What Went Wrong? The Hard-Boiled Egg Edition

May 22, 2017

I grew up believing—to my core—that I did not like hard-boiled eggs. (I know, I know: Dishonor onto my family.) I blame the Passover seder eggs, with their grayish, rubbery whites and their grayish, mouth-drying yolks, that bobbed in dainty dishes of salt water.

I didn't know what hard-boiled eggs could be: creamy without being runny, and flavorful without being overpowering. Hard-boiled eggs make a welcome companion to salads and stews, sauces and sandwiches, and they also top my list of portable snacks and meal add-ons. (If you can figure out how to peel them, that is.)

So, how do you make them so that you'll want to eat rather than avoid them?

Second from the left is the clear winner here. Photo by Bobbi Lin

We looked to Egg Shop: The Cookbook—the same book that gave us the ultimate B.E.C. and a method for cooking non-snotty egg whites—for a no-frills, go-to hard-boiled egg technique. There are lots of ways to get the hard-boiled egg that's right for you, but here's how the chefs at Egg Shop achieve firm but not bouncy whites and sunflower-yellow yolks that stay intact when quartered.

Perfect specimens:

10-minute boil + ice bath

  1. Fill a medium saucepan with water (three-quarters of the way up), add 1 teaspoon of white vinegar (which supposedly makes the eggs easier to peel) and 1 teaspoon of salt.
  2. When water is at a rolling boil, add the eggs (read more about why you should avoid starting your eggs in cold water here). Our eggs were cool—not straight from the fridge but not quite at room temperature.
  3. Cook for 10 minutes; then drain the hot water and put the eggs in an ice bath.
  4. Once cool, peel your eggs (in that same bowl!) and rejoice.

But if your egg is not so perfect, reference our brief diagnostic manual below: You tell us what's weird about your hard-boiled egg, and we'll give you a diagnosis (and a treatment plan). Just call us Dr. Egg.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Yolks like blackboard chalk:

13-minute boil + ice bath

Diagnosis: You've overcooked your egg (12 to 13 minutes in boiling water rather than 10) before you transferred it to the ice bath. And, writes Nick Korbee in Egg Shop, the egg is likely old (ye olde egge!), to boot.

Since super-fresh eggs (we're talking still-warm-from-the-hen fresh) are difficult to peel, we'd guess there is a sweet spot between the "aged" eggs that will shrug off their shells and those that are so old they'll yield chalky yolks.

If you do suspect your eggs are too old, check the sell-by date on the egg carton (or do a test by floating it in water). If you've got some egg geezers on your hands, separate the whites from the yolks—those old whites will be perfect for meringue.

Prognosis: If you do find yourself with powdery yolks, devil the eggs! The chalky texture will dissolve well into the mayonnaise- or yogurt-based filling.

Eggs with a sickly, grey-ish hue:

13-minute boil + no ice bath

Diagnosis: You overcooked your eggs and you didn't transfer them to an ice bath (which leads to residual cooking even after the eggs are pulled from the hot water). We got gray-ringed eggs when we cooked the eggs for 13 minutes but—here's the key difference from the chalky but still-yellow eggs—neglected to transfer them to an ice bath.

But why does that grey-green ring appear? According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, it's a result of a chemical reaction between the sulfur (from the egg whites) and the iron (from the egg yolk) that forms ferrous sulfide at the surface of the yolk when the egg is overcooked. It's harmless and tasteless: Our Associate Editor Nikkitha told me that she grew up eating grey hard-boiled eggs—"because where I'm from in India, refrigerators are still a relatively 'new' thing, so people aren't used to using ice cubes and just let the eggs cool at room temp."

Prognosis: So even if you've left your eggs in the pot a bit too long, be sure to transfer them to an ice bath to stop the cooking process in its tracks. And if you do get greyish yolks, make avocado deviled eggs (and cover them with herbs, fried capers, or smoked fish) or an egg salad brightened up with curry powder.

Flat-topped or otherwise misshapen:

Cold eggs, straight from the fridge, added to hot water

Diagnosis: When we took eggs straight from the fridge and added them to the boiling pot, they cracked in the water—which resulted in some funny-looking, flat-headed eggs (and one that looked like a rooster!).

Eggs can crack for a variety of reasons: the big temperature difference between the cold eggs and the hot water (some people advocate starting your eggs in cool water for this reason, though we have found this makes the eggs harder to peel); inter-egg or egg-and-pot collision as a result of water that's boiling too vigorously; a build-up of gases inside the egg that cannot escape.

Prognosis: For the roundest, most intact eggs, it's wise to take the chill off your eggs before slipping them—gently—into the hot water. You can keep your eggs at room temperature as you bring the water to a boil or run the whole eggs under warm water before boiling.

Chop up any ugly duckling eggs—they'll still taste great strewn across asparagus or mixed into potato salad.

Yolks o' goo

6- to 8-minute boil + ice bath

Diagnosis: It's not that these are bad boiled eggs but that they are not hard-boiled eggs. They're soft- or medium-boiled—and they won't work for deviled eggs, and they'll probably make a sort of funky egg salad, too.

Prognosis: But they'll be delightful on a bowl of ramen, atop a thick slice of buttered toast, or anywhere else a runny yolk will be appreciated. Marinate them in soy sauce for a salty snack to eat morning, noon, and night, or whisk a severely under-cooked egg into sauce gribiche.

What "basic" food gives you the most trouble? Tell us in the comments below—and we can offer you diagnoses in the future.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Peggy
  • Laura
  • Colleen
  • kschurms
  • Daniel Bozack
    Daniel Bozack
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Peggy June 1, 2019
I boiled atwo dozen eggs, all but three had such a thin layer of egg white that the yolk was exposed after peeling . Ideas??
Ann H. June 2, 2019
These thin walls of egg white means the eggs were left in one position too long, and the egg yolk "floated" towards the top. (Well, the egg yolk should be more dense than albumin, but I think this is because of those little stringy connectors you see when you break open an egg.)

The easy way to deal with this is to take the time and position the eggs one way (pointy end down) for a day then flip 180 degrees. Do this a few times with the last one being just 4-5 hours or so. Steam your eggs which is the best way to peel them without problems (NOT kidding! I've spent a lifetime figuring this out!). You would get the yolks to be almost floating in the middle.

The Japanese constantly stir eggs with cooking chopsticks while boiling to prevent this, too. I hate steaming the pores on my face, so I do it the other way.
Laura March 30, 2019
I work in a nursing home and some of my patients get hard boiled eggs for breakfast. When I crack n peel them a lot of times I notice that they don’t have a flat side and that look fake. Is that normal???
Colleen February 12, 2018
Here's a problem I've not seen anywhere. I've been making hard cooked eggs my whole life (I'm 52!) with no problems, and I am not picky. I don't care about rubbery whites or a green ring, all I care about is a solidly cooked egg, and I routinely leave that thing on to boil for a good 20 minutes just to be sure. Recently, even that does not guarantee a fully cooked yolk, and I can't figure out what is going on. I can only imagine it has something to do with the eggs I'm buying from Trader Joe's. They're free range but I have purchased free range from other places and not had this issue. How is it even possible to boil an egg for that long and not get a cooked yolk?
kschurms July 17, 2017
There are obviously many ways to get a "perfect" egg per the comments below. I did find that the 10 mins + ice bath yielded perfect eggs for me, and even though they were fresh, were relatively easy to peel. That'll be my go to method from now on!
Daniel B. June 1, 2017
If you cant hard boil an egg, you weird teenagers shoud return those stolen credit cards to their owners and walk in to the sea, never to purchase kitchen products again.
Silvana C. May 31, 2017
GREAT article! Sometimes my eggs are hard to peel-why so?
Sarah J. May 31, 2017
That's our NEXT egg story—stayed tuned!
Edward K. May 31, 2017
You will never have trouble peeling a cooled hardboiled egg again if you ordered The Negg. I ordered mine from a site called The Grommet. Works every time like a charm. Just did 12 deviled eggs and all perfect. Check it out.
karen May 31, 2017
Peelable eggs are at least 2, amd preferably3 weeks out from under the hen. Anything fresher is a nightmare to peel.
btglenn May 31, 2017
The recipe doesn't mentions egg size. large eggs take less time than extra large or Jumbo.
Ann H. May 31, 2017
If you want perfectly peeled hard-boiled eggs but with the minimum of fuss (the above ritual is way too complicated), STEAM YOUR EGGS! I've used the Cuisinart egg steamer, even a rice cooker with a steamer basket. Not only do I get PERFECTLY peeled eggs right after steaming, I can even peel them perfectly after them being in the refrigerator for a few days.
btglenn May 31, 2017
I steam eggs too. Jumbo size eggs take about 14 minutes.
Jeannette May 30, 2017
13 minutes for perfection at 6670 ft altitude.
AntoniaJames May 24, 2017
It might be interesting to see how these tests fare starting from the premise that the eggs are to be "hard cooked", not "hard boiled." I seem to remember learning years ago -- from one of my mother's early 20th century French resources, if I'm not mistaken -- that keeping the water temperature below the boil yields better results. I could not confirm that original source, but did see that this authority concurs:
On another note - this recipe offers a nice way to use a hard cooked egg with an overcooked yolk: In fact, that yolk, pushed through a fine mesh strainer, can be used to thicken up (give more body to) and add a touch of flavor to any vinaigrette. ;o)
Barb May 31, 2017
I bring the water to a rolling boil, add slightly warmed eggs and take the pot off the heat and slap a lid on it. Wait exactly 14 mins for large eggs, then pour off the water and ice bath them. I never actually boil the. Perfect eggs.
Kate May 22, 2017
I've been steaming my eggs in a pot with an inch of boiling water and placing the eggs in a strainer. Cover the pot. 8 minutes and tou have a deliciously runny center. 11 munutes for a perfect hard boiled. I like this method because the small amount of water is boiling in no time and I have complete control over the timing.
Korena V. May 22, 2017
I also steam my eggs for the same reasons you mention here, only I put them straight in the water once it has boiled (no strainer), cover, and turn down the heat to the barest simmer. The shells ALWAYS (like, 100% of the time) come off cleanly and easily for me with this method, no matter how fresh the eggs. Highly recommend!
SandyToes June 4, 2017
I used to steam mine, too (thanks, Kenji), and they were always perfect, and a bit easier to peel. Then I bought a pressure cooker. Now they're perfectly pressure-steamed every single time and peel like nobody's business.
Ginny S. May 22, 2017
I routinely make my hard boiled eggs in a pressure cooker. 6 minutes under pressure, release and place in an ice bath. I like my yolks cooked through, so this timing is perfect. The added benefit is that eggs cooked in a PC are *ALWAYS* easy to peel. Truth.
BerryBaby May 22, 2017
I start mine in cold water, bring to a boil, turn off heat and move pan off hot surface, after two minutes drain off water, let eggs sit in pan another minute, cover eggs with cold water, peel, perfect.