Food & Drink

Do baked beans belong in a Full English Breakfast?

It’s the debate which is dividing the nation. Beans or no beans on a fry-up?

Two of our writers attempt to settle the argument once and for all.

No – Tom Victor

There is a reason why more and more cafes are serving baked beans in a separate pot alongside the rest of your Full English Breakfast. It’s the first step towards the only logical conclusion: removing them from the equation altogether.

Ask yourself what you want from a cooked breakfast. Then ask what beans give you that one of the other main ingredients doesn’t.

Moisture? If you cook your eggs properly then you get that from the yolk, and no one’s stopping you adding other sauce to your plate instead of that watery red nonsense. A non-meat element? Eat hash browns like a normal person. Substance? Just add more bacon and sausages and stop pretending. Regret? Switch out toast for fried bread, or – if you’re feeling creative – why not get both.

A Full English is often a marriage of convenience. At least 50% of the time you have one, you’re hungover, there’s a cafe nearby and they’ll let you sit down and sweat beer for an hour without judging you.

In those circumstances, you don’t need to waste a sausage by using it as a breakwater. Hell, the word ‘breakwater’ wouldn’t even be in common usage were it not for idiots in denial trying to justify their terrible breakfast choices.

Then we have the other obvious issue: sandwich compatibility.

The beauty of a cooked breakfast – or at least a cooked breakfast done right – is that all of the non-bread ingredients can be gathered together and served in an overflowing baguette. Try putting beans in that same baguette. Go on, I dare you. I double dare you. Either they ruin the bread or they fall out as you’re trying to eat, and chances are you’re already looking pretty undignified if you’re trying to turn a Full English into a sandwich.

Bacon? Good. Sausages? Good. Eggs? Good. Hash browns? Good. Black pudding? Good. Mushrooms? Good. Tomatoes? Not to my taste, but I’ll allow it. You can even mix it up if you want to. Why not throw some halloumi into the mix, or switch out your normal sausages for chorizo? Steak alongside the bacon? Sure, why not. It’s a free country.

But baked beans? There’s a reason they haven’t caught on in most of the rest of the world.

Yes – Matt Tate

There’s no point in me sitting here trying to convince you, the pitchfork-wielding internet, that baked beans are the most important ingredient in a fry-up. They aren’t. But I’ve heard some idiot wants to deny them their rightful and hard-earned place on the plate, and I won’t have it.

Baked beans are never going to be noticed for their extravagance. You could conceivably argue that toast is more interesting. What they bring to the (breakfast) table, however, is versatility.

Beans are ubiquitous in fry-ups because without them you’re looking to egg yolk as your sole source of wetness. That would be an error. A yolk will never get you through an entire meal. Post-plunge, you’re looking at three to four mouthfuls, tops. They’re also too mild in flavour to call themselves a one-stop-shop for moisture.

That’s why at the end of every respectable forkful you’ll find a smattering of beans. The sauce - tomatoey, wholesome, just sweet enough - goes with everything on the plate, but unlike ketchup, it won’t overpower. I’ve heard them called blandness in a can, but without their presence everything goes to shit. Beans make the showpiece ingredients better. Even when I’m ordering a posh brunch - chorizo, mercilessly smashed avocado, halloumi, that lot - I’m looking at the £1 beans side order. It’s instinctive.

If I was going to use a not-at-all lazy footballing analogy (which I obviously will, because it’s sort of a go-to at this point in basically any argument), I’d say baked beans were the utility player of the fry up: the Daley Blind, the Eric Dier, the James Milner. You can play them in a central role, getting everything started and mopping up when required, but they’re no less useful out wide. Lose your baked beans and suddenly the rest of the plate looks exposed. They’re flexible, and you feel reassured when you see them on the team sheet. Why do you think Jose Mourinho is willing to pay £50m for baked beans?

I have no issue with sausages, black pudding or the humble hash brown being deployed mid-plate as a beans buffer. You don’t want the tomato sauce running wild and colliding with crust. So yeah, applied too liberally you’re definitely risk a tomato flood – grief nobody needs at peak hangover. The trick is to make sure the sauce thickens slightly before you take them off the heat, and just don’t be an excitable idiot when you’re dolloping.

Whatever you do, though, don’t exclude beans from your fry-up. Like Ant & Dec, ice cream vans and mouth-wrecking cheddar, they’re an institution for a reason.