A Tale of Two Egg Salads (& How to Make Them)

June  1, 2015

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Here at Food52, we love recipes—but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: A tale of two rival egg salads—and how to make both.

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Left: California Egg Salad; right: a Tennessee rendition.

"Egg salad, I love you because you never change. You are gloppy, humble, and just indulgent enough. The color of butter." 

This was the start of an email from Home and Design Editor Amanda Sims to myself. It sounds like this email thread might become a love note to egg salad between two fans, but things got heated—one might say snarky. It turns out some egg salads can be so disparate, they shouldn't even share the same name, as is the case with mine and Amanda's egg salads. Amanda's has Tennessee roots (her dad made it for her growing up), while mine is "California-inspired." 

What follows is a real transcript of our conversation. Read on to find out how to make each version (and to how to add your own twist, too):

Left: The start of California Egg Salad; right: The few components of Tennessee Egg Salad. The eggs, salt, and pepper are in the middle—neither of us can make egg salad without those.

Oh, the places your egg salad have never been. Let me eggsplain: Mine is not indulgent, nor is it gloppy. There is no mayo. In mine you will find cornichons. And other green things. Not so much yolk. Maybe yours is more of an egg thing, and mine is more of a salad. I'll make you mine, if you make me yours.

Who said mayo? Okay, there is some. And a squiggle of yellow mustard, a generous shake of salt. Plus something funky, tangy, sour, splashable. Tiny French pickles in your egg salad? Are you insane? 

But what's the point of egg salad, gloppy or fully of weeds, if it won't stick to a slice of bread? Tell me what holds your health salad together, what binds one egg flake to another? Accordingly, how do you chop? 

Sent from my iPhone

Left, California Salad: made by using an egg-slicer and only a portion of the yolks; right, Tennessee Salad: nuggets and shards by way of knife.

"Sent from my iPhone" huh? Couldn't wait till you were home to knock my egg salad, which you have not even tried yet. Which you know so little about. Foolish, you.

My egg salad uses Greek yogurt to bind, celery for crunch, cornichon and Dijon for funk, some dill or chives because green things, and loads of s+p.

Despite your quickness to judge (hate), I will concede that your query about chopping is a very wise one. I am a fan of the egg slicer, a highly useful—albeit inessential—tool. I slice one way, rotate the egg 90 degrees, and slice again, so there's a mess of kind of chunky slices. There is likely a better way to go about things, but this is how I do it.


Okay, okay—it sounds delicious, even if it's taken a long frolic through the garden. My egg salad is admittedly a bit of a curmudgeon, wary of change, but perhaps these two are just brothers long estranged. I see you tang with yogurt, though I favor the (maybe more aggressive) hit of apple cider vinegar to bring the mix together.

Still, I admit I am surprised at your use of the egg slicer with such an anything-goes dish, but a "mess of kind of chunky" does intrigue me—especially if the egg bits are teeny tiny as I bet they be. I like to slice with a butter knife while holding the egg in my hand (also pivoting 90 degrees), so the pieces are a tangle of nuggets and shards. 

How do you eat yours? Cold? With a spoon? On burnt toast? On soft white bread? (These are my ways.)

Egg Salad TN vs CA

I am delighted by your rhyme. And that you have opened up to my salad. Yours sounds comforting, like a hug, like what you want from eggs. Do you slather your bread with mayonnaise?

My egg salad is most at home between a slice of wheat toast and sprouts or some such. It also likes to be scooped up by crackers, and it lays lazily in a bed of greens. It's California Egg Salad, after all.

I just toast the bread (burned works, too) and slather it with egg salad. Eat like it's a tartine, which it would be if it lived with your salad in California. 

Having just awoken, I can imagine eating your egg salad for breakfast, being hearty, healthy, and greened. Mine's more of lunch break life saver, or a snack (as mentioned, cold on a spoon). 

Sent from my iPhone

How to Make Egg Salad Without a Recipe

1. Hard boil. Decide how hungry you are (we each consumed 6 eggs-worth of our salads on the day of this shoot, but that's aggressive), and bake, steam, or boil your eggs until the yolks are set.

2. Cool. A bowl of ice water speeds this up.

3. Chop. The shape doesn't affect the flavor—just chop according to your mood. Feeling type A? Use an egg slicer to make straight-sided pieces. Too tired to deal with sharp tools? A butter knife will break the eggs into jagged edges. If you're really on your game, use a sharp knife and dice your eggs like onions. For a rustic salad, we won't tell anyone if you just tear the eggs up with your hands. 

4. Bind. Whether you're more of a mayonnaise or Greek yogurt type, choose a neutrally-flavored binding agent (something with at least a little fat!) to bring the egg salad together. Olive oil would likely do the trick, too.

5. Flavor. A deliciously simple egg salad (Tennessee-style) can be made with a squiggle of yellow mustard and a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar to perk it up. For California egg salad, add celery for crunch, dill and chives for additional oomph, and diced capers and cornichons for a briny bite. The key is to use a similar dice for all ingredients (including the eggs), but anything you'd add to an omelette (bacon! fresh tomatoes!) besides cheese would be welcome here. Taste as you go, adjusting with salt and white pepper for balance.

6. Toast (optional). Toast any slice of bread you fancy, dollop it with egg salad, and then eat for any meal. Nobody will mind if you just go at it with a spoon, alternatively.

Egg Salad TN and CA

How do you like your egg salad—simple or updated? Share your ways in the comments.

Photos by James Ransom

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helios June 9, 2020
Got here by way of seeing ACV or white vinegar in others' recipes...I am intrigued, but I have a SO with the palate of a 5-year old. I see egg salad as akin to a deviled egg sandwich, so my recipes are similar for both. I do often use an egg slicer 3-ways for a small dice for easy blending, and I generally use only 3/4 of the egg whites (because...yolks are the bomb, and pretty much all of the nutrition in an egg), but sometimes rough chop the whites with a pastry cutter and add to the mashed yolk mixture. Mine is usually Miracle Whip ('s what you grow up with), dill relish (with excess liquid pressed out), a dash of dried dill, and white pepper (always white pepper). Maybe a dusting of onion powder and/or garlic powder.
No mustard in this house, although I'd add a bit to an egg dish for a savory deviled eggs also have dijon mustard, tobasco, and Worcestershire. The "Mom-style" eggs made for my SO are yolks whipped with a small amount of milk and...sugar, topped with the obligatory paprika dusting.
Susan June 9, 2020
Loved this! Yum!
JenSam3 March 20, 2019
Nobody uses my egg chopping method! Try a pastry blender! I think it is the best and easiest. :-) I like some finely chopped celery and green onion in my egg salad. Tastes best on toast with mustard.
Susan March 20, 2019
I actually did so today! Always have. So did my mother.(along with, celery, onion and bacon)
helios June 9, 2020
I sometimes use an egg slicer to dice each egg, but am also known to use the pastry cutter for a more coarse texture--never an actual knife! The pastry cutter is also my secret weapon for blending guacamole into creamy, yet chunky.
Nola C. August 11, 2017
I use a fork to mash my eggs, preferring a fairly fine texture. If I'm making a large batch I use a potato masher. Ingredients: mayo, dijon mustard, dash of garlic powder, dash of summer savory, salt and pepper. I like to eat mine in lettuce cups. Yum!
Eugenia S. August 11, 2017
My mom's recipe switches out the vinegar for Worcestershire sauce. I slice the eggs vertically in my hand with a paring knife, turn 90 degrees, slice vertically again, then slice horizontally.
Archie1954 August 11, 2017
My egg salad is very old fashioned. Simply chopped hard boiled eggs, chopped onions, a little mustard and lots of mayonnaise! Then salt and pepper to taste.
Judith June 5, 2017
Tennessee-style - grew up in western New York. Chopped eggs, mayo, a little mustard, probably French's, a splash of vinegar, a pinch of sugar, and finally salt & pepper. Occasionally, some thinly sliced green olives w/ pimientos. I remember as a kid wondering why vinegar and sugar, didn't they sort of cancel each other out? But if there is vinegar, you need just that pinch of sugar. At least, in western New York you did.
Liz D. June 4, 2017
I just mash the eggs with a fork to break up--mayo, mustard, sweet relish, and cayenne and/or Tabasco, S & P. Celery would be OK, but I don't usually bother. But... curry powder would be good if you weren't using the relish. Ditto for dill weed...Regardless, it has to go on bread toast or crackers-- I can't eat eggs without something starchy...
Lisa S. June 4, 2017
I like it simple. Lightly cooked eggs, grated, Mayo, Best Foods or homemade, to moisten not sloppy a touch of Dijon, very little, and some finely minced celery. That's it.
Patkunstenaar June 4, 2017
Always the same way, because that's how we like it: hard boiled eggs quickly spun in my Cuisinart mini-chopper into smallish pieces and dumped in a bowl; salt, pepper, mayo and and a slight sprinkle of cayenne pepper. Mix it up. Yum!
Christy M. May 31, 2017
I love this article. Just found it. Anyway, I am very basic. After boiling the eggs I separate the yolks and whites. I mash the yolks with mayo or a mayo/yogurt combo. I add salt and pepper and chopped sweet pickle. I chop the whites roughly and mix with the yolk mixture with a splash of the pickle juice. Like I said, it's very simple. Love all of the other ideas!
Rita M. April 24, 2017
I use a mezza luna and a wooden bowl to chop the eggs. My grandmother always made chopped liver that way, and so it allows me to connect with her. It makes the egg white chunks pretty even. I like shallots, which we always have from our garden, parsley, celery, mustard, mayonnaise, a little cayenne, pepper. I can't have too much salt so I use more mustard than most and a little vinegar. We make egg salad because we like it. I like to eat it with fresh pita, because I can make a pocket and then it's not so messy.
wahini April 20, 2017
1. Try chopped hard-cooked eggs, diced celery (use a lot of celery), Major Grey chutney (chop any large chunks), capers-optional, salt and pepper, and French's SWEET Mustard. If using regular mustard you might use a bit less or add a bit of sour cream or yogurt--I like it strong so usually do not add it. I like it on barely toasted Pepperidge Farms Very Thin Whole Wheat Bread but it is also delicious on toasted left-over hit dog buns. Adding other vegetables on the sandwich is personal--I rarely do.

2. Or use eggs, celery, salt and pepper, and ripe avocado mashed with lemon juice, zest, and salt. This is great with whatever salad ingredients you happen to have added to the sandwich--or eat the egg salad on the salad--cucumber slices, tomato slices, sprouts, lettuce, avocado hearts, plus capers, olives, pickles--whatever sounds good to you.
3. Just toss the eggs and celery with gribiche.

My mom made it southern style--aka "Tennessee" style--but added sweet pickle relish.
Ann April 6, 2017
egg slicer helps to break up the eggs and French's mustard has turmeric added--great health benefit!!
Lilianne November 6, 2016
I always use a pastry blender to chop eggs-fast and easy.
Dan June 14, 2016
Growing up poor, egg salad has always been a way of using soon to be bad eggs for my family and I. Eggs, mayo, mustard is all that is needed in my family, but sometimes a dash of apple cider vinegar and dried parsley is used. The eggs are akways smashed into fine crumbles (or today thrown in a food processor to save time). The final product was something you can spread, scoop or spoon-up like peanut butter on toast, crackers or a spoon.

I remember eating egg salad for 3 days straight sometimes since we had so many soon to go bad eggs.

The California method sounds more premeditated and gourmet. I'll give it a shot, but I'm guessing it won't be the same with all the fresh ingredients.

Let's be honest though, classic egg salad started the way my families egg salad did, a way to use eggs before they go bad without pickling them (we did that too though).

I'd be as bold to say that a person's egg salad is a relection of thier status. If it'd made with fresh eggs, greens and other perishables.. they probably aren't coupon cutters trying to stretch a dollar, but if it's made with soon-to-go-bad eggs and longer shelf life items like mayo, mustard and apple cider vinegar then they probably are trying to use something they spent hard earned money on before it spoils.

Despite my status, I'll always look into the fridge at old eggs and think egg salad, rather then see eggs at the grocery store and think it. That's just how I was raised.
Erin F. May 31, 2016
Can I really be the only one who likes fresh parsley in their version? Sometimes, I'll mash in some roasted garlic
elen May 28, 2016
As an ex-editor I love the charm of the wordplay in your correspondence. It's written so intentionally I'd say the last thing you want is an editor (see below). Back when I was a purist I let farm-fresh eggs sit in just-boiled water for 15 minutes. I seasoned the water with a dash of vinegar, salt, and the occasional random herb, but I don't know if any of it penetrated. I dressed the salad with olive oil, lemon zest, homemade mayonaisse, cracked black pepper. Years went by bereft of farm eggs, and egg salad held no appeal. Yesterday, feeling old, I settled for the best eggs at the big old grocery store, Cain's mayonnaise, and fresh cilantro. I imagined I was sitting down to lunch with my grandmother's older sister Mary, brought to this country by her ship captain husband who left her a young widow in their first year here from Greece. She kept a big ramshackle garden and took up American customs and cooking -- though not the language -- and made such an egg salad in summer to go with the homemade birch-beer.
Ellen B. May 25, 2016
Egg salad: eggs, a LITTLE mayo, sharp mustard, pickles with a little juice, celery, a LITTLE onion or quite a lot of scallion, green pimento-stuffed olives. Maybe capers. I really like crunch and contrast.
Izzy Y. May 23, 2016
I use the egg slicer in two directions and add chopped green olives and mayo. One taste and you are hooked.
Diann N. May 23, 2016
I first cut the eggs up with a knife,and then smash them up with a fork, add Mayo, black pepper, a little salt,celery and chopped Apple!! Thats it, the Apple gives it a great little taste!!