If you do a quick google search for how to make the perfect hard boiled egg, you’ll get a whole plethora of different results. I actually can’t think of any other food that’s so simple to to cook that has SO many variations out there on how to actually cook it.
And it’s always left me wondering – what is actually the best method for hard boiling eggs so you get a perfectly cooked but still creamy yolk and for soft boiling eggs so you get that soft, jammy, wanna eat it in everything yolk?
Well, after many years of trying lots of different methods, I’ve finally settled in to the one that works the best (read: fastest and most consistently perfect).
Let’s look at a few hard boiled egg and soft boiled egg philosophical questions:
- Do you start eggs in cold water or boiling water?
- How long do you boil?
- Do you shock them in an ice bath? Peel them right away?
- Fresher is better?
Hard and Soft Boiled Eggs should be started in boiling water
The internet is divided over this, but I am wholeheartedly on team boiling water. The Kitchn and Ina Garten both say to start your eggs in pot of cold water and to bring that pot with the eggs up to a boil. Serious Eats and Bon Appetit both contend that starting in boiling water is the way to go.
There are a few reasons you should always make your hard boiled eggs and soft boiled eggs in boiling water to start. For one thing, it’s faster!
When I’m making hard boiled eggs, I’m usually making a big batch of them on a Sunday in preparation for the week ahead. I’m trying to knock this prep work out in as little time as possible.
With the cold water –> boil –> let sit in hot water method, you’re increasing the time it takes you to boil the water (because it’s got cold eggs sitting in it to bring up to temperature too), and you have to let it sit in the hot water for 15 minutes (versus the straight boil at 9-10 minutes that I’m proposing).
Two: it’s more consistent. I don’t know about you, but every single stovetop I’ve cooked on in my life heats up at a different rate. So if I were to do the cold water method at my old apartment where I had an electric burner that took forever to heat, those eggs would be slow cooking a lot longer than if I were to do this at my house where I have a big gas range and the water would heat up relatively quickly.
So – for a recipe for hard boiled eggs or soft boiled eggs that’s replicatable (not a word?), we go with the method that’s less dependent on the rate at which your pot heats up as a variable.
#1 Reason to Start you Hard & Soft Boiled Eggs in Boiling Water
But the most compelling reason to start your hard and soft boiled eggs in boiling water? The egg whites bond more tightly to the egg shell when slow cooked versus when temperature shocked in the boiling water.
What does this mean? EASIER PEELING – which is really the thing we’re all after here.
Don’t believe me? Check out this image comparing cold start eggs versus boiling start eggs from the aforementioned Serious Eats article.
What is the ideal cooking time for hard and soft boiled eggs?
Let’s just settle on one thing before we talk about this: no one wants the green sulfur ring around their egg yolks. Green sulfur ring = overcooked eggs = hard, chalky yolks.
For soft boiled eggs, I recommend 5-6 minutes in boiling water. This produces an egg white that’s completely set but a yolk that’s still runny. (Using Grade A Large eggs)
For hard boiled eggs, I recommend 9-10 minutes in boiling water. This produces as yolk that’s cooked all the way through but is still creamy and soft. (Using Grade A Large eggs)
A couple of notes here: always lower your eggs into the boiling water using a slotted spoon so they don’t crack open when you drop them in the pot. Bring your water back up to a boil as quickly as possible – this means high heat and lid on. Start the timer right after you drop your last egg in the water.
How to cool & peel your eggs
Next up in the great egg debate: to ice bath or not to ice bath? This one is a little less contested. Almost all the sources I consulted agree that shocking the eggs in an ice bath is the way to go.
Ina says you just need to let the eggs cool au naturel until you can handle them to peel. But again, time. I want to cool my eggs using the fastest method possible so I can get peeling right away, and that method is the ice bath method.
Bonus: shocking them this way again makes them (again) easier to peel. Win, win my friends.
Peel your eggs right away once they’ve sat in the ice bath for a few minutes. It’s (again) easier to peel this way, and you’ll just thank yourself later. Hard boiled eggs already peeled beats hard boiled eggs that you still have to peel every time on busy mornings.
Another factor for ease of peeling hard boiled or soft boiled eggs? Where you make your first crack matters. Start peeling the egg at the top that’s fatter with the air pocket. If you rupture that air pocket, there’s a good chance you’ll get under that egg membrane too. And THAT is the real key to success when it comes to peeling eggs.
Fresher ≠ Better
This is probably the only time you’ll ever hear me say this. But fresh eggs are not your friends when hard boiling or soft boiling. If you’re buying your eggs from a grocery store – you’re fine. Those eggs aren’t fresh enough to have any sort of meaningful impact on your outcomes. But if you buy your eggs from the farmer’s market or have chickens of your own, let those eggs wait awhile until you hard or soft boil them.
Perfect Hardboiled and Soft Boiled Eggs: A recap
So to summarize, you always want to start your eggs cold from the refrigerator and plunge them into boiling water. 5 minutes produces the jammiest, runniest, still easy to peel soft boiled egg. 9 minutes produces a fully cooked but extra creamy yolked hard boiled egg. Always ice bath right after boiling, and always peel right after ice bathing. And start peeling from the air pocket.
And boom, you’ve got perfect hard boiled eggs for something like this rice salad. Perfect jammy eggs for avocado toast. And perfect soft boiled eggs for all the soup your heart could desire (your new go to recipe for that coming at you VERY soon)
Perfect Hard and Soft Boiled Eggs
All the best methods for perfect hard boiled eggs and perfect soft boiled eggs every time!
- 8 Grade A Large Eggs
Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil
Lower each egg into the pot of boiling water using a slotted spoon
Cover to bring back to a boil and immediately set a timer
Boil for 5 minutes (for soft boiled eggs) or for 9 minutes (hard boiled eggs) or somewhere in between if you prefer jammy eggs.
Remove the eggs from the boiling water and immediately plunge in an ice bath
Let sit in the ice bath for 2-3 minutes then start peeling
Crack the the fatter top of the egg with the air pocket to release the membrane from the egg white
Store in a bag with a dry paper towel in the fridge, or eat immediately with a sprinkle of sea salt