How to Cook Eggs Just About Every Way Possible

illustration by: daiana ruiz

Is any food more versatile than the egg? Nope, none. Try me. It is a shapeshifting edible that takes on different forms, flavors, and textures depending on how it’s cooked. But getting each type just right can be a challenge. Sure, eggs are easy to make once mastered, but mastering them takes practice.

Good thing practice is what we’re here to do! With a few tips, tricks, and tries, you can learn to poach, scramble, hard-boil, soft-boil, or fry the egg of your dreams. So, let’s get started!

Hardboiled & Softboiled

The most portable egg is the hard-boiled, and soft-boiled is a close second. According to the Food and Drug Administration, they can be safely eaten up to two hours after being unrefrigerated. You can even store them in your fridge up to a week after cooking and bring them out for just about any meal or snack. They are almost as delicious on their own — with salt and pepper, of course — as they are in salads, atop toast, or in a sandwich.

What You’ll Need

  • Room-temperature eggs — this is a good time to use older eggs, as pH levels of egg whites increase with age. Low pH levels mean eggs are less likely to stick to their shell when cooked, making them easier to peel.
  • A saucepan, slotted spoon or skimmer, and bowl big enough to fit all the eggs you’re cooking.
  • Plenty of ice in the freezer.

Step 1: Fill a pot with enough water to cover eggs by about an inch. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat, so the water is simmering. You don’t want rapidly boiling water because it can cause eggs to thrash around and crack. (Being both impatient and optimistic, this happens to me fairly often. The result is a crack that allows egg white to escape and cook outside the shell. The egg is still good to eat though.)

Step 2: Gently lower eggs into simmering water (see cracked-egg outcome above if in need of gentle-handling inspo). The best way to do this is with a wide skimmer or large slotted spoon, dipping it into the saucepan and releasing the egg(s). Set a timer for 5 minutes for soft-boiled eggs and 8 minutes for hardboiled. Experiment with times between 4 and 8 minutes for eggs somewhere on the soft-hard spectrum.

Step 3: Fill a bowl with water and add plenty of ice while eggs are cooking.

Step 4: For soft-boiled eggs, transfer eggs to ice water after 5 minutes. For hard-boiled eggs, turn the heat off after 8 minutes and leave eggs in the pot for another 4 minutes. Then transfer to ice water.

Step 5: Remove eggs from ice water after at least 1 minute. (I’ve left for up to an hour.) This stops the eggs from cooking more. Eat immediately, or refrigerate for up to a week.

Sunny-Side-Up

The sunny-side-up egg is the most photographed egg. And why wouldn’t it be? A bright orange circle in the middle of opaque whites, it is just at home on a breakfast pizza as it is alone on a plate. Either way, it’s delicious.

What You’ll Need

  • Fresh eggs — older eggs will spread more in the pan, which you don’t want.
  • Unsalted butter, olive oil, coconut oil, or other oil — the important thing is that there is fat in the pan. Add about a tablespoon for every 2-3 eggs.
  • A nonstick skillet, spoon, nonstick spatula, and small bowl.
  • Salt and pepper.

Step 1: Heat butter or oil on medium-low heat in a nonstick skillet. You should be able to hover your hand an inch over the pan for 10 seconds without needing to pull it away.

Step 2: Crack the egg on a countertop and into a small bowl; transfer the egg to a heated pan. Immediately salt and pepper.

Step 3: Tilt the pan away from you, so the fat gathers on one side. Spoon the liquid over the egg, cooking the top of the egg.

Step 4: After about three minutes, the egg white should be opaque, and a thin white film will form over the yolk. It’s ready.

Step 5: Loosen the egg with a spatula, and gently slide it onto a plate. Eat immediately.

Over-easy & Over-hard

The fried egg just might be the easiest to make. It requires the least equipment, the least time, and if you’re not married to a yolk consistency, the least precision. Of course, if the liquid yolk of over-easy eggs is your endgame, you’ll need careful timing along with excellent flipping skills. But if cooked yolks are your thing, there’s more margin for error.

What You’ll Need

  • Fresh eggs.
  • Unsalted butter or oil of your choice.
  • Nonstick skillet and spatula.
  • Salt and pepper.

Step 1: Crack an egg on the countertop and transfer into a small bowl. Set aside.

Step 2: Melt a tablespoon of butter or oil in a nonstick pan over low heat, swirling it around to coat the entire pan.

Step 3: Place the egg into one side of skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 1.5-2 minutes, until the egg white appears opaque.

Step 4: Flip the egg quickly with a nonstick spatula. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can flip the egg without a spatula by tipping the pan away from you and pulling its edge up quickly.

Step 5: For over-easy eggs, cook for 10-15 seconds; then flip back to the original side. Slide egg onto a plate. For over-hard eggs, cook for another 1-2 minutes, a little longer if you want them to crisp up. Eat immediately.

Poached

Poised atop avocado toast, eggs benedict, and hashes of every stripe, the poached egg is the pride of brunch. It is a yolky delight that requires all elements to be just right, and for this reason, it is one of the most intimidating eggs to make. But that is all bluster. With a few tries, the most novice cooks can learn to poach an egg to perfection.

What You’ll Need

  • Fresh eggs — these have stronger membranes, allowing eggs to get that round, poached-egg shape.
  • A light-colored vinegar (white, white wine, apple cider, or champagne vinegar). Vinegar helps hold the egg together in water. Omit this step if you have extremely fresh eggs — like bought-at-the-farmers’-market-today fresh.
  • Saucepan, small bowl, skimmer or large slotted spoon, clean cloth towel or paper towels, sieve (optional), scissors (optional).

Step 1: Fill a pot with water, about 3 inches high, and add 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Bring to the gentlest simmer. If the water starts bubbling too much, turn down the heat ever so slightly.

Step 2: Crack an egg into the small bowl. If you’re using older eggs, consider cracking them over a sieve first. This allows the most watery part of the egg whites to drain, which will help the egg form that poached shape better. Add what remains in the sieve to the small bowl.

Step 3: Stir the water until you have a vortex-like swirl. Then lower the small bowl into the middle of the swirl; gently release the egg. Cook 3 minutes.

Step 4: Remove the egg with a slotted spoon. Place the egg on a cloth or paper towel to soak up water. Feel free to clip any stray egg whites with scissors to get that perfect poached shape — not necessary, but it’ll please your inner perfectionist.

Scrambled

When scrambled eggs are done right, they are a light, fluffy delight. But getting that perfect consistency can be tricky. Undercook the eggs, and you’ll have a runny pile of nothing too tempting. Cook them too long, and you’ll find a rubbery goop that may border on inedible. Some people swear by adding milk, cream, or half-and-half — if that achieves the scrambled eggs of your dreams, by all means — but none are a prerequisite to a delicious scramble.

What You’ll Need

  • Fresh eggs.
  • Unsalted butter or oil of your choice.
  • Nonstick skillet (not too big unless you’re cooking a lot of eggs), large bowl, whisk, and nonstick spatula.
  • Salt and pepper.

Step 1: Heat tablespoon of butter or oil, enough to generously coat the pan, on low heat. You should be able to hover your hand an inch over the pan for 10 seconds without needing to pull it away.

Step 2: Crack eggs (about 2-3 per person) into a large bowl. Beat eggs with a whisk until the yolks and whites are just combined.

Step 3: Pour the whisked eggs into the skillet. Gently shake the skillet at first, moving the eggs around. Then use a spatula to pull the eggs toward the center of the pan. This will bring the cooked egg to the center, while the uncooked egg spreads outward. Keep eggs moving around.

Step 4: Remove from heat when eggs look just about done — they will continue cooking. Add salt and pepper. You may be tempted to do this step at the beginning, but salting too early can remove moisture from the eggs, and you really don’t want that when scrambling. Spoon onto a plate, and eat immediately.

 

Sound easy enough? It will be. Even chefs admit the perfect egg — regardless of cooking method — takes practice. But once you’ve mastered it, you’ll go back to it again and again!