Which came first? The pepper or the egg?

Spoiler: it was the pepper.

Read Time: 6 minutes

This week I’m writing about a Chicago Friday sandwich that’s super popular during February and March.

What is this sandwich?

Pepper and egg is a sandwich name that holds nothing back in explaining what it is all about. It’s about pepper and egg. The peppers are typically bell peppers—usually green—and the eggs are scrambled. Occasionally you will find a pepper and egg sandwich that is a fancier version of a French-style omelet with sauteed peppers inside of a sandwich roll, but more often than not, the eggs will be scrambled.

History of pepper and egg in Chicago

Before 1966 Catholics were expected to abstain from eating meat on Friday all year round. This posed a difficulty at the time for the small mom-and-pop restaurants that made a living selling quick-to-go sandwiches. At some point, a savvy Chicago sandwich maker had the great idea to combine scrambled eggs with the sandwich bread rolls and sauteed, sweet bell peppers that were typical staples in Chicago’s favorite Italian beef sandwiches. This meant that they could sell a hearty pepper and egg sandwich, using ingredients they already stocked and they could sell it on Friday when a lot of their customers avoided meat.

After some changes were made to fasting requirements by Pope Paul VI the no meat on Friday rule only applies to Fridays during Lent. Many Chicago sandwich shops still sell those Friday-only pepper and egg sandwiches right alongside the Italian beef and Polish sausage sandwiches.

Other parts of the country

Other parts of the world also have a lot of history with the pepper and egg sandwich. New York City is one such place. The origin of this sandwich in Chicago and the origin of the sandwich in other parts of the world have something in common which is affordability of the ingredients. Eggs and bell peppers weren’t and still aren’t usually super hard to find or afford and in a lot of cases, they were both available to poorer families or even in times of hardship. A pepper and egg sandwich can be a hearty meal that’s made with few ingredients.

Clara’s Great Depression cooking

During a bit of online research for this sandwich, I found the YouTube account of a 90+-year-old lady named Clara. Clara and her grandson created a bunch of videos where she recaps the food she ate in her childhood during the Great Depression. Sadly, Clara passed away in 2013, but among the videos she released are these two showcasing how she made eggs, peppers, and bread for pepper and egg sandwiches.

In this first episode, Clara shows how she makes the peppers and eggs.
This video is dedicated to how she makes bread rolls for her pepper and egg sandwiches.

Clara is no longer with us, but I’m glad she made these videos and I hope some of you enjoy hearing her stories.

Now that we know what a pepper and egg sandwich is, we need to bake some bread and start making sandwiches.

Chicago-style sandwich roll

I’ve been baking this sandwich roll recipe for a few years now. I have shared it multiple times, including in the making of my Italian beef recipe. I attempt to get close to a Turano-style roll that is almost ubiquitous throughout Chicago as a bread option for your beef sandwich.

The goal of the bread in a pepper and egg sandwich should be to be soft in the interior but still have a bit of crunch on the exterior. The texture of the peppers and eggs in this sort of sandwich will benefit from a little chew in the bread roll. Because of this, it is important to use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour as the base in the dough.

My recipe makes six or seven Chicago-style sub rolls. These are shaped rolls before the final rise.
After an hour, the rolls puffed substantially and more than doubled in size.
After baking, with the inclusion of a little steam in the oven, the rolls are soft with a slightly crunchy exterior.

Here’s the roll recipe that I use for my pepper and egg sandwiches, but if you want to buy your own bread, just look for a six to eight-inch sandwich roll that you can stuff with peppers and eggs.

3 hours and 30 minutes
Chicago-style sub rolls

Similar, but not a full copycat of a Turano brand roll. These are great for Italian beef sandwiches or any other type of sub. There's a thin crunchy and chewy exterior and a nice soft pillowy interior, perfect for a dunk in au jus or gravy.

Get Recipe

Next, we need bell peppers

Bell peppers are a little bit complicated. A lot of the bell peppers that you can buy at the store will start colored green when they are early in their life, growing on the vine. Some green bell peppers are picked earlier than the other varieties and aren’t yet ripe. By picking them earlier, the green versions turn out a bit bitter with some grass-like flavors that do not appear in the other colors. Red, orange, and yellow bell peppers have spent a bit more time on the vine to ripen and they have more time for their natural sugars to appear in their flavor.

The complicated part appears when you realize that some bell peppers are meant to be green throughout their whole life on the vine. So, a red bell pepper often starts its life colored green until it starts to fully ripen and changes to red. But sometimes a green bell pepper is a specific variety that is meant to be green when it is fully ripened.

My household does not contain anyone who is a fan of green bell peppers. We like the other colors just fine, but the green ones just aren’t as appreciated here. I did make several pepper and egg sandwiches with just green bell peppers, but I enjoyed the ones I made with red and orange peppers a bit more.

I like cooked green bell pepper way better than raw. The vegetal bitterness just isn’t something I enjoy.
Red, yellow, and orange bell peppers just bring a lot more sweetness that green bell peppers lack.

Cooking a green bell pepper does calm the flavor down quite a bit and the sandwiches I ate with green pepper were good, just not as good to my palate as the others. During the pepper cooking process, we use garlic powder to help season the peppers and add a bit of savoriness. It’s important to remember that garlic powder does benefit from some time to rehydrate and bloom. This means that the flavors of the cooked bell peppers will be better after they have time to rest and let the components and ingredients marry in the fridge for at least an hour.

And then, scrambled eggs

Scrambled eggs were one of the first things that I learned to cook with my mom. To me, scrambling seems like the simplest way to cook eggs—as long as we ignore the microwave egg techniques.

I do not season my eggs until I add them to the pan.
Once the pan is warm and the butter is bubbling add the eggs, and season with salt and black pepper.
As the eggs are almost cooked to your liking, add a few bell pepper strips and cook just a bit longer to warm everything through.

I prefer to salt and pepper the eggs right at the beginning of cooking. I do not like to add seasoning before the eggs hit the pan for a couple of reasons but the first is because fresh ground pepper will start to discolor the eggs if it sits and is mixed in for more than a couple of minutes. The second reason I wait to season until the eggs are in the pan is that it’s easier for me to visualize the amount of egg that I have when the mixed-up egg is flat in the pan.

Green or Red sandwich?

In Chicago, you will find pepper and egg sandwiches almost always served with green bell peppers. But when you are making these at home, you can use whatever color of bell pepper that you enjoy.

Green bell peppers

Here are just a couple of photos of the green pepper and egg sandwiches I made in the testing of my recipe. It’s a simple recipe but I still chose to test it quite a few times with a couple of different colors of peppers.

I like my scrambled eggs a bit on the softer side, but when you make your own pepper and egg sandwich you have full control over that.
This sandwich is shockingly simple but also easy to mess up.

Red and orange bell peppers

I also whipped up a batch of red and orange bell peppers to make a slightly sweeter pepper and egg sandwich.

I enjoyed the red pepper and egg sandwiches better than the more traditional green versions. But you do you.
Is this a breakfast sandwich or nah?
Red is better than green. You heard it here first.
A handful of peppers and eggs.

Cheese or nah?

In Chicago—and probably other places that sell pepper and egg sandwiches—you can request cheese. From what I can gather it’s usually provolone. I tried a few of these sandwiches with cheese and if you like your eggs cheesy, go for it. It doesn’t make a huge difference for me in the final sandwich though.

This one got a little cheesy.

Wrapping the sandwich

If you buy this sandwich at a Chicago-based sandwich shop you will most likely receive a sandwich wrapped in paper. This practice is common in almost all sandwich shops that originated for sanitary reasons, but it has the added benefit of helping a warm sandwich steam itself and the bread to soften and warm everything all the way through.

Green pepper and egg sandwich cross-section.
Red pepper and egg sandwich cross-section.
One of my newest hobbies is to find egg videos/reels on Instagram and see how angry people get about the consistency of scrambled eggs. Some folks want their eggs to be fully dry. I am not one of those people.
The soft eggs get a little bit of texture from the bell pepper strips but all in all it makes a very comforting sandwich.
This is almost an omelet sandwich.
Pepper and egg sandwich view printable page for this recipe

A pepper and egg sandwich is great on a Friday or any day of the week. Note: the bell peppers will taste better if you give them a little time to rest after initially cooking them. Store them in the fridge for an hour or overnight before making your sandwich.



Bell peppers
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced (green, or any other color)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ground black pepper
Scrambled eggs and sandwich assembly
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 whole large eggs
  • pinch of salt and ground black pepper
  • bell peppers (from above)
  • 1 slice of provolone (optional)
  • 1 6 to 8-inch bread roll


Bell peppers: slice all your bell peppers into bite-sized strips or smaller. 

Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a pan over medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add bell pepper slices and toss in the oil. Season with salt, black pepper, and garlic powder, stir to combine.

Cook the seasoned bell peppers over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until softened but not browned. 

Remove the softened peppers to a sealed container and allow to cool. Store in the refrigerator for up to three days. 

Scrambled eggs: add 2 tablespoons of butter to a medium pan over medium-low heat. 

Crack 3 eggs into a bowl and whisk thoroughly. Add the eggs to the pan when the butter is melty and appears bubbly.

Sprinkle the salt and black pepper on the eggs and scramble everything in the pan for four or five minutes until the eggs are just starting to firm up.

Add a few spoonfuls of sliced and cooked bell peppers and stir to mix everything. Add any cheese if desired.

Finish cooking the eggs. Stir everything together with any peppers and cheese that have been added.

Sandwich assembly: slice the bread roll and open it up like a book.

Scoop all the eggs and peppers into the roll and wrap the sandwich in parchment paper or foil if desired. Wrapping will help steam the bread and all the ingredients.

Let the sandwich rest for a minute or two and then serve. 

Check back next week

Next week I’ll be writing about another sandwich. Come back and find out which one!

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1 comment on Which came first? The pepper or the egg?

  • Re: the less-sweetness of green bell peppers — years ago, before the non-green bell peppers became easy to find in grocery stores, I remember Jacques Pepin peeling them with a veggie peeler on one of his early tv shows, saying that reduced the bitterness. Also, i recently learned that bell peppers apparently come in male and female varieties — I forget which is which, but one has only three lobes, while the other has four or five (or more occasionally), and the three-lobe version tends to be sweeter than the more-than-three-lobe version.

    Or, heck, you can just keep using red or orange or other non-green bell peppers!

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