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.

  • Tina
    Tina
  • spodvoll
    spodvoll
  • Jwolford128
    Jwolford128
  • Roverland
    Roverland
  • Leahbeth
    Leahbeth
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.

278 Comments

Tina October 26, 2022
Well you are no Quittner!!! 42 eggs? All I can say is thanks.
My dad wasn’t a cook by any means but he taught me how to cook eggs, at least the way he liked them, which was with bacon fat. He used “more than enough” so he could carefully splash hot grease on top of the egg as well. Get that top some grease before the flip! Yum!
Appreciate your diligence!
BON appetit!
Tina
 
spodvoll May 30, 2022
I have cast iron (Lodge), nonstick (OXO), stainless (All-Clad), and carbon steel (Matfer) skillets. But I use the lattermost exclusively for frying eggs. I also found a lid that fits perfectly.

Re. the cooking fats, I first heat the pan up for a couple of minutes, then I add canola *and* butter, and I wait until the butter stops foaming before adding eggs.

Trust me; perfect texture and flavor, and crispy, browned bottoms, too.

 
Jwolford128 May 28, 2022
You can’t mean olive oil, can you?
 
Roverland February 24, 2022
I always use a pure stainless pan. My wife and I quit all non-stick due to the chemicals and degradation. To cook eggs in a stainless pan heat it to just below medium. Add your preferred frying media - I use non-filtered olive oil. Let it warm up. Crack the egg into the pan and immediately take the pan off of the burner. The egg will begin to cook but the cooling effect of the loss of heat from the pan allows the egg to relax while still cooking. Put the pan back on the heat for 10-20 seconds, when you hear the fry noise, take it back off and start the cooling cycle again. You should be able to easily slide your spatula under and flip for an over egg. Use the same technique if you cook the other side place on heat/ take off the egg will come out and there will be no solids stuck to the perfectly smooth stainless pan. Use a Scotch Brite pad to maintain a super slick and polished surface on the pan.
 
Leahbeth February 24, 2022
A NYT recipe a couple years ago clued me in to an egg cooking technique I had never heard of before- and neither has anyone else I know of: instead of oil or butter, grate a small bed of Parmesan cheese (using the bigger box grate holes) onto the cold pan, then once it melts crack your eggs on top——- this was a really fun article but I still think nothing beats the Parmesan fried egg!
 
Lisasix February 24, 2022
Yum! This is one technique I will try, thanks!
 
[email protected] February 24, 2022
This sounds delicious
 
bgibbs February 24, 2022
Sounds delicious, indeed!
 
miss J. February 21, 2022
considering most pans cook best at different temps, based on how they distribute and retain heat, i feel like the author really missed out on writing a more useful article by neglecting to try different temps for the different pans. fry an egg on med-high in my cast iron? no thanks. to make this a truer science experiment, you should test all the major variables.
 
rharris50 February 20, 2022
I enjoyed the article, although proclaiming one method to be the best way, presupposes that the reader shares your personal preferences. I love soft-boiled eggs, but I usually settle for fried eggs for the time it saves. I therefore cook them slowly to ensure that there are no crisp brown eggs. Those who like their eggs to be crisp will certainly prefer one of the other methods. I am sympathetic with restaurants that serve eggs cooked quickly using high heat, because my method is not practical for serving a large number of customers quickly. I also prefer the flavor of olive oil for frying eggs. Finally, I grew up using bacon grease for frying eggs. I love the taste, but we have a wealth of medical research showing the health risks of preserved meats. In frying, most of the nitrates from bacon end up in the grease, so it is not worth it to me. I love bacon and occasionally eat it, but I remove as much as possible of the nitrate-laden grease first. That's a personal choice. I won't judge others, because everyone has to make his/her choice about how much they want to minimize health risks.
 
rharris50 February 20, 2022
I enjoyed the article, although proclaiming one method to be the best way, presupposes that the reader shares your personal preferences. I love soft-boiled eggs, but I usually settle for fried eggs for the time it saves. I therefore cook them slowly to ensure that there are no crisp brown eggs. Those who like their eggs to be crisp will certainly prefer one of the other methods. I am sympathetic with restaurants that serve eggs cooked quickly using high heat, because my method is not practical for serving a large number of customers quickly. I also prefer the flavor of olive oil for frying eggs. Finally, I grew up using bacon grease for frying eggs. I love the taste, but we have a wealth of medical research showing the health risks of preserved meats. In frying, most of the nitrates from bacon end up in the grease, so it is not worth it to me. I love bacon and occasionally eat it, but I remove as much as possible of the nitrate-laden grease first. That's a personal choice. I won't judge others, because everyone has to make his/her choice about how much they want to minimize health risks.
 
Arthur B. February 21, 2022
Most grocery stores carry nitrite / nitrate free bacon even organic bacon. I save my bacon fat to use in cooking.
 
rharris50 February 21, 2022
Good point, if the bacon is really free of added nitrates & nitrites. However some of the products advertised as free of those preservatives simply add a natural source (celery powder), which allows them to label the product as nitrate-free even if the amount is the same. They can call this natural, because they used a natural source of nitrates instead of adding the chemical directly. You can check the label to see if the product is really free of any added nitrates, even a natural source.
 
Arthur B. February 21, 2022
Note nitrites from celery are never bad for you. They are different from sodium nitrites, and nitrates.
 
rharris50 February 21, 2022
I hope you are right. In fact, I still occasionally buy processed meat that uses celery powder as its source of nitrates. However, every source that I have seen contradicts it. In fact, some point out that the amount of sodium nitrate can actually be higher when celery powder is used. See the following article by the American Institute for Cancer Research: https://www.aicr.org/resources/blog/healthtalk-will-hot-dogs-and-bacon-preserved-with-celery-powder-still-increase-my-cancer-risk/ .
 
Arthur B. February 21, 2022
I researched it. It's true.

 
rharris50 February 21, 2022
I included a link from a cancer research institute. I would be happy to add many more from other sources. Sodium nitrate is sodium nitrate, regardless of the source.
 
Lyle D. February 20, 2022
If one can discern a writer's personality from what they write, I wish Ella lived in our neighborhood.

I knew there was a reason Mom kept a coffee can of bacon fat in the cupboard above the stove, so I do, too. Fried eggs are the number one reason, It's nice to see one's beliefs verified.
 
Lisasix February 20, 2022
I separate my yolks from the whites & gently cook the whites, season, flip, add the yolks on top & fold the whites over the yolks & serve. Perfect every time!
 
bgibbs February 20, 2022
New technique to me! Very interesting!
 
miss J. February 21, 2022
super inspired! seems like the best of both worlds. can’t wait to try it out.
 
Drew February 20, 2022
Garlic infused* olive oil in cast iron or carbon steel (whichever comes first to hand), heated on high until just short of smoking. Crack the eggs directly into the pan. Fry until whites start to get opaque about halfway through, flip, thirty seconds to finish, serve. Whites are firm without being rubbery, there's nice browning and crisp edges, yolks are perfectly gooey.

*I'm a garlic junkie - YMMV
 
bgibbs February 20, 2022
I'm sorry to say that none of the eggs pictured in this article appear edible, mostly because the heat used to cook them -- medium high -- is too hot, resulting in crisp whites, excess fat absorption, and toughness. While I realize that my preference for tender tender whites is just that -- my preference -- I've been served eggs that look like these and couldn't bear the "plastic" texture of the overcooked edges. Sorry!
 
Westcoasty February 20, 2022
I'm with you on this. I find the "crispy edges" more or less inedible, both in taste and texture. I was thrilled the day a friend of mine, who is an excellent cook, explained that I needed to turn the heat down to avoid brown edges (I'm still a novice cook, to my mind). I love luscious, tender whites.
 
Drew February 20, 2022
Whereas I strongly prefer crispy lacing around the edge of my fried eggs, and fry eggs on high to make sure I get them. Eggs fried at low heat for soft, pallid whites are off-putting to me.

But, to each their own.
 
Lisasix February 20, 2022
Agree, the browned whites do resemble plastic to me. I separate my yolks from the whites & gently cook the whites, season, flip, add the yolks on top & fold the whites over the yolks & serve. Perfect every time!
 
Wendy February 20, 2022
My husband cooks our eggs with a little butter and water--thank you for the fried toast tip.
 
Rspratt February 20, 2022
Thank you so much for that witty and informative missive on eggs. I am new to cooking and your style of writing and explaining was more like the scientific method I know. I thoroughly enjoyed it. My only caveat; the labels used with setting the heat. My medium may well be someone else’s med-high. Are there standard temperatures for the labels, low, med and high as wells as for med-low, med-high, etc. ??
 
tastysweet February 20, 2022
I happen to duck fat which I buy online along with chicken fat. I never even thought about using the duck fat for eggs🤔.
I am going to try it. Will advise.
Thanks for a great article. I wouldn’t have had the patience.
 
Stephanie A. February 20, 2022
Many years ago, a friend taught me a trick that keeps the fried egg yolks intact even if the eggs stick in some spots to the frying pan. When you crack the egg open, let only the egg white trickle into the frying pan at first. Before you add the yolk, wait for the white to set up a bit. Only add the yolk once the bottom of the egg white has turned opaque. Then, add the yolk and finish frying the egg. I use a cast iron frying pan with lots of unsalted butter. I start with a hot pan. Once the butter has melted, I turn the heat down to medium, then proceed with adding the eggs. I prefer to keep my eggs a bit runny because, when I plate them, I drizzle the hot butter from the pan over them. I only salt them just before serving. Always with Himalayan salt. I will definitely be trying the eggs with cream because I am very curious about what that could taste like. Thank you for the very entertaining and interesting article. I concur with the other reviewer who was praising your writing style. Very engaging!
 
lizzardbeeating February 20, 2022
I’ve enjoyed the articles, recipes and marketplace here on Food52 for years. However, I’ve only just created an account so that I could leave this comment asking you to please write a book (any book, although one about cooking would obviously be appreciated). I love the ABT column for it’s educational purposes. But, even more than that, I love it because your writing style is eloquent without sounding pretentious, informative while still feeling laid-back, and it creates beautiful pictures in my mind. Thank you for your work!

I’m off to try a cream fried egg. My pups don’t often get the same royal treatment as Bun, but they’ll get a little extra somethin’ this morning in his honor!
 
Westcoasty February 20, 2022
Personally, I'm not a fan of brown on my egg, as I find it tough and unappealing. I prefer my whites to be succulent and tender. I cook on medium-low heat, usually using ghee and a sprinkle of salt in a non-stick pan. I've also used coconut oil (a little too sweet for me), avocado oil (bitter), olive oil (decent, but does flavour the eggs), and bacon fat (will brown the eggs if not strained first due to crispy bacon crumbs, but flavour is great). But ghee remains my favourite, for the buttery flavour. That said, I really want to try cooking eggs in heavy cream! Sounds luscious.
 
Renee February 20, 2022
I just cooked eggs in heavy cream for the first time in my life. I was skeptical, but they were fabulous. I made two eggs. Now I want more! Thanks for sharing.
 
Gabriele February 20, 2022
I fry my eggs using butter and stainless steel. They never stick, have perfectly crispy edges and the yolk is perfect. The key is pre-heating the pan and the butter until the butter just starts to bubble, then add the egg. Using a stainless steel spatula to remove the egg from the skillet ensures the egg is removed and any excess butter is left behind.