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

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.

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.


Talltexan October 27, 2021
Oh Boy...........an ongoing never ending quest for the perfect fried egg. How many breakfast fried eggs have I sent back to the restaurant kitchen.......cannot count that high. Rude to the waiter.....more times than I should have.

With running much risk of being overly offensive, I now stay at home and do my own fried eggs. Seems my constant message to the restaurant cooks, via the frustrated waiters, were to...."turn down the heat." An overly hot frying surface is not necessarily the fastest way to get eggs out. In using a coated non-stick frying pan/skillet, is that high heat will cause the coated surface to break down over repeated high heat environments and it will dislodge from the pan, and then flake off, and or parts of it will turn into a gas. So high heat and egg frying is not a good mix.

I use one teaspoon of olive oil, and a 1/4" think slice of real butter. Let them melt on low temp say just above the warming setting. Apply your eggs, and slow heat/cook them and turn over early just before any lace is formed. Cook second side until the yokes are to your liking by slightly pressing with a fork or spoon, etc. This method turns out fried eggs that actually look and taste like a boiled egg. Zero lace, zero burning, and is much more controlled when using low heat. So now....I am totally off being offensive in restaurants as I never go for breakfast there any longer, and am a satisfied man by doing it myself.
Lyle D. February 6, 2021
Eggs basted in bacon fat that has tiny crumbs of bacon floating in it are what they serve for breakfast in Heaven, where all the pans are non-stick.
[email protected] January 30, 2021
Butter and water for the last 65 years! Started with cast iron and
moved up the non-stick ladder.
natalie January 29, 2021
I fry in bacon fat in a non stick pan until the white is almost set, then place an egg size lid over the egg(s) to finish the top of the whites. Super crispy, yummy and no slime or broken yokes.
Crystal A. January 23, 2021
I've done the cream method several times and it's delicious! Works quite well and usually doesn't stick too much. You do have to tilt the pan, cook at a lower temp, and keep spooning the cream on top and it takes a little longer than frying in butter. Covering the pan in between the spooning helps.
Talltexan October 27, 2021
Have never tried the cream method, but sounds absolutely yummy...!!!
Arthur B. January 23, 2021
I still say the most important thing is temperature.
Joey C. January 21, 2021
I enjoyed reading this way too much! I can’t wait to try the cream, butter, and bacon fat ideas. Separately of course. Or all together?
Crystal A. January 23, 2021
The cream one is delish and works great!
Jjimy January 13, 2021
Wow, now that's dedication... thank you lass. Eggs ( esp. Fried eggs) are probably on of my favourite foods .
CuriousCook January 13, 2021
Just found your website/blog ... I am NOT a cook but love to read about what other cooks are doing in the kitchen. For myself, whole eggs are a no-no but eggwhites are fine. It was just interesting to see what others are doing with them and interesting to see just how you investigated the different styles of cooking.
natalie January 29, 2021
A friend on mine made me French toast with egg whites and cinnamon. As a non-egg white and also non-sweet French toast person, I was pleasantly surprised at how good this was.
Pickles January 11, 2021
You’re hilarious and I want your job:). I would gladly cook, eat, and critique 42 fried eggs...even though I already know that butter is best...basted with bacon fat at the end for flavor.
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
Jjimy January 13, 2021
Interesting, must give it a try
Talltexan October 27, 2021
Wow.....I have an older son that loves his eggs "sunny side up." I gag most every time watching him down a "uggg.....runny egg." Love'em not too hard, and not too runny....
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.
gott5ahavethat January 15, 2021
Shut up Waterhead. i bet ur a__ gonna love a Fried Egg in a few Months when Sleepy Joe & Kamala Wala takes errthang your broke a__ has got. The man up there told ya to chill out Dude. Go smoke another Joint. please Respond. Peace
gott5ahavethat January 15, 2021
especialy when the Aliens r wrong. Sorry Miss Paula. Spacecadet's get'n caried away he needs some more Tofue. Us real Country Crackers appreciate some new Tricks .
gott5ahavethat January 15, 2021
He's sorry his mama raised an Ahole. Sorry again for the Southern French.
Talltexan October 27, 2021
Yeah....Nam1818 - Simple thing as eating an egg, but this article and especially the comments have such an impact on us all. Especially your friends and family who have to eat the darn things.....
Talltexan October 27, 2021
Hey......just everyone hold 'yer horses now.......this guy that didn't like all those lacy eggs that were just a test run, he wasn't being intentionally offensive.....he simply did not read the preceding article to get the gist of what that photo was about. So Mr. Tom T.....good advice here......"read, and think first before any talking is done." It will get you thru every time.
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!