Have We Been Making Poached Eggs All Wrong?

Drop that vinegar. And grab your slotted spoon.

August 19, 2019

I’ve been poaching eggs at least once, if not four or five times, a week for decades. That’s how I know there’s way too much overthinking, and just plain silly thinking, around poaching eggs. They are the easiest (and best) eggs you can make!

An old boyfriend taught me to make poached eggs. Rather, I watched him do it. He’d crack and ease the eggs one by one into a shallow pan of simmering water, plop the lid on the pan, turn off the heat, push toast in the toaster, and go shave. He’d stroll back into the kitchen clean-shaven, retrieve the toast, and plop the eggs on top. Nothing to it—and a nice memory.

I do it the same way, 50 years later—only I sip my coffee and listen to NPR instead of shaving.

"Where did people get this idea that I'm difficult?" Photo by James Ransom

I know you’re thinking that I forgot to mention putting vinegar in the water to firm up the egg whites, or custard cups, or salting the water, or swirling the water to wrap the whites around the yolks, or even pre-straining the eggs to remove the thin watery portion of the whites to prevent that stringy mess in the water.

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Top Comment:
“Next steps: place the poached egg on an artichoke bottom, tablespoon of Hollandaise, touch of white pepper - called eggs Sardou , lovely with a flute of blanc de noir - great way to start the day”
— Ace

I do none of these things—not because I’m lazy, but because I’m fussy as hell about my poached eggs. And I’m also rather efficient. I’ve tried and discarded all of the poached egg “improvements,” “hacks,” “tips,” and whatever. And yet, my eggs are trim and shapely and perfectly cooked, with tender silky whites and yolks as runny (or firm) as you like them.

What I Don’t Do & Why:

Vinegar in the water: Never. Vinegar firms up the whites, but the viscous portion of the whites are going to firm up anyway (and the runny portion is still going to be stringy). The whites always cook faster than the yolks. Firming the whites faster with vinegar simply overcooks them before the yolks are ready. Whites cooked in vinegar water appear opaque rather than shiny, and they are tough and chalky rather than tender and silky. This is one reason I rarely order poached eggs in restaurants—I can spot an egg cooked in vinegar water immediately (or at least before I take a bite).

Salt in the water: Salted water also seems to make the eggs whites slightly chalky. People should salt their eggs at the table!

Swirling the water: This is supposed to wrap the yolks in the whites to make a lovely shape. But you have to cook one egg at a time. If you’re cooking for a crowd, you have to pre-cook and reheat them. Who needs that? Meanwhile, swirling doesn’t improve on the lovely shape I get without swirling. Oh, and this: The firmer portion of the egg whites stay with the yolks whether or not you swirl, and the runny ones will still float around. So why bother. (If I want a swirl, I’ll eat salted caramel ice cream…)

50 years of poaching eggs (without fancy techniques) later... Photo by Alice Medrich

Straining the raw eggs to remove the thin runny whites: You must be kidding. An extra step like this doesn’t hurt anything—unlike the addition of vinegar or salt to the water—but it’s unnecessary and very likely to dissuade you from making poached eggs on a regular (much less every-day) basis because, well, it’s an extra step! I let the runny part of the egg whites float around in the pan while the more viscous part naturally forms a lovely oval around the yolk. When the eggs are done, I trim the raggedy whites easily between the edge of the slotted spoon and the sides of the pan as I remove each egg from the water. Like I said, my poached eggs are quite shapely, thank you.

What You Do Need

A frying pan or skillet with a lid. It should be deep enough to hold 1 1/2-2 inches of water. (Actually, my skillet only holds only 1-1 1/4 inches of water, and it works perfectly, even though I have to set the lid slightly ajar to prevent the water from flowing over the pan when I cover it.) An 8” pan is fine for 2-4 eggs and a 12-14" pan works for up to 12 eggs.

A large slotted spoon: The bowl of my spoon is 4 inches long and a generous 2 1/2-inches wide. This dimension makes it easy to trim raggedly whites between the edge of the spoon and sides of the skillet as you lift the egg from the water.

A clean dish towel or folded paper towel: This is essential to blot excess water from the eggs. The second reason I shun poached eggs in restaurants is that they always come in a pool of water. Ugh.

Good eggs: The fresher, the better, for both shape and flavor. (If eggs are less than great, poaching may not be the best choice for them anyway.)

How to Poach Eggs, Once and For All

I poach eggs cold, right from the fridge. Practice poaching 2 to 4 eggs at a time and you’ll gain confidence enough to handle a dozen! If you do not feel confident about cracking and slipping eggs into the pan quickly, break each one into a ramekin before you start. Then simply slide eggs from the ramekins into the water one or even two at a time.

Blot out the excess water. Photo by Alice Medrich

1. Prep

Heat a skillet with about 1-1/2 inches of water until it's simmering gently.

2. Go Time

One by one, working close to the water rather from a height, either crack and slip each egg into the water or slip them in from ramekins. Add eggs starting at 12 o’clock and working clockwise around the pan so you can identify and remove the first egg first and the second egg second, etc.

3. Let 'Em Cook

When all of the eggs are all in, turn off the heat and cover the pan. You can start the toaster during this time, if you didn’t start it earlier.

4. Remove the Eggs from Water & Drain & Trim

Eggs are done in 3-5 minutes, depending on how you like them and on how many eggs are in the pan. Slip the slotted spoon under the first egg and lift it slightly. Assuming it looks done to your liking—if not, cover the pan and wait a little longer—trim any raggedy edges hanging over the spoon by pressing the edge of the spoon again the side of the skillet, or by running a knife around the edges of the spoon.

5. Blot

Nestle the spoon in the folded dish towel or paper towel, tilting it as necessary to blot excess liquid from the egg before depositing it on toast or a plate.

6. Serve & Season

Let guests salt and pepper their own eggs a table. If anyone misses vinegar, let them drizzle some over their eggs now—when it won’t do any harm! Bon appétit.

How do you poach your eggs? Let us know in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jill
  • MrsLennon
  • pamela
  • FrugalCat
  • Helen
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


Jill September 14, 2019
FINALLY!! I have been poaching eggs this way my entire life; almost 58 years, and I cannot tell you how many times I've been schooled that I'm doing it wrong and must add vinegar. I can't count the times I've had poached eggs in restaurants where the egg tasted like it had been pickled. I'm sure your eggs are perfect every time.
MrsLennon September 6, 2019
I tried your technique immediately after reading this article and I am so excited and proud to report my poached eggs came out perfectly! I used an 8” pan and filled water almost to the top leaving enough room for the lid and followed your instructions (timed mine for about 4 minutes using 2 eggs). Perfectly poached eggs. I couldn’t believe it. I fed them to my husband and he was so delighted. I tried again and made 2 more for myself and can’t tell you how much I wish to have come across this article years ago. So many failed attempts with complicated instructions left me resigned to only eating them in restaurants. Keep it simple is the message. An elegant egg is the result and indeed how simple. Finally. Thank you!
David G. September 13, 2019
Older eggs more then a few weeks old may not work as well. Here's an added trick I learned from Julia Childs ... if the eggs are older, use the slotted spoon to lower them completely into boilding water for 10 seconds, then let them cool a bit and crack them into the simmering water. Perfect in every way.
pamela August 31, 2019
not interested in how "you" like your eggs. What is the standard in classical cooking of eggs? egg white is a delicate protein.. you do NOT start a sunny side up on high to get a crispy edge. very disappointed in this presentation.
FrugalCat August 27, 2019
Now I feel silly for using a silicone egg poaching "pod".
Helen August 25, 2019
I loved this video and article. Such terrific tips and tricks. Thank you.
Ace August 25, 2019
Next steps: place the poached egg on an artichoke bottom, tablespoon of Hollandaise, touch of white pepper - called eggs Sardou , lovely with a flute of blanc de noir - great way to start the day
Ahnna W. August 25, 2019
I loved this article and the great tips for easily making poached eggs - I will now make them more often! I was taught to add vinegar as well as leave the eggs in boiling water (heat on) to cook. There was always a hint of vinegar!
Umbare K. May 19, 2019
The thing with patting eggs to dry them is all well and good, but this is how I do it. I place a double thickness of paper towel on a plate. I place the cooked eggs along one edge of the towel which removes the water from the bottom. But the base of the cooked egg is not so much of a problem if you use a slotted spoon, it's the top. So what I do is take hold of the two corners of the paper towel on the edge the eggs are on lift and gently let the eggs flip over onto their topsides which removes all the water without patting and risking breaking the yolk if cooked soft. To get them onto the muffin, or toast, or whatever you're having them on simply flip them back onto the slotted spoon and hey presto, job done! I've never yet in decades of poaching eggs damaged even the softest of yolks. I have a large (four and a half inches across) 'slotted' spoon with an almost flat bowl made of stainless steel wire mesh so I can deal with two eggs at once with this method, but not if they're ostrich eggs.
Stephanie May 18, 2019
I NEVER use vinegar. It makes them rubbery and have a stringy look and aftertaste. I also use a frying pan and they turn out great every time! Going to try this technique to see if makes any difference. Great article.
Julius May 3, 2019
I had come to the conclusion that vinegar doesn't do much towards preventing whispyness of the white or keeping it together with the yokes myself. I noted the statement about vinegar accelerating the setting of the white and decided to try an experiment. I separated an egg white into a cup and poured neat vinegar on. After 10 minutes there wasn't any change. The white was still clear and raw. After an hour there was a very little opaque whiteness over the portion of white that was originally clinging to the yoke, but otherwise the white was still clear and raw. So I think it is the case that vinegar does nothing except affect taste and appearance. I like the finished article shiny too and add much less than a teaspoon of vinegar, about a quarter in fact. Thank you Alice for taking the time to write this article.
Mark S. April 26, 2019
brilliant - i do a variation thats worked for decades - drop the eggs in once there is a small bubbling on the bottom of the pan - keep heat on full until froth - then turn off element and uncover pan .. best way to clean pan is soaking with bleach -- the white goes all rubbery
Dawn M. April 8, 2019
Yes!!!I am a cook in a restaurant and we make a lot of poached eggs and Eggs Benedict and I have never poached them in anything but water!
Traci S. January 6, 2019
Thank you! Why do. He’d make it so complicated??? And why do they never put the lid on the pan! Turns something simple into a nightmare impossibility!! I use your method except I do not turn the heat off. I’ll have to try that....
Sarah H. December 12, 2018
PLEASE HELP!!! I really do not know what I am doing so very wrong. My poached eggs taste absolutely beautiful BUT I cannot get the whites to fold around the yolk. Mine have a look of a fried egg. The method I use is very simple. I use a saucepan boil the water then turn it down and let it simmer. Crack a very fresh free range egg into a ramekin. Then I use a spoon and stir the water to get a swirl & I slowly drop the egg in. I then press my timer on my phone and I’ve got the perfect yolk down to a tee. For the perfect runny yolk I leave it in for 2 minutes. I remove the egg with a big silver spoon that has holes in it. I use kitchen roll to blot the excess water off & then slide the egg onto my toast. Like I said tastes beautiful. But looks more like a fried egg rather than a poached egg. What am I doing wrong? And how do I get the white to wrap around the yolk and get that beautiful shaped egg. Many thanks 😊
Julius May 3, 2019
You might need a bit more water depth or you are introducing the egg too quickly, like the yoke leaves the ramekin a bit too high above the water level
Sarah H. May 4, 2019
Hi Julius, I will certainly give your suggestions a try. Many thanks for the reply. 😊
Julius August 30, 2019
Probably the most important thing in getting a nice plump looking poached egg is the condition of the uncooked egg. Recently the whites of some of the eggs I poached more or less fell off the yoke. I was reminded of Sarah's problem of the poached egg looking more like a fried egg. So looking more carefully at the eggs cracked into my small rice bowl I use, I could see that they had much more "runny" amounts of white than they used to, even though there was plenty of time until the use by date on the container. So I changed where I buy my eggs from. So Sarah, if you are still not getting the result you want, maybe like me, your regular shop isn't selling you eggs as fresh as you are led to believe.
Sarah H. August 30, 2019
Hi Julius. Thanks for the great tip. I think my next step is to hunt down a chicken farm close by and then get them as fresh as can be. Fingers crossed it will solve my fried egg situation.
judy October 3, 2018
Well, I've tried a few of the variations on how to cook poached eggs recommended over the years by the "top" chefs. None of them work for me. And I do not agree with the author about vinegar. I use apple cider vinegar. My withes are gently firm and shiny, not rubbery. There are no strings and the yolk is perfect (unless, of course, I leave it is too long.) I use vinegar because I like the flavor it gives to my egg. And I love to serve it over gently cooked green with sourdough toast. THAT is the way to cook. poached egg--in my book. Now I think I will go and do so....Great article.
Matt S. September 9, 2018
These are some great tips. I've mostly used the vinegar-and-swirl method, but have found that most of the white tends to solid away from the yolk, instead of around it. I'll try shallower water and no vortex.
Margaret K. April 29, 2018
The rings are for fried eggs and mostly not tall enough for poaching, and some are also too wide. Pennsylvania Dutchman mushroom cans are 2.5 inches in diameter, which is a good size for a poached egg imho, and because they're 2.75 inches tall, they're easier to manage than the rings. You can put even pressure on them against the bottom of the skillet when you're sliding in the egg, which you can't do with the handles that come on rings. You have to use the handle because the ring is low and close to the hot pan, but when you press down on a handle, the other end of the ring comes up off the bottom of the skillet. Plus, cans are cheaper (if you like mushrooms).
Margaret K. April 28, 2018
Sadly, this did not work for me. Even though I worked very close to the skillet, the egg whites spread out too much. But it got me thinking. Here's what I tried and was pleased with:

Cut top and bottom off two or more 4oz cans of mushrooms, using a no-sharp-edges can opener. You need the kind of can that is made with a crimp-sealed top and bottom, not rounded on the bottom for stacking. Relocate the mushrooms for another use. Remove the labels and then the label residue with GooGone, etc. Wash well and dry.

Fill a flat bottomed skillet with water to about half an inch deep. Cover and bring water to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Meanwhile, crack your eggs into ramekins, or crack all your eggs into a measuring cup, as suggested in a previous comment. Either way, you need to crack all your eggs first, because you'll need both hands to deposit the eggs into the pan.

Lightly oil the insides of the cans and place them in the skillet. With the water simmering, hold one can firmly down against the bottom of the skillet and pour an egg into it. Keep holding the can down for a few moments until the egg is well settled in. Only a very little egg white should escape. Repeat with the other cans and eggs.

Spoon some of the water over the tops of the eggs if they aren't already covered. Put the lid on the skillet, turn off the heat and leave for 3-5 minutes. I got tired of waiting after I turned off the heat, so I turned it back on again. That didn't seem to hurt the eggs any.

When eggs are done, take a flat, slotted pancake turner and slide it under one can, steadying the can with your other hand. It shouldn't be too hot to grab with your fingers. Gently drain off the water into the skillet and deposit your egg at its final destination. Repeat with remaining eggs.

These poached eggs looked pretty good, were actually poached in water (vs. being steamed), and were pronounced excellent by my fussy DH. Once you have your cans on hand, it's very easy, and several cans will fit in an average skillet if you're feeding a crowd.
Casey April 29, 2018
Nor for me.......after 5 minutes, egg whites were still raw.
I turned the heat back on, but they had been sitting too long & stuck to the pan, & burned.
Had to throw the whites & finished up with a couple of overcooked yolks!
I have used Margaret's method, but you can buy metal egg rings & don't have to resort to opening cans.
Casey April 21, 2018
I love poached eggs so certainly intend to try this!
My current method was taught to me by a French chef - similarly using nothing but plain water.
When the water comes to a boil., drop the egg directly into the stream of bubbles.
The action from the bubbles causes the white to wrap around the yolk & gives a nice compact shape.
Cinthia June 11, 2019
How many minutes to still have a runny yolk?
Cinthia June 11, 2019
Also, cover or don't cover, leave heat on or turn off, and how much water?
Jo April 20, 2018
Thank you - I usually do the whole 'drop of vinegar and dash of salt' thing, but this is much better.
While on holiday with a friend, I experienced the opposite ends of softly cooked eggs.
I ordered a poached egg for breakfast one day. It was terrible - tasted like they'd poached it in a pan of vinegar, and it looked like the yolk had been bleached by the process!
On the same trip, we also had steamed eggs. They were just wonderful! Soft, silky and everything I want an egg to be.