Absolute Best Tests

The Absolute Best Way to Boil Eggs, According to So Many Tests

My kitchen will never, ever smell the same.

June 19, 2019
Photo by Ella Quittner

In Absolute Best Tests, our writer Ella Quittner destroys the sanctity of her home kitchen in the name of the truth. She's mashed dozens of potatoes, seared more Porterhouse steaks than she cares to recall, and tasted enough types of bacon to concern a cardiologist. Today, she tackles hard-boiled eggs.


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 them 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 ("perfectly, every time") while many get straight into the mechanics: the equipment, the slotted support paraphernalia, the ice bath of it all.

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“Which method yielded the best results? Unsure after reading the entire article.”
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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.

Food52's own endorsements have ranged from the "bring to a boil then cut heat and cover" method to "10-minute boil + ice bath" to "c'mon, just use an Instant Pot."

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.

Photo by Ella Quittner

The Setup

In a world where so very much is out of my control, I relished in exercising a few simple constancy factors for these experiments:

  • Size and brand: I purchased dozens and dozens of the same generic-brand, large eggs from the supermarket below my apartment.
  • Age: I used eggs that were all roughly the same “age”—as in, they were all purchased the same day (with a few weeks to go on their expiration date) and left to sit in the refrigerator for a week.
  • Temperature: For each boiling test, the egg-subject was at room temperature. (Dropping cold eggs into hot water can make them crack.)
  • No funny business: I skipped baking soda and vinegar in the water, based on Sarah Jampel's prior tests.
  • Ice bath for peeling: Each egg was transferred immediately from its cook method to a large ice bath, where it sat a full five minutes before I peeled it under water.

Method #1: Standard Boil

Method:

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.

Variables:

Let cook in boiling water for 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, or 13 minutes.

Why Science (Okay, the Internet) Says It's Best:

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.

Ease of Method:

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.

Ease of Peel:

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.

Egg Results:

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.


Method #2: Standard Simmer

Method:

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.

Variables:

Let cook in simmering water for 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, or 13 minutes.

Why Science (Okay, the Internet) Says It's Best:

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.

Ease of Method:

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.

Ease of Peel:

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.

Egg Results:

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.


Method #3: Steam

Method:

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.

Variables:

Steam for 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, or 13 minutes.

Why Science (Okay, the Internet) Says It's Best:

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.

Ease of Method:

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.

Ease of Peel:

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.

Egg Results:

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.


Method #4: Bring to a Boil, Turn Off & Steep

Method:

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.

Variables:

Let steep for 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, or 13 minutes.

Why Science (Okay, the Internet) Says It's Best:

"Starting with cold water lets you heat the egg more slowly, which keeps the whites from getting rubbery," says the Exploratorium.

Ease of Method:

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.

Ease of Peel:

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.

Egg Results:

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.

Photo by Ella Quittner

Method #5: Instant Pot

Method:

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.

Variables:

  • Low pressure for four minutes, instant release
  • Low pressure for seven minutes, instant release
  • High pressure for eight minutes, instant release
  • Low pressure for 10 minutes, instant release
  • Low pressure for five minutes, five minutes natural release
  • High pressure for five minutes, five minutes natural release
  • Low pressure for 12 minutes, instant release
  • High pressure for two minutes, 12 minutes natural release

Why Science (Okay, the Internet) Says It's Best:

Because using an Instant Pot has the benefits of steaming, minus the guesswork.

Ease of Method:

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.

Ease of Peel:

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.

Egg Results:

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).

Photo by Rocky Luten

Method #6: Sous Vide

Method:

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.

Variables:

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.

Why Science (Okay, the Internet) Says It's Best:

Precise temperature control should theoretically enable the perfect textures for egg white and yolk.

Ease of Method:

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.

Ease of Peel:

No notable issues.

Egg Results:

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.


Method #7: Bake

Method:

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.

Variables:

Bake for 30 and 35 minutes.

Why Science (Okay, the Internet) Says It's Best:

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.)

Ease of Method:

Deceptively easy to set up, but long to execute, and painful in the end. (See below.)

Ease of Peel:

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.

Egg Results:

The eggs' textures were inconsistent and unpleasant. This method is not worth the trouble.


TL;DR

  • The lowest-maintenance method: the standard boil, which produced delicious, consistent, aesthetically-pleasing eggs.
  • The method yielding the best texture: the steam (perfect peel-ability be damned!).
  • A method that's totally solid and consistent, and great if the only thing in the world you don't own is a timer or watch with second hands: the Instant Pot.
  • The worst method: the oven-bake. (But you knew that, right?)

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.


What method do you swear by for the best hard-boiled or soft-boiled eggs? Let us know in the comments. This post contains products that are independently selected by our editors, and Food52 may earn an affiliate commission.

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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a a writer at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.

106 Comments

circe801 October 12, 2019
what ever. i have been making hard-cooked (boiled?) eggs for most of my life--i am now 58--and only recently have i started to have difficulty peeling them.
steaming is the magic. i put my steamer insert into the pot--heat to a boil. add eggs, reduce to medium, put lid on pot, cook for 12 minutes.
remove from heat, remove insert, drain water, add cold--and a couple of ice cubes.
after the cubes melt, drain water and do the hula with the eggs in the pot--for 30-40 vibrations.
the peels often slide right off while you're doing it.
never fails.
 
John C. October 12, 2019
I've always steamed my eggs since I heard about it from Serious Eats in 2016 and never once have I ever had a problem peeling a single egg. I always thought that they were easy to peel because they were steamed but maybe its because I use cold water instead of ice water. NYT 2 weeks ago printed the steaming method in the food section but warned against using ice water.
 
W J. October 12, 2019
Serious Eats Food Lab originator and editor, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt in his book, Food Lab, and now in the NYTimes article just blows this subject of how to boil an egg out of the water -- both figuratively and literally! For the truly interested reader, find that September 23, 2019 NYTimes article and read it. It is the last word on egg boiling. (You have to have a subscription, I think, to view the recipe, but I give you the essence of it below.)

A quick synopsis: Lopez-Alt boiled over 700 eggs from still warm from the chicken to weeks old in the frig. In these experiments, he had multiple people (96) boil, steam, etc. many, many eggs carefully controlling as many variables as possible from length of time, whether starting cold from the fridge, or room temperature, whether starting in cold water or hot, whether adding vinegar or salt to the water, and every combination of cooling from shock to natural cool down, and on and on and on. Not once or twice, but dozens of times for each variable. From a science point of view, he did a thorough investigation in order to corral and contain the degrees of freedom for the overall process.

Of critical importance was the ease of peeling, i.e., whether or not the shell stuck to the white and left the exterior of the boiled egg rough and broken or not. Ease of peeling and taste testing was set up with double blind protocols, so neither the testers nor the supervisor knew before hand how the eggs were cooked. Careful and very extensive records were kept for the whole effort.

In short, there is no perfect method of boiling to ensure 100% ease of peeling, BUT if one is willing to settle for an 87% ease of peeling, do this.

Bring to a boil sufficient water to be about one inch in a pot with the number of eggs to be cooked, place the eggs straight from the fridge into the boiling water and cover. Covering the pot is critical so as to entrap the steam from the boiling water. The fat end of the shell may be pricked before boiling to allow air to escape, if shell cracking is a problem. (In case you missed it, exhaustive testing shows best, but not perfect, results are that you start with frig temp eggs placed directly into a small amount of boiling water and cook covered.)

Depending on the degree of doneness desired, use 6 minutes for soft boiled and 8.5 minutes for "translucent, fudgy yolk," and 11 minutes for hard boiled with just barely firmly set yolk (assumes sea level or near sea level altitudes). He recommends decreasing times by one minute, if the eggs were at room temperature to start.

Drain, peel and eat immediately. Do not shock in an ice-water bath. If using the eggs later, allow to cool naturally after draining, marking the tops of the eggs with a small dot to distinguish these from raw eggs.

That's it.

I have been using this method for several years now after learning of it from Christopher Kimble, when he was still at Cook's/America's Test Kitchen. I find it reassuring that Lopez-Alt's extensive testing supports this conclusion.

Kimble originally touted this method as best for soft boiled eggs to be eaten with the top of the shell removed with one of those top of the shell cracker gadgets, an egg cup, and small egg spoon. Though I must say in that particular show episode, I did not buy then or now Kimble's explanation of why that works. He said that steam is hotter than water and contains more heat. This can be true, but only if the steam is under pressure. A covered pot has only a very slight pressure above room pressure.

Since I had all those things, eggs, top cracker, cups and egg spoons, I found this to work quite well. By extension, I used the same method for hard boiled eggs to be peeled. After draining the hot water, I usually just allow any additional eggs to sit in the pot as I run in tap water in order to cool them just enough to handle. No ice used or needed, if using immediately.

I confess that I do use ice, if the eggs are to be cracked and peeled later, as I want to avoid the "dreaded green yolk" phenomenon. I intend to give the natural cooling method a go based on Lopez-Alt's findings.
 
elaine S. September 9, 2019
Method #1 was my grandma's method, so I tried it for the first time in many years. As I remembered, the eggs cracked when gently placed in the boiling water, rendering two out of six unusable. And who has time to bring the eggs to room temperature, which might solve the problem, before cooking?
 
jareal September 9, 2019
Careful with the microwave method. If you do it wrong you can get hurt. I had one blow up as I bit into it. The yolk exploded in my mouth. I got a fat lip and 2nd degree burns on my lips and gums. I laugh at myself but a child could be seriously hurt.
 
Dawn C. August 18, 2019
Method 1 EXPONENTIALLY BLOWS! As soon as I lowered my room temp eggs into the rolling boiling water, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM CRACKED! You wasted a dozen eggs!
 
Fred R. August 18, 2019
You really think there is nothing else you can do with those eggs....wake up to trying new things.
 
Jill F. December 10, 2019
No, YOU wasted a dozen eggs!
 
Millie J. August 16, 2019
A few years I read about steaming, probably here on food52. I have a steamer insert that exactly fits a pot that exactly holds the number of eggs I can easily store in my fridge, so of course I had to try it. I love this method. It's easy and foolproof and results in hard-boiled eggs that are delicious and super easy to peel almost 100% of the time.

I don't usually have ice cubes so I pre-cool a bowl of water in the fridge 20 minutes before I start on the steaming project, which also gives the eggs time to come to room temp.
 
Dawn C. August 11, 2019
I tried method #1 and EVERY egg cracked. Thanks for wasting a dozen eggs.
 
Jill F. December 10, 2019
Oh hush. I know this is old but you were the one who decided to try it. And like someone else said,there are other things to do with them. The ey aren't wasted. Make some egg salad sandwiches or potato salad. To summarize, quitcherbitchin!
 
Pedrazadp July 28, 2019
I recently realized that boiling eggs requires some thought that rewards the cook with tasty eggs easily peeled with none of that yucky green tinge on the yolk. My method is: Fresh cold eggs placed in a sauce pan filled with cold water. Bring to a rolling boil and cook for 8 min. Remove from heat and cool in an ice bath for 10 min. Now I recently acquired an InstaPot so I am eager to try using that tool to make my eggs. Thanks for your recipe!
 
Channon C. July 26, 2019
What has always worked best for me for HARD boiled is boil water and leave. However. Different techniques for different results. Soft boiled come out best exactly that- boiled gently four minutes. Since those are my only two textures. Those are my only two results I have cared about. Sorry for your hands. Been there.
 
Ellen July 26, 2019
I have an “egg head” electronic egg cooker that takes out the guesswork. It comes with a measurement for the water, it holds seven eggs at a time and steams them. I then put the cooked eggs in an ice bath. A trick I saw somewhere was to fill a large bowl with water and peel the egg while submerging it. This works very well.
 
Guy C. July 26, 2019
I've found steaming to be the best for me. Since I've begun steaming eggs I've had the yolks cook just right and they have been easy to peel no matter the age of the egg. I do put them in an ice-water bath after cooking. Also, I let the eggs come to room temperature before steaming to prevent the shells cracking while cooking. I am rather surprised that they had some trouble peeling the eggs that they steamed. That is the reason I went to steaming because I had read that peeling was easier. It is frustrating and a waste of food to cook eggs that do not peel right. If you haven't tried steaming eggs, I highly recommend it. I do about 13 minutes for large eggs.
 
tastysweet July 26, 2019
I did the steaming as described by America’s Test Kitchen. So far the egg cooker is working for me. I can cook up to 7 eggs. I always use large Organic, free range eggs.
 
SMSF August 3, 2019
Guy C., I agree with the steaming method 100%. I always use eggs straight from the fridge and have never had one crack during cooking — you might give that a try!

(Like you, I don’t know why this tester had problems with peeling the steamed eggs. The eggs always peel perfectly in the many times I’ve cooked them this way.)
 
Richard July 26, 2019
Eggs!
 
Fran July 26, 2019
Just prepared hard boiled eggs. I basically used Method #1. I didn’t put them in ice. We’ll see what happens.
 
Linda S. July 26, 2019
I put them in a microwave safe bowl, cover with water, add 1/2 tablespoon of salt per egg. Cook on high 8 minutes. Easy peasy and because of the salt ( crucial) they have never exploded. As far as peeling, I never have any luck no matter what method I use.
 
tastysweet July 26, 2019
Interesting method.
 
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Ella Q. July 26, 2019
Will have to give the microwave a try!
 
violist July 26, 2019
I can’t wait to try this out. I was wondering if you used kosher or regular salt, what the wattage of your microwave is ( mine is VERY old and low wattage ), and if yours were hard boiled when finished. Thank you for sharing this method!
 
Linda S. July 27, 2019
Regular salt and I believe my microwave is 1000 watts. It's new but on the small side. I tried once at 50% power and they were raw..not even soft boiled. I am usually doing something else and don't necessarily take them out right away..definitely hardboiled.
 
violist July 30, 2019
Thanks!
 
Lynette H. July 26, 2019
I enjoyed reading about your results, as I don't always get consistent results with my hard boiled eggs. I am curious about how an electric egg cooker would compare with the results you found.
 
tastysweet July 26, 2019
If you scroll down you will see my comment. I use an electric egg cooker which I got last week. I really like the results so far.
 
Ellen L. July 26, 2019
I use the method recommended by the American Egg Board (mentioned in the article) and get consistently good results every time. I am usually only doing a couple at a time or 4-5 if we have company. And I buy eggs from pastured chickens only.
 
Patricia F. July 26, 2019
Sorry, but I think all-in-all, it is ultimately a crap shoot. I've used several "perfect" methods over the years and the truth is that no two eggs (even in the same carton) are exactly the same, there can be quite a variation between the weight of one large egg and another, the shells are not always the same thickness, etc. My current method is instant pot high pressure for two minutes, then 5 minutes natural release. And though my eggs are pretty consistent, and always peel easily no matter how fresh, I still have variations within each batch. Some are more well-cooked, some (although fewer than when I boiled) will still have a slight green ring around the yolk, others will be "perfect" (whatever that means). You just use the method you like the best and gives you the mostly consistent results that you prefer. I did enjoy the article, however!
 
Cathy C. July 26, 2019
Why would you title the article "The Best Way to......." and then fail to offer your conclusion on which version is the best?
 
Kate July 26, 2019
This is cute, Ella, and thorough. Now move to a mile or more above sea level, and you can start all over in terms of figuring out how to boil the perfect egg. Won't that be fun?
 
Kathryn K. July 27, 2019
I live in northern Nevada at 4200 feet!! EVERYTHING is different!! Baking! Cooking rice! Eggs! 😳
 
Carolyn P. July 31, 2019
I live in Calgary in the northwest (Rocky Mtn foothills) at 4200 ft. I feel your pain ;) ! Pressure cooking is so much "fun"!
 
Rebecca J. July 26, 2019
I swear by #4 Bring your eggs to a boil, cover and steep. I find it by far the easiest method too. I cook my Easter eggs this way, up to 3 dozen at a time in one pan, in two layers even, and they are perfect. 10 minutes is the perfect hard boiled eggs no matter the pan size or how many eggs! I like mine steeped for 4 minutes for the perfect soft egg!