As unappetizing as it might sound to the uninitiated, the bacon butty is truly a national treasure. In a 2012 survey of the 50 things Britons love most about Britain, this piece of culinary tradition ranked #1 (fish and chips and the Queen trailed behind at #9 and #15, respectively). Clearly, this is something that every Britophile should pay attention to.

Bacon Butty by didbygraham
Bacon Butty, a photo by didbygraham on Flickr.

A bacon butty is technically a sandwich, but it is variously known as a bacon sarnie, rasher sandwich, bacon sanger, and piece ‘n bacon–it all depends on where you come from. Basically, a bacon butty is a slab of bacon, sometimes topped with a condiment, smashed between two pieces of bread. But that’s just the basic makeup, the details of this dish are liable to a thousand interpretations, and are the source of heated debate (nearly to church-schism proportions). 

Everyone seems to have their favorite version of the bacon butty, but there are a few ground rules that must be complied with if the sandwich is to be a success. First of all, you must realize the vital function of each layer: 

  • The Bread: Not the star of the butty. It should be unobtrusive. Dry enough to soak up some fat from the bacon. Able to give a slight crunch.
  • The Bacon: The main attraction. Plenty of fat but not too greasy. Imparting delectable flavor and crispy texture. 
  • The Condiment: Gives more flavor and some moisture to the butty. Good for covering up poor-quality bacon. Personal preference varies widely.
  • The Texture: This is arguably the most important element of the bacon butty. Should have crunch and crisp. Certainly not dry or chewy.
Brits are so passionate about this food that a team of scientists from Leeds University enlisted 50 volunteers to try 700 variations in order to determine the perfect formula for bacon butties. They examined the force in Newtons required to break cooked bacon and uncooked bacon, the bacon type, cooking method and time, serving temperature, the function of the condiment, and the duration of the application of the condiment (as far as I know, the total cost of this project has not been released to the public). While what they discovered is certainly not the last word on butty preparation, it is a great guideline for anyone who wants to make this classic sandwich. Are you ready? Here goes:

N = C + {fb (cm) . fb (tc)} + fb (Ts) + fc . ta
Bacon Butties by sk8geek
Bacon Butties, a photo by sk8geek on Flickr.

To tell you the truth, I have no concept what this means. 

However, those industrious scientists have given us a rough translation that outlines the preparation of the perfect bacon butty, which I will relate to you here:
  1. Cook two or three back rashers of bacon under a preheated oven grill for seven minutes at around 240c (475f).
  2. Place the bacon between slices of good quality bread (1-2cm thick).

Now you will notice that there is absolutely no guidance here concerning condiments, whether the bacon should be smoked or not, or if the bread should be toasted. These are highly subjective but critical elements which every butty-maker must take into consideration. I suppose that what it comes down to is that, much as the scientists wish to codify it, the bacon butty is simply not a science. It is an art. To decide for yourself what the “perfect” formula really is, you should have all the information made available to you. Please examine the chart below:

Whether you choose to partake of the butty for breakfast, as a late-night snack, a hangover cure, or a cheap dinner, I hope that you will become an adherent of this truly Brit-tastic standby!

Perhaps you have a favorite version of the bacon butty? Please leave a comment telling us all about it!

Bonus Brit-Bit: While the bacon butty may look like plebeian fare, it was supposedly part of Prince Harry’s late night breakfast after the Royal Wedding celebrations.


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Written by Abigail Young

I've had a passion for everything British my entire life, despite being raised as a small-town girl in the American Midwest, After years of dreaming, I got the chance to live and work in England for an entire year. Now I write about my favorite country, and hopefully inspire my fellow Britophiles to get over there and experience it for themselves.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Lynsey Reply

    This must be the most detailed post I have ever seen on the subject of the bacon butty, I love it. 🙂 Although, I must confess that that formula doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me either.

    For me, it has to be a crusty roll. I can’t be doing with a soft roll. If it’s bread, then it’s got to be nice bread, not a generic supermarket brand. And bacon-wise, I can’t stand fried bacon. It’s got to be grilled, every single time.

    And, of course, there’s the all important rule; if you’re planning on waking me up before six in the morning, do not take the risk unless you know my bacon roll preferences. 🙂

    • Abby Rogers Reply

      That is awesome, Lynsey! I will be sure to remember all of this next time I wake you up early in the morning 😉

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