September 18, 2006

Hard-Boiling Eggs

Morgen and I have been (mostly) on the South Beach Diet for a couple of months, and for those who know anything about it, it involves eating a lot of eggs. As a result, I’ve been thinking more than usual about different ways of cooking them, just to have some variety.

Still, I was a bit shocked to find out how many different ways people had come up with to perform the mysterious process of hard-boiling eggs; I listed seven of them on SenseList. Why should it be that hard or confusing?

Further research led me to this page at, which digs into the science of egg cooking in excruciating (and fascinating) detail. It turns out that all the methods in my list are really approximations, because they don’t take into account important variables such as egg size, the exact starting temperature of the water and the eggs, the ambient air pressure, and so on. But the most interesting fact I learned, which frankly had never occurred to me, is that (just like the white meat and dark meat of a turkey) the white and yolk of an egg cook at different rates, and therefore getting either of them to the desired consistency could have adverse effects on the other. Even self-timing eggs can’t address this problem.

The solution, apparently, is to cook the eggs at a much lower (i.e., lower-than-boiling) temperature for a significantly longer time—unfortunately a bit tricky given the equipment in most kitchens. But that’s if you want the egg to be utterly perfect and you’re extremely nitpicky. I’m not, and for the record, I hard-boil my own eggs following Alton Brown’s method:

  1. Cover eggs with cold water
  2. Heat to boiling
  3. Cover pan, remove from heat, wait 12 minutes
  4. Peel immediately under cold running water

Update: Erik Fooladi at Science- and Fooducation has a marvelous post on the topic: “Opposite-boiled eggs” – Cooking an egg with soft white and firm yolk.

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