Is your egg-boiling technique really all that reliable? Are you able to consistently achieve the sort of perfection that yields eggs which peel easily, ones where the whites are fully set but not rubbery, with yolks that are cooked through but still bright yellow and creamy?
To answer the deceptively simple question of the best way to boil eggs, longtime Serious Eats culinary director, MIT graduate, and author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science Kenji López-Alt spent 80 hours testing egg-boiling methods. “I literally used thousands of eggs in the process. I used over 200 eggs just to find out the best method to make eggs peel easy,” he says.
López-Alt conducted extensive research (so you don’t have to) to gain a better understanding of the best way to not only boil eggs, but also: fry eggs, poach eggs, cook an omelet, scramble eggs so that they are fluffy, and scramble them so that they are rich and creamy.
Here, the home-cooking wizard unravels the mysteries of at-home egg cookery—from when to salt eggs before scrambling, to how to achieve perfectly shaped poached eggs every single time.
1. Buy the freshest eggs possible.
López-Alt says: “There’s old folk wisdom that older eggs peel better than fresher ones. I’ve done hundreds of blind tests that have proven this is not true. Always buy the freshest eggs possible, no matter how you plan on cooking them.” (Photo: tallcloverfarm.com)
2. Ignore the “sell-by” date.
López-Alt says: “The sell-by date on a carton of eggs is not always an accurate indicator of the eggs’ age, as there is a wide window of time packers are allowed to print. Instead, look at the Julian date, the 3-digit number next to the sell-by. It goes from 1 to 365, and represents the exact day of the year the egg was placed in the carton.” (Photo: iastate.edu)
3. Don’t start boiled eggs in cold water.
López-Alt says: “Age doesn’t affect shells sticking much, but the temperature of the water in which you start a boiled egg does. Eggs started in cold water tend to fuse to their shell. Eggs lowered into boiling water or into a steamer will peel more easily.” (Photo: WikiCommons)
4. Shock your boiled eggs in ice water for better deviled eggs.
López-Alt says: “Eggs have a small airspace in their fat end that can create a misshapen divot in hard-boiled eggs. Shocking your egg in ice water immediately after removing it from boiling water will cause that airspace to shrink, removing the divot.” (Photo: simplyscratch.com)
5. Drain your eggs for poaching.
López-Alt says: “Excess egg whites can cause your poached eggs to become misshapen and turn your poaching water cloudy. Draining the eggs in a fine-mesh strainer to remove excess watery white will give you perfectly shaped poached eggs every time.” (Photo: notrehome.com)
6. Poach your eggs in advance.
López-Alt says: “Got a brunch party planned? Poach your eggs the day before and store them in the fridge in a container of water. The next day, transfer them to a bowl of hot water for about a minute before serving. They will be as good as fresh.” (Photo courtesy López-Alt)
7. Salt your eggs before scrambling them.
López-Alt says: “Despite folk wisdom, salting your scrambled eggs before cooking them will result in more tender eggs, as salt dissolves proteins and allows them to create a moisture-binding network. Beat your eggs with salt 15 minutes before cooking for the best results.” (Photo: oliveoilandsalt.wordpress.com)
8. High heat for fluffy scrambled eggs, low heat for creamy.
López-Alt says: “High heat creates large, air-packed curds. Low heat with lots of stirring will give you smaller, tender curds and an almost custard-like texture. In either case, take the eggs out of the pan before they seem fully cooked—they will continue to set on the plate.” (Photo courtesy López-Alt)
9. Buy your eggs based on your ethics, not your tongue.
López-Alt says: “Multiple blind taste tests have demonstrated that folks cannot tell the difference between pastured, organic, standard supermarket eggs, or even fresh-laid eggs from the backyard when tasted side-by-side. You should buy your eggs based on how you like chickens to be treated.” (Photo: wovenmeadows.com)
10. Commandments aren’t permanent.
López-Alt says: “Commandments give you the impression that our knowledge is complete. It’s not. Never be afraid to challenge any cooking conventions or rules when faced with new evidence.”
To discover more tried-and-true cooking techniques—from mastering steak searing, to making the gooiest-ever stovetop mac and cheese—get yourself a copy of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science.