has to be good.
Eggs florentine for me please, if I can’t get Indian or Sri Lankan.
Great choices there Alyson. Two of my other favourites there.
Nasi Lemak for me please … Though I don’t mind indulging in pan-cakes and marble-syrup !