In the middle of a busy day of cooking here in the Epicurious Test Kitchen I often forget to actually eat, and a boiled egg “protein snack” can be a life saver. I’ll make a batch for everyone in the kitchen when I sense blood sugar levels and moods dropping.
The other day my colleague Kat was watching as I whipped up one of those emergency protein snacks, and I could tell she thought something was wrong. Finally she asked why I was starting my eggs in boiling water rather than bringing them up to a boil along with the water, the way she’s always done.
And so we launched into the debate that many people have had before: Is it better to boil an egg with a hot start or a cold start?
Almost every cook has their own version of how to get the perfect boiled egg. Honestly, if you have a method that works for you, that you know you can rely on to get consistent results every time, feel free to stick with it. Reliability is the most important factor of an egg boiling technique.
But to solve the disagreement between Kat and myself, I did a series of side-by-side tests of cold start vs. hot start for soft, medium, and hard boiled eggs.
1. Hot start versus cold start?
To boil eggs with a cold start, I took eggs straight out of the fridge, set them in a pot of cold water, brought them to a boil, then turned them down to the lowest possible setting on the stove. I pulled them out at varying times for soft, medium, and hard boiled (see chart below).
To boil eggs with a hot start, I brought a pot of water to a boil, lowered cold eggs straight from the fridge into the boiling water, immediately turned it down to a simmer. I pulled them out at varying times, for soft, medium, and hard boiled.
In both cases, I put the eggs straight into an ice bath after cooking, cracked them up a bit by tapping them against each other or the edge of the bowl, and let them sit for at least one minute before peeling.
2. Timing really does matter.
The good news? The hot start method works however you like your eggs. Refer to the table below and experiment to find your favorite.
–4 minutes: eat-it-with-a-spoon-out-of-the-shell soft
–5 minutes: firm white, runny yolk (my favorite)
–6 minutes: nice and gooey yolk, starting to set (Rhoda’s favorite)
–8 minutes: fully set yolk, but still sort of gooey and golden
–10 minutes: firmer pale yolk, a bit soft in the middle (Kat’s favorite)
–12 minutes: almost completely hard-boiled yolk, with a touch of golden goo still in the middle
–14 minutes: completely hard-boiled crumbly dry pale yolk
3. So what’s the best way to boil an egg?
In each stage of doneness, I found that the eggs which started in boiling water were easier to peel. Above all else, this, for me, was the deal breaker. Boiled eggs that are hard to peel are the worst.