Humans have been boiling eggs for a very long time.
By some accounts, it all began with egg roasting about a million years ago. This likely evolved into egg boiling around 5000 B.C., thanks to the invention of pottery. And more recently than that, boiled eggs are thought to have cropped up in Ancient Rome, where wealthy patricians served as an appetizer course called gustatio. (Apicius, a collection of Roman recipes compiled sometime between the first and fifth century A.D., corroborates this with recipes for seasoning and topping boiled eggs.)
So it's no surprise that when one Googles "best way to boil an egg” in 2019, one must contend with a cool 65 million results.
On the first page alone, certain guides would have you lower your eggs into simmering water, to cook for eight minutes. Others would like you to steam them in a basket several inches above the water line. Some sites make chimerical promises like, "perfectly, every time," while many get straight into the mechanics: the equipment, the slotted support paraphernalia, the ice bath of it all.
The official recommendation of the American Egg Board—known beyond its eponymous cause for a rabble-rousing role in the "Just Mayo" labelling scandal—is to bring the eggs and water to a boil, then remove the pot from heat and cover to let steep for 9 to 15 minutes, depending on egg size.
Which brings us to 5:45 a.m. a few Fridays ago, when I found myself standing in front of eight cartons of eggs and every slotted spoon in my home. In the freezer lay two XXXL bags of ice. On my countertop was an Instant Pot, one of those nefarious-looking sous vide wands, a whole bunch of stockpots, and, for reasons not germane to this blog post, a breakfast cookie.
I knew what I had to do: Spend an ungodly amount of time boiling egg after egg, according to the Internet's most-touted methods, all in pursuit of the truth. What is the best way to boil an egg?
And while the results were far from fully conclusive, one thing's for certain: My apartment hasn't smelled the same, since.
In a world where so very much is out of my control, I relished in exercising a few simple constancy factors for these experiments:
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Use a slotted wooden spoon to gently lower in an egg. Boil, uncovered, then immediately transfer to an ice bath to cool before peeling.
Let cook in boiling water for 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, or 13 minutes.
Eggs should get a hot start (whether boiling, steaming, or pressure cooking) because "slow-cooked egg whites bond more strongly with the membrane on the inside of an eggshell"—aka, they're easier to peel—according to Serious Eats.
Straightforward to execute. Very no-fuss, requiring no special equipment. At one point, I did need to fiddle with the flame to maintain a boil.
Encountered almost no peeling issues. "These tests'll be a breeze," I thought, giddily—hours later, fingertips raw and somehow simultaneously burning and icy, I looked back on this moment and laughed darkly.
In all eggs, the whites and yolks had a pleasant texture—no rubbery whites, here. The six-minute egg was an especially creamy specimen, if you're into a soft-boil. In one (the eight-minuter), the yolk weirdly sank down to the bottom of the white, though this didn’t affect anything other than appearance. Overall, this was the most straightforward method with the best bang-for-your-effort-buck results.
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Turn down heat until water is at a rolling simmer. Use a slotted wooden spoon to gently lower in an egg. Simmer, uncovered, then immediately transfer to an ice bath to cool before peeling.
Let cook in simmering water for 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, or 13 minutes.
You want to keep egg temperatures lower than what a full-on boil for the whole cook would produce (rubbery whites, chalky yolks)—Serious Eats swears by a hybrid version of the simmer and the standard boil, where eggs are lowered into boiling water and left for 30 seconds, before the temperature is turned down and eggs are cooked, covered, at a low simmer for 11 minutes.
Easier said than done. Maintaining a "rolling simmer"—at least, in the uncovered way I was testing—is a hands-on endeavor. That said, no special equipment is needed.
Peeling was breezy, as with the standard boil set. The only exception was the six-minute egg, which was of course less cooked than its standard-boil counterpart, and required a very delicate hand to avoid jabbing a thumb into its tender white.
No immediately discernible difference in texture or flavor of eggs than with the standard boil set—except that, like the aforementioned six-minute guy, each egg was of course slightly less cooked than its standard-boil counterpart. The 13-minute egg had a strangely shaped air pocket dent at its base.
Add a couple inches of water to a large pot. Place steamer insert inside, well above the water line. Cover. Bring water to a boil over high heat. Remove cover, add egg, cover, and steam. Immediately transfer to an ice bath to cool before peeling.
Steam for 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, or 13 minutes.
Steam supposedly cooks the eggs more gently, yielding a creamier texture. There's less risk of cracking since cold eggs never hit hot water, and they're apparently easier to peel because they avoid a big temperature jump.
Straightforward to execute. Requires a steamer insert (or tight-fitting colander) and a fitted lid, though unlike the boil-and-steep method, does not require transferring a heavy, hot pot.
Overall, the most difficult test batches to peel. Had to wrestle with lots of shell bits stuck stubbornly to tender whites, ultimately resulting in torn whites during the final extrications.
Despite peel-stage drama, these were the Platonic ideal of a boiled egg: the whites silky as pudding, the yolks luxuriant and velvety as a Laura Ashley Christmas dress.
Add eggs and cold water to a pot—have at least an inch of water above the eggs. Bring water to a rolling boil, uncovered. Once a boil is achieved, cut the heat, cover the pot, and move off of the hot burner. Let egg steep in water for prescribed time, then immediately transfer to an ice bath to cool before peeling.
Let steep for 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, or 13 minutes.
"Starting with cold water lets you heat the egg more slowly, which keeps the whites from getting rubbery," says the Exploratorium.
Straightforward to execute. Only slightly fussier than the standard boil and standard simmer, as it requires a fitted lid, and movement of a hot and potentially heavy pot mid-process.
Peeling these test batches was an emotional roller coaster. Some were perfectly fine (my note on the eight-minute egg reads, insanely, "a true pleasure to peel—like slipping off your jacket in the park on the first sunny day of the season"), and others, like the 11-minute egg, were a nightmare.
The eggs themselves had a wonderfully consistent texture throughout the whites of each. The longer-steeped yolks got chalky-tasting after the 10-minute steep mark. The eight- and nine-minute eggs were oddly misshapen, which is a purely aesthetic criticism.
Pour one cup of room temperature water into an Instant Pot. Set the egg on a steamer insert. Seal and cook on low or high pressure for specific increment of time, at specific pressure level. Immediately transfer to an ice bath to cool before peeling.
Because using an Instant Pot has the benefits of steaming, minus the guesswork.
Second-least straightforward to execute, after sous vide. Owning an Instant Pot is a large barrier to entry. Plus, it takes a while for the Instant Pot to come to pressure, so not a great method if you're pressed for time.
All of these eggs were slightly tricky to peel, but only a few (the high pressure for two minutes + 12 minute natural release, and the low pressure for five minutes + five minute natural release) were a real pain. The eggs for which I'd used the instant release function were more seamless to peel.
The texture of the eggs was surprisingly more like the standard-boil batch than like the steamed batch. I had no material shape or yolk-sinking issues. For a soft-boil, I'd advocate for low pressure for four minutes + instant release, and for a classic hard-boil, high pressure for five minutes + five minutes natural release (or, if you're worried about peeling, perhaps test low pressure for eight minutes + instant release).
Use a Joule Sous Vide to bring a vessel of water to 194°F. Cook egg. Immediately transfer to an ice bath to cool before peeling.
Cook for 9, 12, 16, 20, and 24 minutes.
Note: There are many ways to sous vide eggs, including the 63°F poached/soft-boil, and the 75°F version. Due to a dwindling supply of eggs, I went with just the 194°F method, which was recommended by Joule's app.
Precise temperature control should theoretically enable the perfect textures for egg white and yolk.
Straightforward to execute if you have an app that correlates to your sous vide tool. As with the Instant Pot, owning the tool itself is a large barrier to entry.
No notable issues.
In the eggs cooked for a shorter time, the yolks were noticeably richer in texture than most other batches, with the exception of the steamed eggs. That said, not sure it was worth the trouble of procuring and assembling equipment, and waiting for water to come to temperature.
Dampen a kitchen towel and lay it on the center oven rack. Preheat oven to 325°F. Once preheated, nestle egg onto towel so it rests between the rack's rods in a taut towel hammock. Bake. Immediately transfer to an ice bath to cool before peeling.
Bake for 30 and 35 minutes.
The oven-baked method has been touted on this very site as, "How to Hard Cook Lots of Eggs at Once." (It comes courtesy of Alton Brown.)
Deceptively easy to set up, but long to execute, and painful in the end. (See below.)
I debated changing this header to "Debacle of Peel," but I'm a stickler for consistency. I went through so, so many eggs to get to a batch that was actually cooked through enough on all sides to peel. Many earlier tests resulted in big wet spots randomly found in the whites, throughout the peeling process (even if the yolks had already gone chalky). My guess is that my wonky oven environment created too much variability in the temperature to cook the eggs through uniformly.
The eggs' textures were inconsistent and unpleasant. This method is not worth the trouble.
And one more word of advice: Do not attempt this experiment at home unless you find the idea of eating only gribiche for weeks after to be wildly exciting.