Absolute Best Tests

The Absolute Best Way to Fry an Egg, According to 42 Tests

Columnist Ella Quittner never wants to eat another egg again—possibly ever.

February 14, 2022
Photo by Ella Quittner

In Absolute Best Tests, Ella Quittner destroys the sanctity of her home kitchen in the name of the truth. She's seared more Porterhouse steaks than she cares to recall, tasted enough stuffing for 10 Thanksgivings, and mashed so many potatoes she may never mash one again. Today, she tackles fried eggs.

"The egg is one of the kitchen’s marvels, and one of nature’s," writes prolific food scientist Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, his 800-page opus on, obviously, food and cooking. Fifty-plus pages are dedicated to the humble egg, which is mentioned upwards of 1,000 times.

"The egg is one of the kitchen’s marvels, and one of nature’s," I hissed at my mother the other morning, when I caught her frying one without any fat, in an old stainless-steel pan.

"Look away!" she shrieked, contorting her body to block the stovetop.

In my family, there are more “best ways to fry an egg” than there are members. There's my mom's stainless-steel racket. And there's my older sister, who mainly fries eggs to feed to her dachshund Bun—she swears by a small nonstick skillet with a splash of neutral oil. (Olive oil makes Bun cough.) My dad’s a cast iron and butter man, through and through. One of my grandmothers was known to employ only a microwave.

We’re not the only ones who can’t agree on the best way to fry an egg, apparently. Google it, and you’ll find ambiguity even among the top results. Some call for butter, and others recommend frying with olive oil or bacon fat. There are fried eggs pictured with lacy edges, and others, framed by silky whites that taper off without so much as gentle browning. Martha Stewart would have you steam your cracked egg in the style of Lucinda Scala Quinn’s Mad Hungry, while Bon Appétit suggests enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a nonstick pan for fried eggs that come out “perfectly, every time.” At Food52, we’ve written about cracking an egg into a cold pan, cooking them in heavy cream, and even baking fried eggs. There are recipes that claim to be the easiest method for perfect fried eggs, others admit to being a little more complex. But I’m not interested in the easy or the over-the-top methods. I’m looking for the absolute best one.

So, like any great marvel of the kitchen and nature, I thought it deserved the ABT treatment. Accordingly, I fried 42 eggs in nine different cooking fats and five pan types, to try to arrive at the truth: What is the absolute best way to fry an egg?

Control Factors

An egg is but an albumen—alternating layers of protein and water, making up the "white"—and a yolk. In 1868's Eggs, and How to Use Them, chef Adolphe Meyer describes two main ways to coagulate those classes of matter such that they can be considered fried: the "French method," wherein an egg is submerged in a half pint of hot fat, and the "second method," where eggs are broken into a hot frying pan with an ounce of fat. This series of tests falls under the "second method" umbrella, the shallow fry.

In the first phase of trials, several tablespoons of each of nine cooking fats was used to coat the bottom of a nonstick pan, heated over a medium-high flame. Three eggs were fried in each cooking fat, over a medium flame, while the whites were spoon-basted with the hot fat until they set. (Exceptions: the eggs cooked in cream, and the butter-water fellows—more on each of those in a bit.)

During phase two, three eggs were fried in each of five pan types, again using a medium-high flame to heat the pan and fat, and a medium flame to fry the egg. Based on the results of phase one, olive oil was used as the sole cooking fat across all pan types. Accordingly, Bun was not consulted as a taste-tester.

During both phases, every egg was cracked into its own small receptacle before making its way, gently, into the hot fat, so as to avoid broken yolks (a major bummer), and each one received a single pinch of salt across its surface before submitting itself to tasting and analysis.

It was important to me that I tried each fried egg in a mostly unadulterated form, meaning there were no flavors to distract from the creamy yolk and crunchy, oily white. The salt enhanced both of those elements, but pepper would provide heat, as would hot sauce. I waited to serve the fried egg over avocado toast or a sourdough English muffin until I knew which one was the very best because avocado toast doesn’t deserve anything less than perfection.

Phase I: Cooking Fats

Photo by Ella Quittner

There are as many cooking fats in which an egg can be fried as there are pun-opportunities about the social life of someone with time to fry 42 eggs (must be a total yolk!). I tested nine fats, based on which were the most commonly recommended and which ones a home cook would likely have in their pantry. Do I want duck oil fried eggs? Absolutely. But this was not the time nor the place. They were:

  1. Canola oil
  2. Butter
  3. Browned butter
  4. Butter and water (per this Martha Stewart–touted method, where you start with butter and then add water to steam)
  5. Cream
  6. Olive oil
  7. Butter and olive oil
  8. Bacon fat
  9. Coconut oil (refined)

Here's how it went.

Canola oil: The canola-oil egg sort of balled itself up as it cooked, as if it were being deep-fried. It was disappointing from a flavor perspective, though surprisingly efficient from a browned-edge perspective."Crispy, but at what cost?" read my greasy notes. Use canola oil if you're out of more flavorful oils and are jonesing for diner-esque edges. There was nothing wrong with frying eggs with canola oil, but there was nothing quite right about it either.

Butter: These eggs had absolutely no issues with clinging to the surface of the nonstick pan. They slipped-'n'-slid around, barely garnering color around their edges, and achieving very little under-crisp compared to other trials. This was, to say the least, disappointing. The whites of these eggs spread, resulting in a thin final product with a wide diameter. The flavor was, of course, excellent (see: butter generally). Use butter if egg whites sticking to the frying pan is your white whale.

Browned butter: Browned butter eggs, it turns out, are a lot like the butter-fried eggs...with more browning. And a nuttier flavor, which deserves its own sentence. As always when working with browned butter, these were finicky to time, so I would only recommend them to someone who can give egg frying some undivided attention. But since fried eggs are usually prepared in a half-asleep state, this is not the best use of your time.

Butter and water: This aforementioned method (touted by Martha Stewart) produced "fried" eggs with a crispiness factor of exactly zero. Come on Martha! But—and this is an important but—they were a textural wonder, with whites like an omelet and yolks just perfectly thick and runny. If you're not into a crispy little guy, this method could be for you.

Cream: Speaking of textural wonders! Have you ever wished your fried eggs were essentially the best pudding you've ever had? If so, cook them in cream, and do not share them with anyone. This certified-Genius technique has you add said heavy cream to a cold pan along with the eggs—nuts, right?—before turning the flame to medium-high. The cream caramelizes, you lose track of where its butterfats end and the egg whites begin, and everything is so delicious it makes you forget all deep existential concerns.

Olive oil: The olive oil–fried eggs had the crispiest edges of the bunch, besides the flavorless canolas and the bacon-fat eggs. Importantly, olive oil also produced nice browning on the underside of the white, which spread less than when fried in butter. Olive oil makes for an excellent everyday fried egg, through and through.

Butter and olive oil: These eggs tasted better than they looked, thanks to a doubling down on delicious fats. But in a nonstick, they didn't crisp nearly as much as the oil-only batches, or the bacon-fat eggs. (My initial thesis for this test—that olive oil would raise butter's smoke point—proved both irrelevant, since I was frying all eggs over the same heat and it didn't cause the butter to smoke in the solo-butter tests, and also untrue, according to J. Kenji López-Alt over at Serious Eats.) If you're looking for extra flavor and don't care much about crispness, these are calling your name.

Bacon fat: Moment of silence for bacon fat. I hate to say it because of the health and planet implications, but bacon fat–fried eggs are perfect in every way. The whites fluff up around the yolk, the edges turn lacy and crisp, and the overall flavor is spot-on. Bacon fat could be the fried-egg method for you if you already keep a supply in your fridge. This got me thinking that duck fat fried eggs might be worth it after all. A culinary marvel!

Coconut oil (refined): The coconut oil–fried eggs were a sleeper hit. While refined coconut oil doesn't have a coconut-y flavor, it still brought something savory to the party. (The party being me eating 42 eggs alone in pajamas.) The edges and underside of the white became moderately crispy, and there were no issues with sticking—though in some tests, the whites began to stream out like ribbons and had to be coaxed into place with a silicone spatula. If you're not married to a butter or olive-oil or bacon-fat flavor, consider adding coconut oil–fried eggs to your rotation. It also feels like the method Gwenyth Paltrow would employ for cooking fried eggs, so do with that what you will.

Phase II: Pan Type

Photo by Ella Quittner

In phase two, I used olive oil for all tests, and fried three eggs each in pans made of:

1. Stainless steel
2. Nonstick
3. Cast iron
4. Carbon steel
5. Nonstick, with a fitted lid

It was a wild ride. More specifically:

Stainless steel: I found these tests to be so upsetting that I considered scrapping phase two, until the carbon steel sweet-talked me into resuming my mission. Frying eggs in a stainless-steel pan, no matter how great, is like throwing super glue at a velvet wall and then trying to peel it back off in one piece. Would not recommend. (According to a blog I found through angry searching on this topic, you can minimize sticking by letting your eggs come to room temperature first—that is, if you're the sort of organized person who sees a dentist every six months and remembers to defrost poultry well in advance of a dinner party—and fussing with the flame and pan angle.) Hard pass.

Nonstick: Thanks to phase one, I suspected the nonstick pan would produce crispy, drama-free specimens, and produce it did! When it comes to fried eggs, this pan shines. My work here is done…well, almost.

Cast iron: My cast iron–fried eggs were delicious, with great crispiness. Despite my skillet's top-notch seasoning, I did need to get in there a bit with a silicone spatula to avoid sticking in a few spots, and if I were especially concerned about breaking my yolks through unnecessary jostling, I might avoid cast iron. But for everyone else (hi, Dad), this is a solid option.

Carbon steel: The carbon steel batch of fried eggs was surprisingly easy to work with, thanks (again!) to top-notch pan seasoning. They didn't get quite as crisp at the same temperature as the nonstick and cast iron, but there was a lot of potential. I’m hesitant to call this method the best way to fry an egg though, because I imagine that far fewer home cooks own carbon steel compared to nonstick or cast-iron.

Nonstick, with a fitted lid: I once had a roommate whose boyfriend would crack five eggs into a large nonstick pan, cover it with a fitted lid, walk away, and two minutes later, return to slide perfectly fried eggs onto his plate for breakfast. In his memory, I had to give this method a try. The result? Three slippery, oily fellows! Crisp nowhere to be found. I can't totally see the utility here, unless you hate a crispy fried egg and also don't eat butter.

So, What's the Best Way?

Pan-wise, you're always better off with a nonstick. Your unbroken yolks will thank you. For the most delicious fried egg, use bacon fat (but you knew that, didn't you?). For the laciest edges without compromising flavor, olive oil's your best bet. If you're after something silkier, go for butter. And if you're ready to reconsider what a fried egg really is and what it can be, use cream.

Send Ella a message about what you'd like to see tested next. And in the meantime, let her know in the comments below how you like to fry your eggs.

This article was updated in February 2022 by our editors to provide even more egg-frying tips.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist 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.


Ant888 February 11, 2024
After reading the article and comments I will chalk this up to preference and what you’re in the mood for and a take away to avoid stainless steel pans for obvious reasons. Some morning or whatever you may want creamy, or you may want crispy. Maybe you may watch to match it up with what you’re serving it with whether creamy or crispy would be the best option. An example would be a dish in Hawaii called loco moco, a bed of rice topped with a seasoned hamburger patty (another subjective subject on how to make the best patties/burger) once again I feel it depends on your mood, but the burger is tops with a fried eggs and mushroom or onion gravy. The loco moco is usually preferred with a crispy fried egg for that crunch.
Jeremy W. October 29, 2023
Perhaps I'm super minority here, but I prefer my sunny side eggs *not* crispy. I start with a cold copper pan. I spray it with olive oil cooking spray. Set heat to low. Immediately add butter watching the pan till its last bit of solid butter is still visible, then add my eggs with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Before any browning occurs, usually about 4 mins, I turn off the heat and shake the pan to loosen the beautifully unbrowned whites. I don't enjoy caramelized whites. To me, the softness of everything is perfect for sourdough toast with butter that I smuggle back from France. Yum!
Linda T. October 28, 2023
Try avocado oil, higher smoke point, adds a buttery taste, and a healthy oil option.
susanne October 28, 2023
Love the old standby of butter and the non-stick skillet. What I have done differently, and now cannot stop doing it, is sprinkling some fresh shaved Parmesan on the egg whites. The cheese melts and caramelizes and crisps on the edges. Just another level of flavor.
[email protected] August 27, 2023
The egg in cream is Absolutely the best fried egg I’ve ever had. I usually use bacon grease but the cream made it special. Divine. Thank you
Chenai August 24, 2023
Bacon grease is undefeated! Butter when I don't have any bacon grease on hand. Will have to try the coconut oil though. Great read.
Reuben July 30, 2023
Have you considered the freshness of the eggs? Not all eggs are created equally and change over time. Am lucky enough to have 3 chickens. A slightly older egg is often better for frying. I feel like the results could be impacted by this! (This is from a person who believes the results are wrong and cast iron and butter is absolutely the correct way)
Chris G. June 12, 2023
I have a VERY thin cast-iron pan crafted in Japan that is genius. It is lightweight, so it is easy to handle. It has never warped, absolutely flat. It behaves in every other way as my trusty Lodge cast-iron pan. Years of use has rendered it super-seasoned and is a dream to cook with. I heat it on med-high and then add good quality olive oil to coat. (A visit to Florence with eggs in olive oil have forever set my taste to this method.) I gently lay the egg in the pan and wait for the whites to become lightly opaque and then flip the egg. I turn off the heat and let the egg rest for a minute and then remove from the heat. I salt and pepper on the plate. I'm in league with the non-crispy edges—4-minute soft-boiled, light & wet scrambled in olive oil, cracked raw over hot rice with soy sauce, always soft, tender, runny make for the perfects eggs for me!
Cindycin April 29, 2023
I enjoy your writing Ella! It’s real and fun! We do the butter /non-stick pan method. And personally, I LOVE THE CRISPY EDGES! Omg! it’s BLISSSSS♥️ As a cardiology nurse, I must not indulge in the bacon grease, (tried it a couple of times, sinfully good!) Eating the bacon is my contribution to elevating my triglycerides and LDL🤣 BUT! I will try the cream —- as I say YOLO! Everything in moderation , right? Thanks for frying all those eggs! My boyfriend still swears his cast iron is the holy grail of EVERYTHING!!! He’s partly right. Don’t tell him I said that!
Linda T. October 28, 2023
Try avocado oil, higher smoke point, adds a buttery taste, and a healthy oil option.
Rhiamom April 25, 2023
You missed trying the holy grail of pans: cast iron with a smooth porcelain enamel finish inside as well as outside. It is naturally nonstick without any seasoning needed, and you can wash it properly. And I agree, crispy edges are not everyone.
mmcdaniel April 25, 2023
a) you are operating on the assumption that everyone wants crispy edges. Not everyone does.
b) Food 52's standard silly parentheticals are tedious. If you deleted all parentheticals from your writing, it would be greatly improved. They are never clever and always silly.
Westcoasty April 25, 2023
I enjoy the parentheticals. I feel that they add personality to the writing, speaking from my past experience as a successful professional writer.
catalinalacruz April 25, 2023
I like the parentheticals. I hate crispy edged eggs. It's like chewing on cellophane.
Westcoasty April 25, 2023
On that we both agree!
Gafrank March 17, 2023
I was probably on my 30’s before I found out done people actually fried an egg in something other than bacon grease. If you don’t have bacon grease on hand, you’re not a cook 😃. And no crispy edges please
DarwinW13 February 27, 2023
The butter and Water egg is the only one that looks edible. Crispy whites is akin to cooking a steak well done and makes a mockery of the animal's sacrifice.
Stephanie A. February 27, 2023
As one of the judges would say on "The Good Wife"....
"In your opinion!"
Sqsh February 27, 2024
To me, non-crispy whites are akin to cooking a steak without searing it to produce a tasty browned crust! But, each to their own...
Connie W. February 27, 2023
From Chef Jose (I think it’s fantastic, use olive oil to heat a non-stick)…This method is a little nontraditional because you are separating the eggs and then cooking only the whites, then you add the yolk on top once the whites are off the heat. I know it sounds crazy but trust me, this method is perfect if what you like is crispy whites and soft, creamy yolks that you can scoop up with a piece of crispy bread.
Gnm February 27, 2023
Until recently, I never knew how delicious the fried white could be. By accident, I made this discovery. I use olive oil in a non stick pan on high. Shortly afterwards I turn the stove down to medium. I love my egg every morning including the crispy white. I think I’ll try the cream method. Loved your article. Have never heard anyone else liking and desiring the crispy edge.
Anne M. February 26, 2023
If you ever do decide to consume another egg (I would not blame you if it takes 5 years) definitely go for the duck fat! I nearly always have rendered duck fat in my fridge - lasts forever - and as you wrote -- it's a culinary marvel.
Elizabeth M. February 26, 2023
Invection stove top.
Anne M. February 26, 2023
Induction? Works like a charm for cooking absolutely anything, including eggs. I love mine, but you have to keep an eye on it -- it works much more quickly than conventional stove tops.
Elizabeth M. February 26, 2023
I use an injection stovetop. How do I fry an egg with it?
Jill July 30, 2023
A. R. February 26, 2023
You can’t just test one kind of fat in different pans because butter in stainless steels make’s stainless steel non-stick! I agree with others, more testing is necessary to really find the absolute best method!
Vicki J. February 26, 2023
While my convenient and always on hand go-to is butter in a nonstick pan, if I have some some bacon fat around, I will often use that ~ bacon and eggs (with or without the bacon) truly are a match made in heaven!
Another heavenly match is keeping it all in the family with chicken fat (makes sense of you think about it). And if you want to take it up a notch or two, render your own chicken fat from chicken skin by making chicken skin chicharrones to serve alongside 😉!