The Perfect Egg: A Primer

by Molly Bradley


Best practices for cooking any kind of egg your heart — and stomach — desire.

Eggs are one of the easiest things to make, but they’re one of the hardest things to do really well. They’re also often misunderstood: for a lot of people, “sunny-side up” and “over-easy” are synonymous; for others, there’s only one way to scramble an egg.

So here’s a brief rundown on what, exactly, different egg preparations are; what some other things are that you can do with eggs that you may never have tried; and the best techniques to make each of these types of eggs.

First, a general technique for all methods: take the egg off the fire, or out of the oven, before it looks perfect to you. It will finish cooking off the fire, especially if it hangs out in the pan for a minute after you’re taken it off, but it’ll keep cooking even if you put it straight on the plate. So if you take your eggs off the heat just before they’re perfect, then by the time you serve them, they’ll have achieved perfection.



General technique:

  • Use plenty of butter. You need it to fully coat the surface of the pan. (You can probably use a touch less in a non-stick pan, but seriously: don’t skimp.) This will allow you to flip the egg — if you’re flipping it — without any sticking or tearing, and it will allow the egg to cook evenly and slide out of the pan with ease. Also, butter makes eggs taste delicious.
  • Before you add anything to your pan, heat it fully. If you’re using a stainless steel pan, you want to heat it, specifically, until when you scatter water onto it, the drops skid across the surface of the pan as though they’re not even touching it (a lot like mercury, if you’ve had the (dangerous) occasion to play with it).
    This is called the Leidenfrost effect, when a liquid comes into contact with a mass much hotter than its own boiling point — and it’s the trick to cooking in stainless steel: if you get the pan to this point, you reduce the chance of anything sticking, which makes for an even cook, and makes it easier to flip an egg with just the motion of the pan instead of a utensil.
  • Heat the butter over medium-high until it’s melted — and then some. Let it really melt and come to temperature over the fire before you add your eggs. This is so that when you add the egg, even if it’s coming right out of the fridge (and, ideally, you’d pop the eggs out at least a little earlier than you’re trying to cook them, to take the hard chill off), it’ll start setting and cooking right away rather than spreading helplessly across the pan and cooking unevenly.
    It also allows the butter to perform the role it’s supposed to, which is to say, of creating a sealing layer on the bottom of the egg and itself heating the egg through, rather than just combining with the egg before it’s hot. (As you’ll see, this matters less for scrambled eggs, where you really are mixing the butter into the eggs.)
  • Over-easy, over-medium, over-hard:

    These are variations of a fried egg that you flip, so that it cooks on both sides, but that differ in the degree to which you cook them.
    For an over-easy egg, you cook it primarily on one side, then flip it and cook it just long enough for a thin film to develop over the yolk. What you’ll end up with is a very runny yolk and cooked but still very, very soft whites.
    For over-medium: cook the egg a little longer, until the yolk is still wet but considerably more viscous. The whites will be cooked through, but still soft.
    For over-hard: cook the egg until the yolk is no longer runny, though ideally not dried out — unless that’s what you’re into, in which case, while not advisable, it still falls under the umbrella of “over-hard.”
  • Sunny-side up:

    A sunny-side up is an egg you pan-fry without flipping until the white is set but the yolk remains runny. It’s great to enjoy on toast (maybe over a light layer of mashed avocado) or on an open-faced bagel, so that you can sink your teeth into the yolk and let it run all over the bread. It’s also great for just sliding onto a plate and dipping toast into. It’s also possibly the best egg preparation of all.


General technique:

  • If you’re using a nonstick pan, you definitely don’t need to use much butter if you don’t want to. If your pan isn’t nonstick, please, we’re begging you: use enough that your eggs don’t stick or burn into your pan. It’s just a waste of eggs and will make you very sad. Moreover, it makes us very sad.
  • Heat the butter and cook your eggs over medium or medium-high heat if you’re paying close attention and know what you’re looking for in your end result. If you’re feeling more tentative, are multitasking, or just want to experiment and take your time, you can cook them over slightly lower heat: you’ll have more time and control so as not to overcook them, and they won’t be any worse for wear.
  • Unless you’re making French eggs or want really small curds, use a spatula and fold the eggs intermittently to break them up gently.

Hard, soft, insanely soft:

There are as many ways to scramble an egg as there are ways to cook an egg, but generally speaking, you can have your scrambled eggs in one of three ways: cooked through so that they’re on the drier and chewier side, usually with larger curds; cooked just until set and forming curds, but still soft and wet; and then what’s usually thought of as the French way to scramble eggs: insanely soft, and often creamy.

For the first two methods, you’ll usually cook the eggs with a spatula, occasionally scraping the bottom to make sure you cook the eggs evenly, and breaking up the curds as you please.

For French-style eggs — or you might have tried similar eggs at Williamsburg eatery Saltie, which has a pretty novel approach to scrambled eggs that turns out just as soft and beautiful as French eggs — the key to these is to beat the raw eggs, a lot, so that they’re as airy and fluffy as possible before you even put them in the pan; and then mix them constantly throughout cooking, ideally with a whisk, so that they form the smallest, most unctuous curds possible.

  • “Crashed Eggs”:

    We give credit for this name to Juli Ronderos of Salt Cathedral, though you may have stumbled upon this method just by experimenting in your kitchen. It’s definitely not exclusive to the kitchens of Colombia, but we loved her name so much we’ve adopted it whenever we make eggs like this.
    Crashed eggs are basically scrambled eggs that you don’t actually scramble until they’ve begun to cook, so that by the end, whether you leave them soft or cook them hard, there are still visible bits of both white and yolk. We love these because with each bite, you get to taste one or the other or both combine in a different way than you do with regular scrambled eggs. Basically, you get the taste of fried eggs and the texture of scrambled. It’s a win-win.


Poached eggs are delicate creatures. They’re one of the more delicious egg preparations, and certainly the purest — since you cook them in a water bath, all you end up with is the flavor of the egg, which you can put on basically anything to make it at least twice as good as it was without the egg (soup, salad, toast, under hollandaise, over vegetables, …).

But it’s also a tricky and high-maintenance method. There are a ton of tips out there on how best to keep the egg in one piece while it’s being rocked around in a rolling boil. Some of these don’t have enough evidence or consistency to make them foolproof, but one good general technique is to crack the eggs individually into a ramekin, then tip them gently (one by one) into the water.

One novel method worth trying: poach the egg in plastic wrap. This way you’re at least guaranteed to keep the egg in one piece, without losing the first one as penance for daring to poach eggs, the way the first pancake always gets sacrificed to the scrap pile.


  • Basted:

    This is a lesser-known but surprisingly good kind of egg. To baste an egg, add some butter to your pan — at least one pat per egg — and crack the eggs in as though you’re frying them. Then cover the pan and let it steam. Throughout the process, if you want, you can lift the lid, scoop some of the butter up, and drizzle it back over the egg: hence the basting effect. This gives you an especially soft egg with a buttery taste, without having to flip it — almost like an egg poached in butter.

  • Steam-scrambled:

    This technique is really just a method of making scrambled eggs, but it’s a little unusual — it’s scrambled eggs whose cooking mostly entails steaming the eggs within themselves. It makes for incredibly soft, small-curd eggs that are rich and creamy. It’s best done with a lot of eggs — ideally 4 or more — so that nothing cooks too quickly and you can get a really thick, even batch of eggs.
    Start with a cold pan and crack your eggs into it, and add the butter at the same time — all cold. Turn the heat to medium or even medium-low, once you get things to temperature, and allow the eggs to cook and the butter to melt incredibly slowly. Keep a close eye on things, and scrape the bottom well when you stir (which should be regularly, but not constantly) — you may want to turn the temperature down or occasionally remove the pan from the heat to ensure an even cook throughout the eggs. Cook them until they’re almost the way you want them to be, and then either turn off the heat or move the pan to another burner to finish cooking on their own.


General techniques:

  • This is the lowest-maintenance egg technique out there, so of course when it comes to the one area where there’s room for variation, there are two major camps: the people who think you should drop your eggs into water that’s already boiling, and those who think you should start your eggs in the water and let them come to temperature with it.
    Honestly, you’ll get great eggs either way if you let them cook for the right amount of time. So whatever method you choose, figure out how long you need to let your eggs cook, and then stick to that method for consistent results.

  • When it comes to boiled eggs, you have three options: hard-boiled (good for eating alone with salt and pepper, or slicing and adding to a sandwich or salad), soft-boiled (ideal for dipping toast sticks in, or adding to a sandwich), and somewhere-in-the-middle-boiled: a happy medium if you want to serve them cold like hard-boiled eggs, but keep the gooey yolks of soft-boiled eggs.


    Baked eggs

    Baking eggs allows the heat of the oven to puff them up nicely and cook them evenly, and since you need to cook them in a dish — individual ramekins or (well-greased) muffin tins, or better yet, many eggs all together in a larger dish — you wind up with a pleasingly thick egg that you can slip a fork or a spoon down into.

    Whatever receptacle you place your raw eggs into, be sure to grease it well with butter, oil, or cooking spray. Cook them at 325ºF for about 10-12 minutes (for individual ramekins) or longer, depending how large your dish and how many eggs you're cooking (it's best to consult particular recipes in this case), until the whites are set and the yolk has begun to set, but isn't hard or dry.


    In conclusion,

    with all of these options to choose from, you can genuinely never run out of creative, delicious, and crowd-pleasing ways to serve eggs. Make them quickly before you run out the door for work in the morning, or spend a little more time on the perfect poached eggs for eggs Benedict for a lazy Sunday brunch.


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