Kitchen Hacks

Egg Poaching for a Crowd: We Tested the Tips

July  7, 2016

Poaching a single egg is an accomplishment worthy of praise. I didn't poach my first egg until I had: lived for at least two decades on this earth, wasted a half-dozen or so, shed many a tear. Some of my colleagues at Food52 have admitted that it's a skill that still eludes them (or, for those who have yet to even try, so they assume).

But once you've poached an egg (perhaps via the "control-freak method" à la Amanda Hesser or the more freewheeling Ottolenghi technique), you might be wondering how to show off to all of your friends poach a lot at once, maybe for a brunch party with eggs Benedict or because it momentarily slipped your mind that are so many easier ways to serve eggs to a crowd... (see below as evidence).

Regardless of why you need to poach a lot of eggs, you'll find plenty of tips for cooking multiple eggs at once (or individual eggs in record time!) on the web. So we decided to put these methods to the test. Once and for all!

And what we found was surprising, erring on the side of disappointing: The most widely-circulated tip—poach 12 eggs at once... in the oven... in a muffin tin...—did not work. (The approach that did work? That can be credited to J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats—less of a surprise there!)

Below, we'll break down what we tried and how it went. You can also skip straight to the success story if you'd like a happy ending.

What did not work:

What worked:

Kenji's tip—poaching eggs in a steamer basket—is the only one I can wholeheartedly recommend. Photo by James Ransom

Poaching eggs in a muffin tin

This "kitchen hack" has made the rounds: Food & Wine called it "The Insanely Easy Way to Poach a Dozen Eggs at Once"; The Kitchn declared its "Verdict: This is a mind-blowing tip!"; and Lifehacker republicized the content ("With this technique you can make enough eggs to easily serve at a brunch or other event.")

Here, supposedly, is how:

  1. Fill muffin cups with about 1 tablespoon of water.
  2. Crack an egg into each one.
  3. Bake at 350° F for 8 to 10 minutes (The Kitchn recommends anywhere from 11 to 15).

Plus, the following visual proof!

But after three rounds of testing, I'm honestly not sure how the team over at F&W got the eggs to look so appetizing in the video. Because the eggs I made using this method (three times!) were—and I'm not going to mince words here—revolting. (In the Today Show segment that features this tip, the eggs themselves are not a focal point. The skeptic in me knows why.)

For one thing, it's really hard to tell when the eggs are finished; I checked them every minute after 8 minutes yet couldn't bring myself to pull them before 14, as the whites remained gunky and only half-opaque. Part of the difficulty is that the water you pour into each cup rises to the surface of the egg, making it appear liquidy even as it hard-cooks.

Disclaimer for all concerned parties: There are a lot of egg pictures in this post, and some are wholly unappetizing. Be glad, at least, that you can't smell through the computer screen... yet.

Left: Maybe these will be okay after all... ; Right: All hopes dashed (a.k.a. hard-boiled).

Second, the yolk is bare-breasted to the harsh heat of the oven. Even if the protected inside were to remain somewhat soft (which it did not), the outside layer puckers and dries.

And finally, it's about as hard as a game of Operation to dislodge the eggs from their muffin cradles without completely destroying them. PureWow recommends spraying the non-stick muffin pan with cooking oil, but it made me nervous to add an oil, however "neutral-flavored," to such a pure-tasting food.

In the end, I had rubbery whites with the texture of a bouncy ball; solidly chalky yolks; and 12 eggs in various pieces that I wasn't quite sure what to do with (egg salad: yes; eggs Benedict: no way).

Two more tries, two more failures. (The picture on the right shows the tin that cooked at 250° F.)

I also tried lowering the temperature and baking the eggs at 250° F for 20 minutes, hoping that would remedy the problem. The low-temp eggs were softer and more jiggly, closer to poached eggs in texture—yet just as difficult (if not more so) to remove from the tin. I injured most in the process. The oven also doesn't cook very evenly (maybe a convection setting would fix this issue?), which meant that some eggs were more done than others.

The editors at PureWow said that in "terms of taste and texture, we couldn’t tell the difference" between muffin tin eggs and poached eggs. For me, I'm not sure I'd be mistake the muffin-egg as a poached egg even if it bounced off my face.

Muffin-egg (left) versus microwave egg (right).

In the end: What's popular is not always right; and what's right (poaching eggs in simmering liquid, as the egg gods intended) is not always popular.

Poaching multiple eggs in the same shallow pan, willy-nilly

For instructions on how to do the obvious—poach as normal, but add in more than one egg—I turned to a Hotline thread on the same subject. Queen of Spoons answered with such confidence that I was sure I would be able to follow her directions:

Fill a large nonstick skillet (which I have very lightly oiled) with cool water, only enough to cover the eggs by about an inch. Bring to steady simmer and add vinegar. Crack each egg into a small dish and slide it into the water, pouring towards the outside edge of the pan. I do six.

Excuse me while I interrupt: Six (!!) eggs at the same time! A true feat.

As soon as the whites begin to firm up, I carefully slide a slotted spoon under them to make sure they are not sticking to the pan. When whites are fully opaque, but yolks still seem liquid-y, remove to paper towels sitting on a cooling rack. (The thing I hate most about poached eggs is when they haven't been drained properly and the water makes everything soggy.) Then do the next round and repeat.

They can be held for a bit here and if needed briefly returned to water to warm before service.

I have confidence that this technique really does work if you're a master egg-poacher, which I am not. As a measly intermediate poacher, I found it very intimidating to add six eggs to a pot of just-hot-enough-but-not-too-hot water, then nudge them at the precise right moment of readiness and remove them at the precise right moment of doneness. In my mind, it was a lot like parenting. Maybe not exactly—but it was a great amount of responsibility, and I didn't end up getting it right. Two eggs were casualties to the water.

I'd rather wake up three hours earlier and poach each egg one by one than choose to undertake this challenge before the arrival of brunch guests.

Poaching an egg in the microwave

While this method produces one egg rather than a big batch, it does so at the speed of light microwaves, which means you could zap egg after egg (holding the finished ones in a bath of cool water) until your guests arrive. Almost no clean-up. Almost no stress!

"For Perfectly Poached Eggs," the Bon Appétit headline reads, "the Microwave is Your Friend." They're fast, hands-off poached eggs—and "perfect" ones, too!

The method is simple:

  1. Fill a 1-cup microwaveable bowl or cup with 1/2 cup water.
  2. Crack in an egg.
  3. Cover with a plate and microwave on high for about 1 minute, or until the white is set but the yolk is still runny.
  4. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the egg to a plate.
Does this make you as uncomfortable as it makes me?

Microwaving the egg worked—it's true. But perfectly? I wouldn't say so. The whites were a little snotty, the yolk a bit bug-eyed. The whole thing was as fragile as a water balloon and slid across my plate leaving a snail-like trail.

Would I make this for myself in a desperate time? Yes. Would I ask guests to eat it (and would I spend many minutes in front of the microwave so that I had enough to serve to the masses)? No.

Poaching multiple eggs in a steamer basket

The winning method of poaching eggs for a crowd comes from Kenji of Serious Eats who, ingeniously, uses a collapsible steamer basket.

This actually works. That's my hand in there as proof! Photo by James Ransom

Here's how the winner does it:

  1. Strain eggs (to do away with excess, runaway whites) through a fine mesh sieve and add them to a large bowl. (Kenji does six eggs at a time but imagines that, with more experience and a bigger pot, even more might fit.)
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water almost to a boil. Place a collapsible steamer basket inside, making sure there's enough water so that the eggs will be submerged.
  3. When bubbles are just starting to appear in the pot, gently tip the eggs out of the bowl and into the submerged steamer basket. Try your best to plop the eggs in one at a time so that you can space them out evenly.
  4. Once the whites have set just a bit (about 15 seconds, says Kenji), you can start to flip them with a spoon or spatula—gingerly. "The more the eggs get flipped and rotated, the better their finished shape will be." I was too nervous to flip my eggs, which meant they came out a bit flatter than typical poached eggs (more disc than sphere).
  5. When the eggs are finished—this method allows you to monitor them very closely!—simply lift the steamer basket out of the water, allow it to drain, and transfer the eggs to a towel-lined plate.
Four very pretty poached eggs, straight from the steamer basket.

Once you've got a pile of poached eggs, you can hold them for up to five days: Let the poached eggs chill out in a bowl cool water as you cook as many as you need. Then place them in plastic containers, cover with more cool water, and store in the fridge. To reheat, Kenji suggests letting the eggs sit in very hot tap water for about 2 minutes, then re-blotting with a paper towel.

If you don't need to store the eggs for an extended period of time and are planning to serve them, say, later in the hour, you could also try slightly under-poaching the eggs, then storing them in a covered bowl of very hot water until it's time to eat.

Or skip all of this and buy a machine that poaches eggs for you! It's 2016: Machines do it all. And if even that sounds overwhelming, might I remind you of sheet-pan eggs?

What's the most annoying dish to make for a crowd? Tell us in the comments below!

15 Comments

Gretchen50 October 13, 2017
Another way to poach multiple eggs at once is to use the rings from pint canning jars. Spray with non-stick spray. Put as many as you want in a pan of water to hold them so the water is just deep enough to immerse the top of the egg. Add a little vinegar. Bring to a low simmer and put an egg in each ring. Poach to doneness you like.
 
Linda July 10, 2016
I tried the oven method and they turned out fine. I don't think I did anything different from your method, but they were good.
 
Syl July 8, 2016
I use several vegetable dishes. Add two Tbs. water to each and break an egg into each. Puncture each yolk with tip of a knife then cover and cook in an 1100 watt microvave oven on high for 40 seconds. Drain water and enjoy
 
How's I. July 7, 2016
From an experienced breakfast cook, here's the TL:DR version:<br /><br />All-Clad sauté pan, white vinegar, low boil, slotted spoon/fine sieve spoon/regular spoon with good hand/eye coordination.<br /><br />Very Long Version:<br /><br />I've been a cook at a popular Nashville breakfast/brunch joint for 3 years. Prior to that, my only commercial breakfast cooking experience was brunch once a week at a different restaurant that was primarily lunchtime fare. Before that, I had never poached an egg, ever. After knowing absolutely nothing about poaching eggs, then doing it once a week for a year, then several times a week for 3 years, I think I've gotten pretty good at it at this point.<br /><br />Out of all the methods I've tried, and having done it on a large scale for a few years now, until somebody shows me a better way, this is the only way I'll do it when I need to poach eggs on a large scale-<br /><br />First and foremost, use an All-Clad sauté pan.<br /><br />(4 qt? I believe is the size. I'm not 100%, but it's 3-4 qt., at any rate.) Expensive? Yes, totally. They run about $200-250 or so, but I can poach 9-10 eggs at a time and have them all come out looking good Every Single Time. Out of the multiple pans and double boiler setups I've tried poaching eggs in, the All-Clad sauté pan is by far my favorite. Besides being just a single pan (vs. double boiler) the water heats so awesomely evenly, and the pan is the perfect size. The only critique I can give, and it is *minor,* is that the handle is so thin that you really must use the loop handle on the opposite side (i.e. you have to use both hands) in order to carry it even halfway-full anywhere (say, to change the poaching water) without spilling it.<br /><br />The other key is a splash of *white vinegar.*<br /><br />In my experience, lemon juice is not *nearly* as good. I've used cider vinegar in a pinch, and while it works about the same as white, it does darken the water, which could be an issue for some people (such as myself- the lighting where I cook isn't so great, and I wear glasses- except when I'm cooking, because of the heat/steam/grease/etc. - so darker poaching water is problematic for me). A coworker of mine likes dill pickle juice, and while I've had good luck with that too, white vinegar will always be my first choice.<br /><br />I don't currently add salt to my poaching water (as I've been hearing recommended by great chefs lately) yet I've always had great poached eggs; however I'm interested in experimenting with it.<br /><br />Poaching water: When I'm starting off, I like to add a healthy splash of vinegar to an empty pan (I just eyeball it - literally just a splash- a hefty one- but if you were to measure it, it would probably be 1-2 Tbs per quart of water. Again, I never measure, just a healthy splash by sight, and I've never had an issue). Then add water up to *about* an inch from the top of the pan, depending on how many eggs you want to cook at once (experience will guide you). No need to swirl the water or anything like that; simply heat to a low boil *before* adding eggs. Add them too early and they'll stick to the pan. Not an insurmountable problem- a silicone rubber spatula works wonders in that case- but it's just much easier if you add them after the water comes to a heavy simmer/low boil.<br /><br />I personally crack the eggs right into the water, due to high volume time constraints, but cracking them into a bowl or other container first should have little to no effect on the end result, other than that if the yolk breaks when you crack it, you can toss it before poaching it, if you wish.<br /><br />That's pretty much it. Takes roughly 4 minutes, but probably more if you have very many eggs going at once, and also how 'done' you and/or your guests like them.<br /><br />Straining the eggs-<br /><br />Really, any old slotted spoon will do. Even a non-slotted spoon would be fine, as long as it's big enough to hold a poached egg while you drain it against either the side of the poaching pan or something else, like a rubber spatula. Maybe the best tool would be a small fine-mesh sieve, just big enough to hold one or two poached eggs. Bottom line is that you don't need any specialized kitchen gadgets, just a good-sized spoon (or fork, I suppose).<br /><br />If you're poaching eggs for a whole, *whole* lot of people, say at a restaurant or something, where you expect to poach dozens of eggs over the course of 6+ hours, I can tell you from experience that the first 2 or 3 rounds of poached eggs will cook *much* faster than the rest. Whether it's 2 eggs at a time, or 8 or 10 - in my experience, the first 2-3 "batches" of eggs that you poach will poach significantly faster than those that come after.<br /><br />Just remember, as long as you keep your water lever high enough- a half inch or so above the level of the egg- use white vinegar, and poach them at the proper temperature (a heavy simmer/low boil) you should have no trouble at all, whether poaching just a couple or a couple dozen. Just check them a little early until you get a feel for how long it takes to poach to your liking.
 
Chelsea July 7, 2016
Granted it's not exactly the most common kitchen accessory, but poaching eggs for a crowd in an immersion circulator works great. You can poach them in their shell then allow guests to serve themselves by cracking the poached egg onto their toast or English muffin.
 
Michael M. July 8, 2016
I agree, especially with the prices dropping on entry level immersion circulators.
 
M July 7, 2016
Like a lot of things, I found that I made the best poached eggs when I started from the basics, rather than all the hacks people share that are supposed to make life easier. Whirlpools, vinegar, etc, never worked. Lightly simmering water and the right age egg - great!<br /><br />Before I discovered this, I used two non-persnickety hacks.<br />1 - Ladle-poached egg: Lightly spray ladle with cooking spray, pour in egg, hold (submerged) in boiling water until ready. The best thing about this approach was a rounder-shaped egg when I used a wide ladle. Obv. not as easy for a lot of eggs which leads to 2:<br />2 - Arzak egg: Lightly oil saran, plunk egg in and tie closed w/ string. Tie strings to stick that dangles them all in the water. They look crazy, but cook beautifully.
 
bas26 July 8, 2016
I like the Arzak method too but it might be a bit time-consuming to do on a large scale...oiling plastic wrap, tying each egg bundle. It is a great method but difficult to tell if the egg is done.
 
Ron M. July 7, 2016
When I want a poached egg and I'm not in a big hurry, I always just use sous vide. Cook them at 61C for 45 minutes for a milky "onsen tamago" style egg that is great on pasta, crispy hash browns, or in a stir-fry, or sometimes I cook them at hotter temperatures for shorter time to get more firm egg whites and runny yolks. With sous vide and a little practice, it is so easy to get eggs just how you like them every time.
 
Colra90 July 7, 2016
I've successfully made the muffin tins poached eggs before, though I admit it took a few attempts to perfect. Using Pam spray allows them to slip out (who doesn't spray/coat muffin tins before using?? That makes dishes later a nightmare), and using foil to cover the eggs ensures the whites cook fully but leaves the egg yolks still runny. Time varies oven to oven.
 
pvanhagenlcsw July 7, 2016
After countless failed attempts at poaching the perfect eggs, I read a tip on Serious Eats. Using a fresh egg ( essential ) crack the egg into a small strainer and move the strainer in small circles, releasing some off the liquid. Then, gently pour egg into lightly boiling water. This produces a compact poached egg, perfect for eggs Benedict and other delights.
 
Matilda L. July 7, 2016
I vouch for Kenji's method as well. I've successfully poached 8 eggs at a time this way, each perfectly poached in a way I've never been able to do with any other technique.
 
Desiree D. July 7, 2016
I know it's kind of annoying, but I like to steam my eggs with the shell still on (for my fridge-stored jumbo eggs 6 minutes and 40 seconds is the perfect time), I can do as many eggs as I like and the timing never changes. Shock them in cold water then peel, they are always uniform and delicious!
 
Desiree D. July 7, 2016
....by steam I out them in a pot with 1cm water that has been brought to the boil then turned right down to simmer. Pop the eggs in, lid on, timer and start on the toast and coffee!
 
ktr July 7, 2016
I often make microwaved poached eggs at work for lunch. I've found that cracking the eggs (I do 2-3 at a time) into a bowl, then pouring hot water from a tea kettle over the eggs, and microwaving for one minute at 70% power to work very well. The just boiled water helps the whites to set up better than using water from the tap.