🎉 Seems like it’s time for a 50th birthday party! 🎉
According to official corporate McMuffin history from McDonald’s, a guy named Herb Peterson invented what we now call the Egg McMuffin back in 1971. Peterson was trying to replicate and create a dish similar to eggs benedict but found that hollandaise sauce would be difficult to carry out in a fast-food environment on a national scale.
There are several new, important inventions involved in this introduction of a fast-food breakfast sandwich, but in my opinion, the most important thing that Peterson did was to develop a method for cooking a round egg. This round egg technique relied on using Teflon rings to cook fresh-cracked eggs which left a cooked egg with the perfect round shape to fit an English muffin.
Fast-Food Tip: McDonald’s still uses a similar method for cooking round eggs today. In fact, if you’re at McDonald’s for breakfast and you want to ensure you’re getting an actual fresh egg, cracked and cooked when you order, you can request a “round egg” on any sandwich, and they will make one for you. Otherwise, if you order a McDonald’s sandwich with a “folded egg,” those are made from liquid eggs and pre-cooked and frozen in a factory to be reheated in each individual restaurant.
Where would breakfast sandwiches be without the Egg McMuffin?
Obviously, breakfast sandwiches existed prior to 1971, but there’s no doubt that McDonald’s bringing the Egg McMuffin into a fast-food setting made them even more popular. Sure, biscuits, bagels, croissants and English muffins have been around forever, but I wonder what proportion were just used as bread side dishes to eggs and bacon and not served as sandwiches?
I’m not sure we can answer this question exactly, or at least I am not able to do so. I think breakfast sandwiches would eventually have been brought into the fast-food world, but it might not have been for quite a few years. Burger King didn’t get breakfast sandwiches rolling out until 1979 and Hardee’s was one year earlier in 1978. Without the push from McDonald’s, we might not have seen fast food breakfast sandwiches launched until the 80’s or much later.
In the mid-eighties, McDonald’s was responsible for one out of every four breakfasts that were eaten outside of the home so it’s not that hard to see how much their introduction of an English muffin based breakfast sandwich meant to fast-food menus.
Here’s a McDonald’s breakfast ad from the 70’s
Check out this McDonald’s commercial from 1977 that was captured in beautiful 480p with a jingle that didn’t really catch on.
🎶 We start out with an English muffin,
then that cheese and egg, an somethin’
really good, Canadian bacon.
Yes, that’s how we go bout makin’
break-fast. McDonald’s breakfast! 🎶
I’m sure that little ditty got you all hot and bothered to read more. But please contain yourself, we’re going in.
What is an Egg McMuffin?
A default Egg McMuffin contains the following ingredients:
Buttered and toasted English muffin
+ Canadian bacon
+ Round egg
+ American cheese
= Egg McMuffin
You can sub out the Canadian bacon for pork sausage, regular bacon or you can just order one with egg and cheese. But at the very beginning it started with Canadian bacon, egg and cheese on an English muffin.
This was said about the Egg McMuffin as it appeared on the menu in 1972:
Note the with honey or jam part. Don’t forget that. We’ll get into it later.
The English muffins
As a born and bred southerner, I’m required to say that biscuits are the best breakfast bread. I feel that croissants are number two and then the next two options would be English muffins and bagels. For the sake of not making some of you Yankees angry, I’ll just say that they’re both tied for third! Third place is pretty good, and your parents would be happy if you had a third place ribbon to put on the fridge.
With that said, I’m happy to introduce some tied-for-third-place, beautiful breakfast bread options that I made at home and have my recipe listed down below:
If you’ve never made them or aren’t familiar, English muffins are a cross between baking and cooking. You make a dough, let it rise, shape the dough and then instead of baking the muffins inside an oven, you cook them on a hot, flat surface. So, it’s like baking until the rising is done and then it switches to something like making really thick tortillas. But unlike tortillas, you really need to focus on being very careful with each muffin, because until they’re cooked, rough manipulation could mess up the lift and rise that have been achieved from the rise of the yeast/dough. Basically, you just need to be very careful with flipping each muffin until it is cooked.
Below is my English muffin recipe that I’ve messed around with the last year or so. Making English muffins can be more inconsistent than baking because you have to have a steady temperature on your griddle or pan to get consistent end products. The English muffin process is basically a combination of baking and cooking, where you must pay attention to a lot of different things to get the same result. The first couple of times you make English muffins, you’ll be likely to have a few that cook up darker than the others.
Always fork split your English muffins for that craggly crumb and those nooks and crannies. If you want the proper texture, you can’t skip this step. I’ve been informed that no one in England skips it.
The Canadian bacon
I bought Canadian style bacon from my local market. I read through a few internet discussions that convinced me that buying a whole piece of Canadian bacon instead of pre-sliced, circular versions was a better plan. So that’s what I did. If you want to learn about what is “real” Canadian bacon, go here.
Like a lot of breakfast sandwiches, for each sandwich I would slice off a 1/8th inch slice and sear it in a pan for a few minutes just to warm it up and get a little browning on the meat. Canadian bacon is already cooked, but it needed to be warmed up and an extra sear helps the taste and texture as well.
I also made a couple of McMuffins with pork sausage patties. But the Canadian bacon is the default/original protein, so I mostly focused on that.
By the time Egg McMuffin week ended, I found that I enjoyed a sausage patty on my English muffin sandwich better than Canadian bacon, but you can use whatever meat or meat-product you’d like in this recipe.
I worked on a round egg in a previous breakfast sandwich post and I didn’t feel great about the process I came up with.
Guess who has a home cooked round egg process on lock? It’s this guy named J. Kenji López-Alt. Kenji wrote an article for Serious Eats with some tips and techniques for a better homemade Egg McMuffin. The best nugget of knowledge that I took from this recipe/article was the egg cooking technique. I gave it a shot and it was much better than my initial strategy.
The process that Kenji focuses on, relies on a wide-mouth Ball jar/Mason jar lid. You turn the lid upside down inside the screw top and cook an egg right in the cup formed from the lid and screw top.
WARNING: you absolutely MUST make sure you have everything sprayed down very well with non-stick spray at this point or else. I made this mistake once and I will not do it again.
If you have everything lubricated with non-stick spray and your pan is hot and ready, you can simply crack an egg and pour it in there. You should break the yolk and stir it around if you can. The McDonald’s eggs are somewhat swirled with the white and the yolk, but they’re not scrambled.
The best part about Kenji’s ball jar lid, round egg technique is how easy it is to get the egg out of the jar lid (if you sprayed it with non-stick spray, that is). You’re left with a round, fully cooked egg that perfectly fits an English muffin.
Once the egg is in the jar lid and you’ve broken the yolk, you will want to add four or five tablespoons of water into the pan outside of the jar lid rings (no real need to measure) and cover the pan. This will help steam the top of the round egg, while the bottom is cooking. If you don’t do this, your egg will not cook all the way through very quickly and that may cause the bottom of the egg closest to the pan to be overdone while the top of the egg is undercooked.
Splashing some water into the pan and covering it is the way to go.
ALSO: make sure to season your egg with salt and pepper. I forgot to do this in the photo above, but I fixed my error.
The strawberry preserves
Strawberry preserves are a breakfast sandwich game changer. I will be doing this again in the future.
The sweetness from the preserves really works well with the saltiness of the meat. You’d probably never put strawberry preserves on eggs or on cheese, but the flavors turn out to work well.
One reason the sandwich was served open-faced was that a small tub of strawberry preserves was provided, along with a knife. The sweet & savory approach did not catch on (at least in the USA) although a packet of strawberry preserves will still be provided upon request.Wikipedia
This combo of strawberry preserves/jam and Canadian bacon (almost ham), carries very strong Monte Cristo vibes. If you’ve never had a Monte Cristo, just know that jam and ham (and cheese) are not weird ingredients when combined in a sandwich. Give jam a try in your next breakfast sandwich. I am definitely a big fan.
I don’t have a strawberry preserve recipe and for these sandwiches, I used store bought, but if you have some strawberries, here’s a quick jam recipe which would work just fine, and it would be fairly similar to the preserves in flavor and texture.
The English muffin sandwich recipe
Once you have the English muffin and the meat and egg technique, you’ve pretty much made this sandwich. But here’s the recipe if you want a full-fledged step-by-step guide.
Just like the breakfast sandwiches you can get at fast-food restaurants, except better because you made them. Don't forget to add a little jam or honey to balance sweet and savory flavors.
- 2 English muffins
- butter (for spreading on English muffins and toasting)
- 2 slices of Canadian bacon
- 2 slices of American cheese
- 2 large whole eggs
- strawberry preserves or honey (optional)
Split all of your English muffins with a fork (if homemade or not split). Spread butter on all cut sides and place each side, cut side up under the broiler in your oven or toaster oven.
Broil for 3 or 4 minutes or until the butter is fully melted and the muffin has become brown and toasty.
Place English muffins aside.
In a medium pan over medium heat, add your slices of Canadian bacon and cook for 3 or 4 minutes per side until they're brown and warmed up. Once that has happened, move the meat out of the pan to a plate to rest.
Take two jar lids with the screw top and spray them all down with non-stick spray. Turn the lid upside down inside the screw top so that your lids and screw tops have formed a sort of cup. They need to be very well lubricated with non-stick spray at this point.
Add jar lids into the pan, still over medium heat and crack eggs into each lid "cup." Once the eggs are in each jar lid cup, take a fork or knife and break the yolk and stir things around to get the egg white and yolk mixed around a little.
Add salt and pepper to each egg.
Spoon 4 or 5 tablespoons of water in the pan (outside of the jar lids) and then add the cover to the pan. This is going to help steam the top of your eggs to the proper doneness.
Cook eggs in jar lids for 3 or 4 minutes. Lift the pan lid if you want to test the doneness with a fork or knife.
After the eggs are cooked to your liking, remove the jar lids, full of eggs, to a plate or cutting board. Carefully turn over each jar lid and the egg should slide right out.
Compose each English muffin breakfast sandwich in this order: Toasted muffin bottom, round egg, slice of American cheese, Canadian bacon, jam or honey (optional) and then top with the English muffin top. Placing the slice of American cheese between the egg and the ham is different from how McDonald's does it, but it should allow the cheese to melt between the two warmest sandwich items. Check the notes if you want to do it just like McDonald's does it.
Serve sandwiches and enjoy!
If you really must be exactly like McDonald's you should add your slice of American cheese to the English muffin bottom and set it under the broiler for one or two minutes prior to building the sandwich.
Happy 50th Birthday to the Egg McMuffin!
While I’m still a bigger fan of the biscuit as a breakfast sandwich conveyance, you must admit, a good, fresh English muffin is fantastic. Toast one with a little butter and it can make a terrific sandwich.
Thanks for reading and check back next week when we make a sandwich that definitely didn’t come from France.