Egg

The Right Way to Separate Eggs, According to a Pastry Chef

There’s shell-to-shell, shell-to-hand, and this third, better way.

by:
May 27, 2020
Photo by ROCKY LUTEN. PROP STYLIST: BROOKE DEONARINE. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG.

Back in 2013, Genius columnist Kristen Miglore and Food52 alum Kristy Mucci showed us two ways to separate eggs—with half an egg shell and a (clean!) hand, or with two halves of an egg shell.

But there’s actually a third, better way.

My first kitchen job was at a dessert bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Every move and decision I made during prep received serious side-eye and was chastised (hugely educational in hindsight). A month or so in, after neither complimenting nor grunting at my new-and-improved mango dice, the chef asked me for 240 grams of egg whites. This I could do! And so I began: gently rapping an egg on the work surface, coaxing the two halves apart, and tossing the yolk back and forth between the two shells, as the white slipped down into my (tared) bowl.

He lost it. He cracked all remaining eggs into my egg-white bowl, then, making a Vulcan-esque “V” with one hand, fished the yolks out in eight quick dips. It must have taken less than 30 seconds to separate all the eggs. By the time I mentally jotted all this down, he was asking why I hadn’t labeled them yet. Yes, chef!


How to Separate Eggs Like a Pastry Chef

1. Crack all the eggs in one bowl.

Tap the eggs gently on a flat surface, not against the edge of a bowl. The edge of a bowl might make for a cleaner-looking break, but it forces the shell into the egg, which can pierce the yolk. (Also, a shell fragment might sneak its way into the bowl—no thanks.)

2. Take out the yolks.

Partially spread the fingers of your dominant hand (not so much that your hand becomes stiff or overly splayed—just enough to let the egg white fall through), and, with your middle and ring finger, scoop the egg yolks up and out.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I have ALWAYS washed my hands after handling eggs. Every time, cracked or not. There is no guarantee eggs are clean in the U.S. It might be safer to assume there is salmonella on the shells.”
— jpriddy
Comment

There was never a backup plan for an inadvertently broken egg yolk (confidence that comes from cracking the same eggs, from the same suppliers, on the same—I stress again, flat—surface for decades). Should a little yolk leak in the bowl, not all is lost; simply scoop it out with an egg shell. You may lose a little white, but the batch will, otherwise, not be compromised.


Now About Those Yolks & Whites

There you have it—a whole lot of separated eggs, in not a whole lot of time. What is your go-to method? Tell me about it in the comments.

Join the Conversation

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • mdelgatty
    mdelgatty
  • Cole Jolley
    Cole Jolley
  • Julie
    Julie
  • ktr
    ktr
  • Robert Johnson
    Robert Johnson
Comment
Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga. When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.

24 Comments

mdelgatty June 2, 2020
No one's heard of egg separators? I'm not referring to $34 ones (!) I don't like egg on my hands, and my plastic Tupperware egg separator over a measuring cup has worked fine for years and takes up very little space in my gadgets drawer. I can't imagine why a home cook would need anything more...
 
Cole J. May 31, 2020
There's a 4th way: buy them already separated - in bulk - from your supplier. That's what the pro's do. For us, having to crack *any* eggs in order to separate is a huge time suck.
 
Julie May 29, 2020
At my pastry shop we do a lot of Macarons and a lot of Italian Meringue buttercream.
For me, the neatest way to separate eggs starts with the way you crack the egg. Hold one egg in your dominant hand horizontally. For me that’s my right hand. Take another egg in your non dominant hand and tap the pointed end on the center of the horizontal egg. Then, just use the fingers of that dominant hand to spread the shell apart so the whole egg drops in the bowl. Takes a little practice but you never get egg white on your table. Eventually, the egg your using as the mallet will weaken and you’ll have to replace it with another egg. Make sure when you drop the egg in your bowl your close to the bottom of the bowl so the yolk doesn’t break on impact. Also, have a ladle near by so if a yolk breaks you can. Corral it with the ladle.
 
ktr May 29, 2020
This method might work well for me. I get a migraine if I eat egg whites so I separate eggs a lot. I don't mind getting a little yolk in with the whites because I'm not going to eat them. I save the whites (and any broken yolks that I can't salvage) and give them to my dog.
 
Robert J. May 29, 2020
Am now 83 years old. Have not needed to separate yolks from whites yet.
 
ritabquinn May 28, 2020
Excellent! 😊
 
W J. May 28, 2020
A fourth way, and one not previously mentioned on this forum as far as I know, is to use an empty water bottle. With the cap off the bottle, just position the neck over the yolk squeeze gently to expel air from the bottle, position the neck of the bottle on the yolk and release the pressure on the sides of the bottle. The yolk will be drawn up into the bottle quick as a wink and very cleanly too.

To do multiple yolks as in a bowl, tilt the bottle back a bit, squeeze the sides again and repeat with the next yolk.

So where does one get a water bottle for this? No problem, as those things are everywhere! A further advantage is if one is just using the whites, then the now isolated yolks can be stored back in the fridge capped safely in the bottle, for all to see.
 
R May 28, 2020
I can see a possible invention here (I will be happy to share the profits). The key is to not have a sharp edge for the bottle/receiving container that could break the egg yolk. Some sort of sqeezy bulb on back side (top) the receiving container would help to suck the new yolk into the container, and allow the user to go onto the next egg. I would assume that with the proper sized container, it would be easy to suck up a dozen yolks without breakage. Better than fingers, egg shell edges, etc.
 
llheinsohn May 28, 2020
There already IS an invention.
 
W J. May 28, 2020
There are a lot of examples of this on YouTube. Here is but one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AirVOuTN_M In this one, though the guy cannot spell separate in the opening comments, he manages to separate and plate 5 yolks quickly and cleanly.

This works because there is something called the vitelline membrane, which is the transparent casing that encloses the yolk of the hen's egg and separates it from the albumen (aka egg white). This membrane, which is surprisingly strong if not ruptured with a sharp object, is the reason, one can separate egg yolks in the first place.
 
Leigh A. May 28, 2020
I recently made meringue and didn't have an egg separator at home. I placed a slotted spoon over a small bowl, and cracked the egg into the spoon. It worked perfectly, and then I transferred my yolk-free white into my mixing bowl. The method described seems pretty dangerous for making egg foam, as others have commented.
 
LVB May 28, 2020
A little bit of egg yolk in the egg white may not be a big deal unless you are trying to make meringue because any trace of yolk or fats in the egg white will prevent the meringue from setting up.

Also the author suggest a third option, but the third option doesn’t sound any different from the option of straining the egg white through your hand. Only difference is breaking all of the eggs into a bowl and then scoop out the the yolks individually, which increases the chance of breaking the yolks.
 
Smaug May 28, 2020
Fat in the whites will stop them from whipping at all, so it's damaging in a lot of situations- cakes, mousses, anything where it's used as leavening.
 
carswell May 27, 2020
Ummmm nope. I hate the feel of egg whites.
 
Josef L. May 27, 2020
love this! so efficient :)
 
Smaug May 27, 2020
I frequently find it ill advised for home cooks to imitate commercial chefs who are, after all, trying to do something completely different under completely different circumstances, and I don't see this as very useful for home cooks. My preferred method for separating eggs is to strain them through my fingers, but for the one or two I'm likely to be separating the time taken to wash my hands afterwards makes using the shells preferable. Most of us don't have such dependable egg sources or go through them so fast as professional bakeries, and under current circumstances we may be lucky to find bargain eggs from the supermarket, so depending on yolks not to break is very chancy.
 
Brinda A. May 27, 2020
There seems to be an unexpected amount of baking and pasta-making going on in homes across the country (and probably world!), so it's hard to say conclusively what most people are doing currently, or whether that might change or increase anytime soon! In my mind, the great thing about home cooks trying this particular technique right now is that it's at best a cool new thing to practice, and at worst (ie if you mess up), a good excuse for making a frittata.
 
Alan May 27, 2020
Yeah, I can't say that I would use this technique just because I'm not willing to risk all of my egg whites to a broken yolk, and trying to clean up after would be quite a time-waster.

For the two-shell method, maybe I'm doing something wrong, but I find it incredibly tedious and I still end up with egg on my hands, necessitating washing anyway. I'm by no means a professional and only separate eggs every month or two, but straining through the fingers, I can crack an egg and have it fully separated in roughly 5 seconds (provided I don't break the yolk, then it's more like 10 seconds, though I sacrifice a little of the white). With the two-shell method, it takes at least as long as it would take me to thoroughly wash my hands just to separate a single egg. I honestly don't understand why anybody ever uses it and I'm always mystified when I see professional chefs do it on TV.

Maybe Dunning-Kruger is in full effect here, but I feel like I could go on Top Chef as an amateur and kick ass in an egg-separating Quickfire.
 
Smaug May 27, 2020
Well, if you continue to separate eggs you will inevitably have an occasional yolk escape into the bowl and have to fish it out this way- it works fine if the yolk doesn't break, but I can't see it as any faster than finger straining them before they go in the bowl.
 
Suzanne M. May 28, 2020
Agreed. In a professional setting this method works because of the sheer volume of eggs one might be separating for an industry-sized recipe. For three or four eggs, it's not much faster and probably a bit more difficult (fishing a few yolks out of a small bowl while trying not to break any) than the crack into your hand method
 
jpriddy May 28, 2020
I have ALWAYS washed my hands after handling eggs. Every time, cracked or not. There is no guarantee eggs are clean in the U.S. It might be safer to assume there is salmonella on the shells.
 
Smaug May 28, 2020
I don't know that there's any more reason for salmonella to be on an egg shell than anywhere else, but all sorts of really nasty bacteria- streptoccus, staphylococcus, and salmonella varieties etc., are a natural part of the environment and are handled in environmental quantities by our immune systems. Sickness from salmonella generally requires ingestion of large quantities of the bacteria.
 
EmMa May 29, 2020
Salmonella (when present... but not a risk I want to take) is found specifically on the eggshell, not actually in the eggs themselves. Washing the shells before handling helps lower the risk of infection.
 
Smaug May 29, 2020
Emma- OK, my bad- a little poking around on the internet indicates that there is some increased possibility of salmonella on an eggshell because it is normally present in the chickens' (not to mention humans') digestive systems and can be passed to eggshells through contact with feces; it's not clear if there is any danger of contractin disease from an eggshell, and stringent washing methods have been in use since the '70's, but I suppose it's possible to contaminate the contents of the shell from the shell. The CDC also estimates that 1 in 20,000 eggs may be contaminated on the inside because of salmonella present in the chicken's ovaries.