What Is a Full Irish Breakfast?

Learn how the traditional dish differs from a full English breakfast, plus get our best tips for cooking this classic Irish fry.

irish breakfast of eggs and beans
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A full Irish breakfast is more than a plate of food; it's an occasion in and of itself, and as such, it should be approached with enthusiasm and a big appetite. Loaded with protein, an Irish breakfast usually offers four breakfast meats and two eggs fried sunny side up. Eating eggs with bacon and sausages is nothing new, but the feast set before you when you order an Irish fry is a sign of great hospitality and the test of a good cook.

What Makes an Irish Breakfast Unique?

In addition to the meats and eggs there will also be button mushrooms that are cooked in butter until tender. There might also be a helping of saucey baked beans from a can and, depending on who you ask, broiled or pan-fried tomato halves. Plenty of toast is a reliable feature, whether the soft, pre-sliced kind the Irish call "pan," or more wholesome slices of brown soda bread. Some people fry their bread in bacon fat, but if you see any sign of a deep-fat fryer, steer clear. If you're in Northern Ireland you'll be served a small skillet cake called a fadge, which has potato in the dough. Neither hash browns nor the thick fries both the English and Irish call chips should be included.

You can rest assured, though, that a little dish of rich, golden Irish butter will be provided to spread on your toast, and a jar of marmalade will be there, too. Of course, a hot, strong cuppa, otherwise known as Irish tea with milk, is the perfect thing to wash it down with, and you may as well order a whole pot.

How to Cook a Full Irish Breakfast.

Poorly executed examples of the Irish breakfast have given it a greasy reputation. But when care is taken—from the sourcing to the cooking—there is nothing quite as satisfying. It's a production to have everything ready at the same time, and a careful host will have two skillets and the broiler ready. Rashers (which means slices) of bacon are fried first, and the fat left behind helps to cook the other ingredients—except the eggs, which must be fried separately. Irish bacon, which is back or loin bacon, is similar to what we call Canadian bacon, and it's not streaked with fat as American bacon is. Tender Irish sausages, every child's favorite part, are stuffed with finely ground pork as well as soft breadcrumbs and herbs. These sausages will pop in the hot pan if you don't prick them in a few places first, which is why they're known as bangers in England.

What Makes a Full Irish Different Than a Full English Breakfast?

An English breakfast, although very similar to the Irish one, might include fried potatoes, as mentioned above. The other key difference is its lack of two key components: sliced black pudding and/or white pudding. These pork products, original to County Cork, have become a requisite part of any Irish fry up. The word pudding is misleading; They are more like fat, country-style sausages. Both are savory: The white pudding is made from pigs' offal, while black pudding, similar to French boudin noir and Spanish morcilla is made from pig's blood seasoned with onions, herbs, and pinhead (steel-cut) oats. This iron-rich, deeply savory food supplemented many Irish country diets during leaner times. In the latter half of the 20th century, production of these foods was industrialized, but in every county these days, small Irish butchers and artisanal producers are carrying on the tradition of making sausages, puddings, breads, and preserves with local ingredients.

Each year the Irish travel guidebook publisher Georgina Campbell and the Irish tourism board, Faîlte Ireland, give awards for the best breakfast in Ireland. The results are just in: Ireland's best sausages and rashers? You'll find those at McCarthy's of Kanturk, Co. Cork, just named as the producer of Ireland's top breakfast meats. Even if you don't have McCarthy's meats, full Irish is a protein-rich breakfast and will certainly set you up for the day.

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