Basic Cooking: The Secret to Perfectly Cooked Hard-Boiled Eggs

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Hard-boiled eggs? How about *hardly* boiled eggs? Now that’s more accurate. (And that’s also the secret to perfectly cooking them.)

I make hard-boiled eggs the way my mother does. And she uses the same basic method that Julia Child did—minus the egg pricker.

Every time I do this, the eggs are marvelous. The whites are tender—never rubbery. The yolks are creamy—not chalky—and aren’t robed in that icky green color (which comes from cooking the eggs at too high a temperature).

Wait, back up…egg pricker? What?

Yep, I said egg pricker.


An egg pricker is a little gadget that pricks a very tiny hole in an egg’s shell. The hole isn’t big enough to let the raw egg leak out, but it does allow air to escape to help keep the egg from cracking while it cooks.

They generally look something like this:

The egg rests on the base, and when you push down, the egg is pierced by a tiny pin that’s concealed in the base.

I’ve never used one, and usually don’t have a problem with cracked eggs. (Ironically, I had one for this article, which you’ll see in a bit). If you have one, use it. If you don’t, you’ll likely be fine without.

What’s the difference between brown eggs and white eggs?

Not much, as it turns out. At least in terms of flavor and nutritional value. Brown eggs simply come from a different breed of chicken.

What’s the best kind of egg for hard boiling?

You probably won’t hear this that often, but super-fresh eggs aren’t necessarily the best candidates for hard boiling. Eggs that are a wee bit older (but certainly not expired) can be better—or at least easier to peel.

Why is that?

As an egg gets a little older, the inner membrane—which can make an egg so pesky to peel neatly—pulls away a bit from the shell. This tiny bit of room makes them easier to peel.

How do I know if my eggs are fresh?

Generally, eggs will keep in their shells for up to 1 month.

Like I said, the older the eggs are, the more the membrane separates from the shell. And the more air is actually inside the egg.

Now, this isn’t fail proof, but to test an egg for freshness, see if it floats.

Put an egg in a glass of cold water. A super-fresh egg will lay on the bottom of the glass on its side. An egg that’s a little older will stand on end.

If it floats or hangs suspended in the water (i.e. the air pocket inside it is large), it’s likely very old and you should probably toss it.

What size pot should I use to hard boil eggs?

Good question. The size of your pot will vary based on how many eggs you’re cooking.

You want the eggs to be able to lay in a single layer without being so crowded that they need to touch. (This will give them room to move around a bit as they cook.)

The pot should be deep enough that you can cover your eggs by an inch or two of water.

The basic technique for perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs

+Put the eggs in a large pot and cover with cold water.
+Bring the water up to a boil.
+When the water comes to a boil, take it immediately off the stove and cover the pot.
+Let the eggs sit in the hot water, covered, for 15 minutes.
+Stop the cooking by soaking the eggs in cold water.

Perfectly Cooked Hard-Boiled Eggs

Extra-large eggs
Cold water
Ice

How to hard boil eggs

Grab your eggs.

Brown or white. It’s up to you.

Set the eggs carefully in a pot.

Fill the pot with cold water so that the eggs are covered by an inch or two.

Set the pot on the stove over high heat.

Bring the water to a boil.

As it gets close to boiling, keep a good eye on it.

When large bubbles start to break the surface of the water, turn the heat off and remove the pot from the burner.

Immediately cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid.

Set a timer for 15 minutes.

Right before your 15 minutes are up, fill a large bowl with more cold water. Toss in some ice if you have it handy.

When your 15 minutes are up, uncover your pot. Fish your eggs out with a skimmer or slotted spoon a few at a time.

Transfer them to the bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.

If you don’t have a lot of ice, you can periodically run more cold water into the bowl until the eggs are cold.

Leave the eggs in the cold water for about 15 minutes or so, until they’re cold to the touch. When you cup one in your hand, it shouldn’t give off any residual heat.

When the eggs are cold, dry them off and transfer them to a bowl or back into their carton. Stick them in the fridge ’til you’re ready to use them.

Help! One of my eggs cracked while it was cooking! What should I do?

Don’t freak out. It can happen. And it’s just fine.

In fact, one of my eggs from this batch cracked. I *think* it cracked slightly when I put it down in the pot—not from the heat. (I did hear a tiny crunch when the eggs hit the metal.)

If one of your eggs cracks during cooking, keep an eye on it. There’s a good chance it will be just fine.

Here’s what happened to mine.

The white started to ooze out a tiny bit into the water.

As the water heated up, the white started to cook.

After a while, the egg white cooked enough and it stopped oozing. I left it in the pot with the other eggs.

When they were ready for their cold water bath, I fished it out, and it looked like this:

When I peeled it, it was misshapen, but otherwise just fine, on the inside. I trimmed off the bit on the outside of the shell, as it was a bit watery.

All this said, cooking a cracked egg like this won’t always work. It really depends on how badly it’s cracked.

If you have an egg that’s obviously exploded in the water, fish it out and toss it. Sometimes, you just can’t save them.

How do I peel a hard-boiled egg?

Some folks like to tap them with the back of a knife. I roll mine under my palm on the counter until it cracks just a little, then pick off the shell and membrane bit by bit.

Some people also like to peel them under cold, running water, to wash away any little bits of shell. It’s up to you.

How do I store hard-boiled eggs?

Store them in the fridge. Keep them covered, as they can let off an unpleasant sulfur-y smell that will permeate other stuff in your fridge.

How long will hard-boiled eggs keep?

Unpeeled eggs will keep for about 5 days in the fridge.

Enjoy!

I like my hard-boiled eggs sliced with a little bit of kosher salt. How about you?

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.

28 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t have a pricker…
    What I do is put eggs in a pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, turn the heat off, cover and let them sit for 10 minutes. Then put under cold running water and peel.

  2. Well Jess we roll our eggs the same way.I have used that technique for a while now.
    Does adding salt or vinegar make the eggs cook differently.
    I see you didn’t mention it so it must not be necessary.
    I like your way much better anyways!
    cheers

    • Adding salt to the water keeps any broken eggs from going all over the place. Vinegar is used to take the film off the eggs so they will take color more easily. This isn’t a good idea if you’re going to store the hard-boiled egg very long.

  3. Love the photos – and the loads of information. I attacked this topic too, when I totally screwed up boiling some eggs, but I saw that the eggs should boil for a lot less than 15 minutes when I was doing my research. I saw a video that recommended 7 minutes! See my exploded egg (20 minutes and other mistakes) and the video at Hard-boiled-Disaster: http://blog.streaminggourmet.com/?p=154 and tell me what you think.

  4. Easier…get an electric kettle. Put your eggs in. Turn it on. When it comes to a boil, wait 10 minutes. Drain the water, rinse the eggs under cool water and peel. Soft yellow yolks every time and no fancy equipment to buy, unless you don’t already have an electric kettle, which you should.

  5. Awesome article! I loved the pictures.

    We use the same method. We also dump a large quantity of non-iodized salt into the pot – about a cup for 18 eggs. It’s the only thing we don’t use sea salt for because it uses so much. It makes peeling the eggs extra easy. I’m not sure why it does this, but maybe it breaks down the shells some how? We’ve done tests (goofy, I know) and adding the salt doesn’t effect the taste of the eggs.

  6. I’ve always boiled my eggs…My mom did, my grandma did..And they taste fantastic to me. I didn’t realize that “the secret” was not boiling them. But from the way you described them I don’t think I would like them. I only eat eggs in hard boiled form because the “tender” texture and general squishy-ness grosses me out hahhaha! This was a great read while I was boiling my eggs (it made the craving much stronger, beautiful pictures), but I don’t think I’ll be trying this method anytime soon, if ever.

  7. I re-read my comment and using the past tense of “does” makes it sound like both my mom and grandma are dead! They aren’t, they’re still boiling eggs!

  8. Omg this has changed my hard-boiled egg world! I was taught to bring to a boil and then lower the heat for 7-8 minutes but my yolks were still chalky. This takes a bit more time but is so worth it! I’ve never tasted such a good yolk in a hard-boiled egg! Thanks for the detailed instructions and tips. Love the precise steps with accompanying photos! I’m wondering if you could revolutionize my poached egg world as well?…

  9. I had to laugh as I followed your picture post. It is so hard to imagine how our grandparents would have presented this same process. We have definitely taken our digital cameras for granted haven’t we? You used 24 pictures to explain the process. That would have been two full rolls of film back in the day at about $10-12.00! No doubt the article would have been very smal with maybe one photo, and that would have been black and white. I shudder to think what is in our futures and how things will be done in the not so distant future. In the meantime, thanks for an informative and well done graphical presentation. Thanks.

    • I had to chuckle at your post even though mine is 2+ years later. I too remember the rolled film that we used in cameras years ago. Before all the Walmarts and CVS stores came along, it was off to the local camera shop or the corner drugstore to await film development. When I was a youngster, I thought your film was developed AT the drugstore and I always wondered where they had the room to do it! Years later I found out that there was a film processor in town that did them!
      I also thought that the drive shafts on rear wheel drive cars were solid metal until I saw one in a junk yard and picked it up! What a shocker but then again, I always thought that if you had to put a car in reverse to back up, you shut the engine off and restarted it in reverse! What WAS I thinking. This comes from a guy who built many high performance engines years later. Yeah, they all worked just fine!!

  10. Wow! I actually do something like Julia Child did– minus the egg pricker. Who would’ve thought? Anyways, I have only one suggestion to add. Let the water cool, then use it to water your plants or garden. Calcium will have leached into the water, and plants love calcium.

  11. Try pouring a bit of olive oil on your plate and sprinkle some salt & pepper on top of the oil. Then dip your egg in the mixture bite by bite. Very delicious. I grew up eating them this way (my Dad is from Jordan).

  12. I think it’s so amazing that many people don’t cook boiled eggs correctly. I used to be one of those people. My eggs would always come out cracked. Now, I have a method that is almost 99% perfect! I rarely crack a boiled egg now. Thanks for these wonderful tips!

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