“It is a hero among sandwiches, although it is not the one called a hero,” wrote critic Pete Wells in the New York Times several years ago. He was talking about the breakfast sandwich, an iconic American combination of — at least in its classic form — eggs, cheese, and usually meat of some kind (typically pork-based) on a roll or bagel or toast.
There probably aren’t any statistics to prove this, but New York City may well be the capital of breakfast-sandwich consumption. These morning hand-held meals are dispensed by the many thousands every day from delis, bagel shops, coffee shops, street carts, and even some full-scale restaurants in every corner of the city.
The classic example is the BEC — bacon, egg, and cheese, traditionally served on a crusty roll. Countless variations exist, of course, especially outside New York. (Critic Wells came down against the idea of fancying breakfast sandwiches up too much.)
All-American though it may seem today, the breakfast sandwich probably originated in 19th century London, where workers on their way to their jobs in the morning would buy a “bap” — a kind of soft roll — filled with eggs and sausage or back bacon (or just the meat) from street vendors.
The idea made its way to America, becoming especially popular in the 1950s and 1960s, though breakfast sandwiches truly entered our dietary mainstream slightly later, thanks to the fast food industry. The first fast food breakfast sandwich might have been an egg, meat, and cheese concoction on an English muffin introduced by the Jack-in-the-Box chain in 1969, but it was only after the Egg McMuffin made its debut at McDonald’s in 1972 that the idea really took off. This item and its countless variations became so popular that the burger chain now serves them all day long.
Today, around the country, there are breakfast sandwiches not just at McDonald’s and its counterparts, but at a wide range of other establishments, both casual and otherwise, traditional and modern. 24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of the nation’s best examples. Sometimes they are among the unhealthiest fast-food items on the menu.
Though they are analogous to breakfast sandwiches, no breakfast tacos, burritos, or wraps have been included. Sandwiches made with biscuits, however, are common on the list, especially in the Southern states.
Often the best breakfast sandwiches reflect local tastes or ingredients. Sometimes they’re whimsical. Other times, they’re just straightforward and satisfying. They’re always, though, a great way to start the day.
To assemble a list of the best breakfast sandwich in every state, 24/7 Tempo consulted user reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Zomato, as well as local and regional review sites and national roundups of best breakfasts and best breakfast sandwiches. You can also find out which is the best independent sandwich shop in every state.