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.

December  9, 2019
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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I seriously think the flat grill will give you a perfect un-crunchy egg but the aluminum egg pan and using a saute blend of half margarine and half butter clarified makes the absolute best fried egg, in my not so humble opinion. Runner up is bacon fat in cast iron, then bacon fat and, or butter in carbon steel in my few years of experience. ;) Not saying this to be mean or rude, just because it's what I know. Besides everyone knows that poached eggs are superior to all others. :) ”
— Michael
Comment

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 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.

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.


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. 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.

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. 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.

Butter and water: This aforementioned method (touted by Martha Stewart) produced "fried" eggs with a crispiness factor of exactly zero. 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.

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.


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.)

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.

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.

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.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • mulhollp
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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.

196 Comments

mulhollp November 24, 2020
The most important control, cooking temp, was not in the list of controlled variables. Many pan AND oil types would produce much more consistent eggs than those pictured if they were at even close to the right temperature. Also, try cooking them in a small pan with a lid and an ice cube thrown inside so they are steam basted. That way, the white will cook evenly while the yellow remains runny, which is the overarching goal
 
TrisKit November 24, 2020
My Puerto Rican grandmother taught me how to make a fried egg via the butter/water, cover with lid and steam till done method. Medium heat is quite sufficient; just preheat your pan.
 
april November 24, 2020
Cast iron and butter!!! over whatever leftovers are in the fridge. Mashed sweet potatoes, lentil stew, okonomiyaki, fried rice, sauteed kale, you get the idea. YUM!
 
Kraig B. November 24, 2020
This post was egg-ceptional
 
fuzzy November 17, 2020
So enjoyed this article--passed it on to my husband.
 
Richard R. October 12, 2020
There probably is no best way to fry an egg as folks are quite different in what they like. If the eggs are for guests you probably should use a "safe" method. Small non-stick pan with a light amount of olive oil and butter. Just a thin layer. Low heat and pour in the egg. Position the pan so the yolk stays in the center and when the bottom has set but is not browning add a small amount of water. ( you can use Court Bullion or other fluids to up the razzmatazz ) Continue to cook at low temp until done as you think best. If you want to cook the top put a lid on the pan and steam it. The end result is a fried egg with a slightly poached luxury to it. No brown and an almost fake appearance.
 
Nam1818 May 1, 2020
My mind is blown. This is an incredible article. Well done.
 
Tom T. July 11, 2020
WHat's to blow the mind???
ALl the photos are of crappy, burnt-edge eggs. Only the water cooked one looks edible.
 
[email protected] August 30, 2020
My mind is blown at your rudeness. Chill out dude.
 
Tom T. August 31, 2020
Hi, Paula! Welcome to Earth and to the Internet!
Be aware that there will be strangers who do and say things you don't agree with.
 
Richard R. October 12, 2020
Yes there will be, doesn't have to be, but Yes. As long as folks like you are around.
 
Arthur B. April 27, 2020
I always use a stainless pan with butter. It's all about temperature. You can make them soft, hard, crisp around the edges. Rarely have any sticking issues. Stainless can be seasoned just like cast iron. It's all about temperature.
 
Sophie T. April 27, 2020
Love that browned butter in olive oil for my eggs. Best flavor and texture. Will try cream, never knew!
 
Pam H. April 26, 2020
Very interesting article (I’m in The Who Knew About Cream sector), and very charmingly written!
 
Meg April 25, 2020
Great read! I love eggs and learned a lot from this. I’ve seen people do the cream method eggs but have not tried them! I will be trying this method tomorrow morning. Thanks!
 
Christopher April 21, 2020
It really comes down to crispy edges and bottom for me. Crisp equilibrates to dry and over done. If an egg was an inch thick, I’d accept a crisp edge. But at about 1\8 inch thick, any crisp to me means hammered. Butter, non stick, low and slow with a lid.
 
Rosemary April 21, 2020
We have found that using a non-stick sandwich press that can be set open about 2 inches works great !! Little or no oil & the press cooks perfect eggs by heating top & bottom & you can cook 6 eggs+ at the same time.
 
Wm C. March 15, 2020
Agree on the nonstick pan. But I prefer butter. Olive oil leaves a weird taste which I don’t usually associate with eggs.
 
Todd R. March 19, 2020
Give Avocado oil a try! Delivers the same crispiness as the Olive oil without the strong flavor.
 
Crystal A. March 1, 2020
OK, so I tried the heavy cream method, and it's amazing! I was very surprised at how easy it was, and it didn't stick at all. Very creamy and delicious! How did I not know this before?? Thank you!
 
Lori K. April 25, 2020
I usually make basted eggs with butter and a little water but I’ve used hall and half a couple of times instead of the water and that’s yummy too
 
Rebecca R. March 1, 2020
Sorry, nonstick skillet with tight fitting lid. Add bacon grease or butter for flavor. Brake an egg Into a ramekin and gently pour into the skillet over med to low flame. Cook by occasionally moving the egg with the spatula. When the white has set add 2tablespoons of water turn up the heat up a bit and put on the lid. Glass lids are best so you dont have to let the steam escape. When the yolks have a lightened but are still jiggly. My most disgusting experience is gelatinous whites, also overcooked yolks. Keep it simple.
 
Alberto T. March 1, 2020
As you mentioned, to each their own.
 
Rebecca R. March 1, 2020
Each to his own, but y'all are writing these long detailed explanations for a very simple process. Best is a nonstick
 
Alberto T. March 1, 2020
Sure, if you like toxic forgetful food
 
Alberto T. March 1, 2020
Hi, just finished reading the 42 eggs. A suggestion to alleviate the stainless steel sticking of eggs is to season the pan.
I am a professional chef of over 20 years and one of the first things I learned (classically trained at the CIA) is how to season a pan [stainless, aluminium, even unseasoned NEW carbon steel.]
The process is similar to cast iron seasoning. Heat the pan over medium heat and add fat, doesn't matter what kind. I suggest the least expensive fat or even left over cooking fats from roasts, pan frying etc. that would have been discarded anyway. A small amount is required, about 1/2 tsp depending on pan diameter. Once hot, add some kosher salt (as a scouring agent) and massage/scour the cooking surface very well for 2 minutes using a side towel or paper towels, being careful not to burn your fingers. Scrape the salt and oil away and discard. Repeat one more time for good measure.
At this point it will be non stick, providing you dont wash with detergent, as that will remove the seasoning. I use this technique for making crepes in aluminum or steel pans, because as you've discovered, nonstick pans do nothing for texture or browning. I responded because as I was reading this article, I had just finished eating a breakfast taco of fried eggs over potato and onions. I use a 6" all-clad stainless steel pans to cook all my eggs scrambled, fried or omelets. I hope this helps.
 
Madeline R. March 1, 2020
Ok Boomer
 
Alberto T. March 1, 2020
Just sayin...
 
Crystal A. March 30, 2020
why was that necessary??
 
Jeanne B. April 18, 2020
What an unpleasant and inappropriate response.
 
2tattered July 11, 2020
Ass.
 
2tattered July 11, 2020
Thank you, Alberto. Very helpful.
 
2tattered July 15, 2020
Meant for Madeline R.
 
EMSMOM November 28, 2020
DON'T BE AN ASSHOLE. If you do not agree with something or do not appreciate other peoples comments or suggestions, then just ignore. Why do you feeñl the need to be sarcastic???
 
Crystal A. January 11, 2020
I can't believe anyone is still using non-stick cookware! I'm happy you did this experiment and it's good food for thought. I'm definitely trying the cream method! But please for your sake and everyone else's, stop using that toxic cookware.
https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/06/03/non-stick-cookware-dangers.aspx
 
Wm C. March 15, 2020
Hard to beat for convenience. Doubt it will catch on. Aluminum is not healthy either.
 
Lili October 3, 2020
Non-stick pans made with teflon/PFAS are indeed toxic, but those are usually older pans. Many well-known brands now make cookware made without teflon/PFAS.
 
manderjoy December 31, 2019
This is not only gloriously food-nerdy and interesting, it's eggceptionally well written. Please write more in a similar vein -- although I do agree the title could be better in several ways.
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. January 12, 2020
Thank you manderjoy! So pleased you enjoyed.