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What Went Wrong? The Hard-Boiled Egg Edition

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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.)

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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.
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

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  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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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