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.

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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
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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.
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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.

153 Comments

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
 
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.
 
Michael December 31, 2019
Ack....I didn't want to comment but started reading comments. I love your articles and experiments Ella, please don't stop! I'm interested to see if you go with "best ever and the only way to do XXXX" next article? do it! Anyone that has waded thru J Kenji's tome of food really cares about what they are doing, so thank you.

Second point is I think you missed two methods that are more common in the modern kitchen these days than 40 years ago, with our modern Viking and Thermador equipment.
The flat grill and the aluminum egg pan. 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. :)
 
Brian December 31, 2019
I read your comment Michael and almost gasped when you mentioned two things in your cooking. One was cooking with aluminum pans — which research shows cooking with aluminum can lead to alzheimers and margarine, which is also very harmful to the human body. Please be careful with not only what you cook with but also what you cook your food in. It's the tradeoff I'm talking about, how to cook in order to make the perfect egg and what you are cooking with and putting into your body. Just a note of caution. A smart cook is a good cook. :) Brian
 
Michael December 31, 2019
Schucks Brian, aluminum (as in hard anodized) and alzheimers is unsubstantiated and inconclusive, unless you are a rabbit getting it injected into your brain. I'd dare the air you breath is more harmful to you over all, and a smart good cook isn't scraping the pan with metal utensils. Let alone cooking with Teflon, or Caphalon, let alone eating fried eggs? Oh bother.
As for oleo yeah I'm not a fan of hydrogenated anything, but IF you eat in a commercial restaurant, guess what you are getting?
Personally at home I use the carbon steel with clarified butter, or cast iron with bacon fat. *shrug* not what I consider the absolute best or most common methods.
As for in my personal cooking I do believe I stated that poached eggs are superior as a good smart cook would. ;)
Does that clarify it for you sir?
 
TERRYE H. January 11, 2020
Can you please cite the proof of your assertion re: aluminum?
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. January 12, 2020
Thank you Michael! And good to know!
 
Scott O. December 26, 2019
It seems that no one really give a flip about how you cook the eggs (and, quite frankly, despite all of the hoopla, there wasn't that much difference in several of the variations). The BIG DEBATE is burned, lacey, crispy edges vs. white, soft, unburned edges. Ella Quittner should conduct a poll!
 
2tattered December 26, 2019
A poll would be meaningless. No one cares how many other people like their eggs cooked their own preferred way. Thanks to Ella for this article, and for her sacrifice. I couldn’t look an egg in the eye for quite a while if I were her.
 
Scott O. December 26, 2019
Yes but a poll would be interesting! Unlike this article.
 
2tattered December 26, 2019
I found this article to be quite interesting. I’ve been frying eggs for decades, at home and professionally. It never occurred to me to fry them in heavy cream. They were delicious, especially combined with some egg noodles, toasted pine nuts and Parmesan.
I don’t care about polls; I care about learning new techniques for COOKING. Isn’t that why we are reading articles on this website?
 
Scott O. December 26, 2019
The point that I was trying to make (obviously not making it well) it that a significant number of commentators disagree that ANY of these methods of frying eggs is acceptable. The number of commentators who object strongly to fried eggs with burned, crispy, lacey edges is significant and these comments have the most upvotes. So clearly a significant number of readers think that this story would be the equivalent of "13 ways to burn a cake." or "13 ways to deflate a souffle," or even "13 ways to cook a prime cut of beef to a well-done state and still try to pass it off a food."
 
Scott O. December 26, 2019
Excuse me...42 ways.

I guess that I find most amazing about a story written by a cook/author who tried 42 ways to fry eggs in some scientific methodology never even takes in to account that clearly MANY people don't like fried, burned, crispy edges on their eggs.
 
Scott O. December 26, 2019
And she has the gall to label the article "the ABSOLUTE BEST WAY to fry an egg." Many reqders would strongly disagree.
 
Paula R. December 30, 2019
Scott, You read the article. Why? Not every thought must become a comment.
 
Arthur B. December 26, 2019
I use a stainless pan, have for years - All Clad, and have no problem with sticking using butter. Don;t get the pan too hot to begin.
 
judy December 21, 2019
While I enjoy the process of these comparative testings, I wish that the writers would find a different title than " the best...according to" articles. Implies that all the other ways are "wrong". Most of the time it is a matter of preference, not correct or incorrect. I like to read about the process, but am put off by the title. Sounds too judgmental.
 
2tattered December 22, 2019
“Help.....I’m melting!”
 
Greg Z. December 26, 2019
This is a great lesson in imply vs. infer.
 
Jen C. December 21, 2019
I’ve made perfect fried eggs - crisp on bottom, pillowy white with a velvety runny yolk countless times in a stainless steel pan (using olive oil) with no sticking at all. Does it slide around like a nonstick pan? No. Can you slide a spatula (fish spatula works best) underneath to easily lift egg out? 100%. If your egg was sticking, the pan & oil weren’t hot enough (just below smoking, granted you have to pay attention) before sliding egg in and there wasn’t enough oil in the pan. Refer to @frankprisinzano Insta-story for the details - it will be the most amazing fried egg you will have every time.
 
catalinalacruz December 18, 2019
I think a whole article could be written on crispy versus non-crispy egg edges! :)
As for me, a crispy, brown edge is like chewing on plastic. I'll take the egg whites white, please.
 
M December 17, 2019
Feeling thankful I grew up in a home that didn't shame crispy whites.

As for cast iron, it can be just as good as nonstick if you keep a pan that generally avoids cooking more sticky foods. I have one that does shallow deep-fries, dry-fries, and anything that doesn't require a good pan scrubbing. Less than a year after re-seasoning, eggs will slide with minimal coaxing.

Also, I'd love these posts to include other stovetop types. One induction and one electric element.
 
Constance L. December 16, 2019
I never turn my eggs...if you do, it's no longer "sunny side up." just test the pan's heat, Crisco oil/enough to cover the egg...low heat...when the egg starts turning white, start flipping the grease over the center of the egg, until it's just barely white, the white sets...does not burn or crisp...remove with plastic spatula...and I love my diamond pan/no stick.
 
June K. December 16, 2019
Wait, I thought having crispy fried eggs was a bad thing? That the crisp brown edges was a sign that the egg is overcooked? Anyway, I'll use my bacon fat and carbon steel pan and carefully cook my eggs so there are no brown edges.
 
Resa S. December 16, 2019
Those eggs all look horrendous!
Best is crisco coated in seasoned cast iron
Does not stick

The key to correctly frying an egg is the temperature, more so than the type of pan or fat. Room temperature egg, medium-high heat to start, turn down to med low as soon as egg goes in pan. Turn once, as soon as 2nd side hits the pan, turn burner off. This is for over easy, no black or brown marks on egg at all.
 
Crystal A. January 11, 2020
Crisco is toxic and will clog your arteries.
 
TERRYE H. January 11, 2020
Crystal, can you cite credible evidence re: Crisco Oil? Aluminum pans?
 
Crystal A. January 11, 2020
I'm not going to do your homework for you. Do some googling! I mean, this is very well known information.

Ingredients: Soybean Oil, Fully Hydrogenated Palm Oil, Palm Oil, Mono And Diglycerides, TBHQ And Citric Acid (Antioxidants). 50% Less Saturated Fat than Butter* Crisco Shortening: 3.5g saturated fat per tablespoon.
 
Ashley A. December 15, 2019
Really great article!! Well written and helpful. Can't wait to try the cream method!
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. January 12, 2020
Thanks Ashley! Glad you enjoyed! And do try cream :)
 
Aaron J. December 14, 2019
I always use vegetable oil. It gives a a consistency closer to the butter and water method and its healthier. I also bteka the yoke and fry them until the yokes are just a little gooey, but not runny. Of course I use a nonstick pan.
 
Elaine December 14, 2019
Vegetable oil is highly refined GMO soy that’s highly inflammatory I’m your body.
I only use the stuff anymore to remove oil paint from my hands...it’s best use.
 
Crystal A. January 11, 2020
And non stick pans are toxic! You're going to get cancer or cardiovascular disease. It's just a matter of which one you get first.
 
Michael L. December 14, 2019
Not for every day, but eggs cooked in a half inch or so of hot fat (bacon is great, but most heat-tolerant oils work well) really transforms the egg. Break the eggs into the hot oil. The whites puff up in an amazing way. Spoon hot fat over the top to get the whites cooked to desired doneness before the yolk thickens too much. They're not greasy at all -- but you can drain on your spatula blot with a paper towel if you'd like. It's a totally different type of fried egg, and delicious. Use a small -- 6 to 7 inch -- non-stick skillet for two eggs. (I'm told this is Thai style, but I have no proof of that.)
 
cookbookchick December 29, 2019
A friend calls these “Barcelona eggs,” no idea why. They are delicious!
 
Michael L. December 14, 2019
Not for every day, but eggs cooked in a half inch or so of hot fat (bacon is great, but most heat-tolerant oils work well) really transforms the egg. Break the eggs into the hot oil. The whites puff up in an amazing way. Spoon hot fat over the top to get the whites cooked to desired doneness before the yolk thickens too much. They're not greasy at all -- but you can drain on your spatula blot with a paper towel if you'd like. It's a totally different type of fried egg, and delicious. Use a small -- 6 to 7 inch -- non-stick skillet for two eggs. (I'm told this is Thai style, but I have no proof of that.
 
Constance L. December 14, 2019
steak juice???? can we just stick to what's usually in a house to fry eggs..like oil, butter, and bacon fat. the best mayo is Duke's.
 
TERRYE H. December 14, 2019
Right, why use the juice off your breakfast steak when you can hop out of bed and render up some pork jowls? Duke's is excellent mayo but it is marketed in other parts of the country (where other people live) as Hellman's. Have you considered decaf? Personally, I really want to try the ghee and cream methods.
 
MrsMehitabel December 25, 2019
I believe Hellman's is marketed as Best Foods in some regions. Duke's is its own thing- not the same as Hellman's.
 
TERRYE H. December 25, 2019
You are so right and I've known this for many many many years (I'm old) but I had one of my senior moments. Thanks.
 
Michael December 31, 2019
I don't know why but I have a jar of tallow in my fridge. Oh yeah from making bone broth. That tallow is bomb for frying things up like pomme frites.
Then again I have no idea what Duke's is?
 
Crystal A. January 11, 2020
Duke's is made in Virginia and is an absolute staple of southern cooking, and a must for devilled eggs, casseroles, spinach and artichoke dip, etc. You can probably order it online; it may only be available in the Southeast.
 
Laura M. January 11, 2020
Duke's is not made in Virginia, even though a company in Virginia purchased it. It's made in South Carolina, and has more egg yolks and no sugar, so it's rich and tangy.
 
Ken P. December 14, 2019
To me the absolute best is eggs in a cast iron pan in steak juice it raises the bar in the breakfast meat department as well as super taste. I cant stop eating them.
 
Mad R. December 14, 2019
Fried eggs remind me of my ex-boyfriend
 
Mad R. December 14, 2019
Fried eggs make me think about my ex-boyfriend, Bear.