With egg price on the rise, it’s more important than ever to get the cooking times right. Luckily, I did this research many years ago. The principles still apply.
Whether you like them soft-boiled or hard boiled, this recipe explains all the factors involved in making perfectly boiled eggs for your setup. As a bonus, I've also tested several methods of making eggs easier to peel and have come up with the best method for peeling boiled eggs.
If you’ve ever boiled an egg you’ve probably run into problems at one time or another. Two challenges generally arise: cooking the egg and peeling the egg. You might have found your eggs under/overcooked, or when you tried to peel the egg it ended up looking like the surface of the moon.
The good news is that both of these problems are easily resolved with a little understanding of the science of eggs. Read on and you'll be boiling expertly oval eggs whether you're going for a perfect hard boiled egg or a gooey soft cooked one.
Table of contents
Setting Temperatures of Yolks and Albumen
Egg yolks set at a much lower temperature than egg whites (70 degrees C vs 80 degrees C). Since the heat source (boiling water) is outside the egg, it cooks from the outside in. In theory, this means that by the time yolk is set, the white has also reached its higher setting temperature.
Since the boiling water is much hotter than the setting temperature of the egg, it’s very easy to zoom past the desired temperature. Because the temperature is rising so fast, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when to stop the cooking to get the egg exactly how you like it, whether you're going for runny yolks or firm yolks.
The problem with most boiled egg instructions is that they create a formula (put eggs in cold water, bring to boil, boil for X minutes) assuming you put the exact same size and temperature of egg into the same amount of water in the same pan on the same stove… Well, you get the idea.
How Do You Cook the Perfect Boiled Egg?
The best way to figure out what works for your setup is to boil a dozen eggs and start pulling the eggs out of the water in thirty-second increments after about 3 minutes. But who wants to waste that many eggs? Well, luckily I have a friend that farms eggs and I've been busy experimenting in my lab to come up with an (almost) foolproof method of boiling eggs.
Since the main problem with boiling an egg is the narrow window of time during which the egg is perfect, I asked myself how I could slow the cooking down to expand that window of perfection. I found my answer in the way I cook my chicken for chicken soup
This is how I adapted the technique for eggs. Put refrigerated eggs in a heavy bottomed pot and cover with cold tap water so they're covered by about 1" (2.5cm) of water. Bring the water to a full boil (100 degrees C) over high heat, and then remove the pot from the heat. Let the eggs cook the rest of the way using the residual heat in the water. As the temperature of the egg rises, the temperature of the water will fall, which will give you a much wider window when your egg is perfectly cooked.
Boiled Egg Variables
Before I give you cooking times for the eggs though, you need to know that there are many other factors that will affect the cooking time of the egg and I've outlined some of the major ones below along with what I did in my kitchen.
- Initial egg temperature - An egg right out of the fridge will take longer to cook than an egg at room temperature. But since room temperature varies by season, and most people have their fridges set to around the same temperature. I decided to develop my method using eggs straight out of the fridge.
- Egg size - Size greatly effects the cooking time; the bigger the egg, the longer it will take to cook. I did all my experiments with large eggs (not extra large or jumbo)
- Egg to water ratio - The more water you use relative to the number of eggs, the longer it will take to boil and the longer it will retain heat. Too much water and your eggs will cook too fast, too little and the temperature will fall too fast, resulting in uncooked eggs. Ideally, you'd measure out a certain amount of water for each egg you're boiling. But that seems a little extreme for something so simple. I typically use a pot that comfortably houses the number of eggs I'm going to cook (not crowded, not too spaced out, i.e., six eggs in a medium saucepan), and then cover the eggs with enough water so there's about 1" of water above the top of the eggs.
- Heat retention of the pot you use - Thicker pots, made of denser materials (iron vs aluminum) tend to retain heat better than thinner pots. I used a heavy bottomed stainless steel pot to boil my eggs. If you're using an electric stove (coil or plate type), you should remove the pot from the stove and put it on a trivet after the water boils, as these types of stoves tend to retain heat long after you've turned them off.
- Heat output of your stove - Some stoves are able to boil a pot of water much faster than others. IH (Induction) cooktops tend to be the most efficient, while electric plate type stoves tend to be the least efficient. I've tested this method on both IH and gas cooktops using 5-8 eggs. If you try and do too many eggs, or use an under-powdered stovetop it will take too long for the water to come to a boil. If the water takes too long to boil, your eggs are going to be sitting in hot water for much longer, which will affect the amount of time they need to sit in the water after you turn the stove off.
- Altitude - The boiling temperature of water falls as your altitude rises. If you live in the mountains, this will certainly affect your cooking times, so you'll need to adjust accordingly. I boiled my eggs at roughly sea level.
- Room temperature - If you're in a very cold room, your water will cool faster than if you're in a warm room. I boiled my eggs in a 24 degree C (75 F) room.
How Many Minutes for Hard-boiled Eggs? How Many Minutes for Soft-boiled eggs?
With all that in mind, here are the cooking times for various types of boiled eggs. The times start after the water has come to a boil and you've turned off the heat.
- 2 minutes - The white isn't fully set and the yolk is totally raw.
- 4 minutes - The white is fully set, but the yolk is thick and runny.
- 6 minutes - The white is fully set, and the yolk is mostly set, but still a little runny in the middle.
- 8 minutes - The white is fully set, and the yolk is set, but tender.
- 10 minutes - The white is fully set, and the yolk is fully set.
Remember to transfer your eggs to cold water as soon as you take them out of the pot to stop the cooking immediately. Otherwise, your eggs will continue cooking even after you've taken them out of the water.
What's The Best Way to Peel an Egg?
If you do a search on google for "peel an egg" there are literally dozens of purported ways to make peeling an egg easy. Most of them don't work with fresh eggs, and while using older eggs works pretty well, who wants to wait two weeks or more to make a boiled egg? It might not matter so much for egg salad, when you want those perfect half-ovals for devilled eggs, frustration mounts.
The good news is, I’ve come up with a method that works every time, no matter how fresh the egg is. The secret is to put a small crack in the bottom of the egg(the fat side) BEFORE you boil it. The crack needs to extend all the way through the hard shell, but it must not rupture the soft inner membrane (otherwise you’ll end up with egg white spewing out of the crack as it boils). I use a small curved object (like the end of a pestle or back of a spoon) to crack the egg on. It creates a more predictable circular crack rather than a linear crack that could spread and rupture the membrane.
So why does this work? My theory is that by putting a small crack in the shell, it allows water to enter the egg and saturate the membrane, mimicking the membrane of an older egg.
By putting a small crack in the shell, it allows water to enter the egg and saturate the membrane, mimicking the membrane of an older egg. If any scientists out there want to compare some cross sections of the albumen-membrane interface under a scanning electron microscope it would be awesome to finally put this mystery to rest.
Recipes Using Boiled Eggs
Once you've mastered the technique, you'll be ready to try the many dishes on No Recipes that include boiled eggs. Japanese Potato Salad, Japanese Egg Sandwich, Ramen Eggs, and Egg in a Biscuit all feature boiled eggs. You can also use them to crown a bowl of ramen, bejewel a composed salad, or tuck inside a bento. You'll be finding new ways to show off these beauties every day.
Master Other Perfect Eggs
Now that you've mastered the art of boiling eggs how you like them, how about becoming a poached egg pro, or a sunny-side up superstar? To help you along, I've put together a short digital cookbook where I walk you through my techniques for making the perfect egg recipes every time!
- 6 large eggs
- Take the eggs from the refrigerator, then tap the bottom of each egg on a curved surface (like the back of a spoon) to make a small circular crack through the shell. Be careful not to rupture the inner membrane.
- Place 6 eggs in a single layer in a saucepan that's big enough to hold 12 eggs and add cold tap water to the pot until the eggs are covered by 1-inch of water.
- Put the pot on a burner over high heat until the water comes to a rolling boil.
- Set a timer for your desired doneness (see times above), and turn off the heat.
- Remove the boiled eggs from the water when they are done. Place eggs in a bowl and repeatedly cover the eggs with cold water until the water doesn't warm up anymore. This will stop the eggs' cooking. Let them soak in this cold water for at least 20 minutes.
- Crack every bit of shell by tapping firmly with the back of a spoon and then peel the egg from the bottom in a spiral pattern towards the top. Be sure to keep the egg wet at all times.