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.

  • Gafrank
  • DarwinW13
  • Connie Wilkin
    Connie Wilkin
  • Gnm
  • Anne Mooney
    Anne Mooney
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.


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!"
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?
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 😉!
David C. February 26, 2023
The appearance of all of them seems very overcooked for sunnyside up eggs.
I'm surprised that clarified butter was not an option--it works very well.

I'd agree that nonstick or a carbon steel are good options. I have a pair of shallow carbon steel pans I purchased decades ago that I use only for eggs. They've outpaced many nonstick pans.
Jeany February 26, 2023
JetPilot February 26, 2023
I've done just about every method here except cream and coconut oil (just..why). I have also tried it in some leftover beef tallow. For one or two people not in a hurry, nothing beats the classic bacon in a cast iron skilled followed by the eggs. For frying, I use a lower medium temp. Also the fresher the egg, the less watery the whites are meaning a thicker more even white cooking (vs. thinner more watery white burned edges before the thicker center white of the egg is cooked).
Rick February 26, 2023
Carbon steel and bacon fat is what I use. No sticking! Tried non stick pan what a waste of money buying one.
But reading this article I think I’m going to try using home made lard made from leaf fat.
The parma cheese method sounds good. I lay my eggs on a bed of grated parma everyday.
pgnadler February 26, 2023
I have been experimenting with a fried egg in a nest of fried cheese. Wow. Butter in a non-stick pan. grated cheese in a circle, cracked egg in the middle, one flip. Rocked our morning world.
AlainB February 26, 2023
I don't know, Ella, sounds from the comments like there are more eggs in your future. I think a second round of testing at different temperatures is called for!
I should add that you might want to consider testing over-easy as well. I agree with some of the comments about the pictured eggs, I would never eat an egg where the white is still opaque and basically not cooked.
I love eggs, so if you need another tester I am there. Next 42.
j. February 26, 2023
Cast iron is always fool proof for me for frying either sunny-side or over easy eggs - BUT, we have an ancient steel spatula that has an incredibly sharp edge. Not sure the success rate would be as high with a plastic or silicone spatula.
lauren February 26, 2023
the absolute best way to fry an egg would be to turn the heat down! this is definetly an article of preference because to me, these are all overdone and inedible. i’m a member of the fluffy, white egg gang
catalinalacruz January 17, 2023
There is a right way and a wrong way to fry an egg in a stainless pan, and the right way always works.

Use a heavy-bottomed pan.
Put your pan over med-low heat for 5 min.
When the inside is very hot to the touch, add a generous amount of oil.
Add the egg, either scrambled or not. Turn the heat to low.
DON'T stir or attempt to flip over until the bottom of the egg is mostly cooked. Stirring around liquid egg will make it stick.
Perfect egg with nothing stuck to pan.

This may take a few practice attempts to get the temperature right. I use an old Revereware pan, not copper bottomed, but with a heavy triple layer bottom. Perfect eggs every time.
phelonious January 17, 2023
i agree, bacon fat. also butter, and sometimes butter and olive oil. google Crispy Fried Egg (Kai Dao)
Tepmahler January 2, 2023
Thank you for writing such an interesting, engaging column. I'm inspired to fry some eggs!