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When It Comes to Eggs, Size Matters

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As a card-carrying member of Sam’s Club and Costco, my mom always taught me to take advantage of the economy of scale. So, I’d buy the 24-pack of toilet paper, industrial-sized snack mix, and gallons of milk. But recently, I realized my allegiance to jumbo eggs (more egg for a few extra pennies!) might be the reason my cookies weren’t coming out of the oven exactly as I’d imagined.

Turns out that when it comes to cooking and baking with eggs, bigger isn’t always better. Read on to learn which is the right size for you.

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The Sizes

In the U.S., you’ll likely run into one of six sizes of chicken eggs:

  • Peewee: weighs about 1.25 ounces
  • Small: weighs about 1.50 ounces
  • Medium: weighs about 1.75 ounces
  • Large: weighs about 2 ounces
  • Extra Large: weighs about 2.25 ounces
  • Jumbo: weighs about 2.50 ounces

Chickens lay different-sized eggs for a variety of reasons, like breed, diet, or light exposure, but the primary factor is age. By the time they’re 40 weeks old, most hens can lay large, extra large, or jumbo eggs.

But it’s not chickens determining the uncanny consistency of your carton’s contents—that’d be the government (they’re also the ones deciding egg grades). The USDA classifies egg size by the total weight of a dozen eggs, which is why some eggs in the carton may look slightly larger or smaller than the rest. Overall, though, if you buy a carton of large eggs, the average weight won’t stray too far from 2 ounces.

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When It Matters

There are so many different ways to use eggs. (Seriously—here’s 100.) But egg size matters most in two cases:

1. Baking

Eggs add moisture and stability to baked goods, and help leven and bind dough. Too much from a jumbo egg or not enough from a small can have a big impact on what comes out of the oven. Like all chemistry baking ingredients, you should measure each component carefully.

Food52 baking expert Erin McDowell uses large eggs both professionally and at home.

“Eggs are graded by their size, and their weights change dramatically from one size to another,” she says. “Since baking recipes are largely based on more precise ratios and formulas, using a small egg when a large egg is called for can result in serious alterations in the final product.”

After flipping through a dozen baking books, I found almost all recipes specifically require large eggs. The exception: Anne Bryrn notes in American Cake that older recipes often call for seemingly excessive numbers of eggs (think 12 or 16 for one cake) because eggs were smaller then.

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2. Cooking in large quantities

Most recipe writers explicitly call for large eggs, or else assume that’s what you’ll be using. But just as whipping up a stew doesn’t require the same dedication to formulas as a cake, cooking gives eggs a little more wiggle room. If you’re frying up an egg to top toast or a salad, or scrambling yolks to flavor fried rice, go for the jumbo or medium in your fridge. You won’t notice too much of a difference in your dish. One exception: when recipes call for a lot of eggs—like a quiche or custard.

What to Do

So, you bought medium eggs for your morning scramble, but now you want to make cookies that call for two large. What do you do? Erin says the best way to utilize eggs that are the wrong size for your recipe is to convert the amount to weight and weigh out your eggs instead.

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“I would do the math and know that would mean I’d need 4 ounces of eggs, and weigh out my medium eggs to match.”

If you need to convert partial eggs or measure eggs with a double yolk, make sure to whisk the egg first to combine the white and yolk, then scale it out by weight.

For me, I still love the idea of an extra large (or jumbo!) egg for an extra special breakfast. But I’ll no longer crack them into my cookies willy-nilly.

Share your favorite size of egg in the comments below!

Tags: Ingredients, Egg, Back to Basics