15 mistakes everyone makes when cooking eggs

Humble smooth orbs, eggs are a magical food that — lucky for us — are readily available by the dozen. An excellent source of protein and other essential vitamins and minerals, each egg is a self-contained food miracle. A staple breakfast ingredient in many households, eggs can be prepared in any number of ways. From softly scrambled and delicately poached to efficiently hard-boiled, the options are abundant.

Cooking eggs is deceptively simple. While they seem almost childishly easy to cook, they can be finicky to deal with. You're best served by knowing a few tricks of the trade to avoid rubbery eggs that make you feel forlorn. Here is a guide to help prevent the common (but needless) crimes committed against promising egg dishes.

Scrambled eggs

Scrambled eggs are my go-to on busy mornings when I want to love my breakfast, cut down on food prep time, and feel full until lunch. With their soft curds and rich flavor, it's no wonder this egg preparation gets so much love. They are easy to make and just as easy to mess up. Avoid a few common mistakes and you'll find yourself enjoying creamy, fluffy eggs on all the days. Say goodbye to dry and spongy, and holler "hello!" to soft and glorious.

Using a cast-iron skillet

Do not use a cast-iron skillet to cook scrambled eggs — like, not even in a pinch. It's not worth it. Your eggs will stick to the pan like crazy, leaving about a third of the mixture inedible and glued to the bottom. Always use a nonstick pan to prepare scrambled eggs to avoid messy cleanup and distressing waste.

Cooking the eggs over high heat

Eggs cook surprisingly quickly, so you never want to prepare scrambled eggs over high heat. Doing so is a guaranteed way to find yourself reluctantly eating eggs that are dry as all get out. Preheat your pan over medium heat and reduce it to medium-low once you add the eggs. Cooking over moderately low heat allows you to control the rate at which your eggs cook, while helping them to cook evenly.

Scrambling the eggs in the pan

This dish is easy enough as it is, so don't even think about cracking the eggs directly into the pan to save a dish or perceived time. Yes, yes, your logic tells you that you can just scramble them in the pan and everything will be okay. Trust me, it won't be okay. This so-called shortcut will result in unattractive, streaky eggs that are unevenly mixed. Go ahead and use that extra bowl. Mix your eggs well before adding them to the pan.

Not moving the eggs around in the pan

Since eggs cook so fast, you want to move them around in the pan to create billowy curds. Leaving them there on the heat untouched while you do something else means a crust will form quickly on the bottom. The last time I checked, crusts are dry. You definitely don't want dry scrambled eggs. I can't imagine a worse fate.

Letting the eggs overcook in the still-hot pan when it's off the heat

Carryover cooking is a reality to keep in mind. The pan from your eggs will remain hot for some time after you remove it from the heat source, so you don't want to leave them in there after they've finished cooking. The residual heat from the pan will continue cooking the eggs, effectively drying them out. As soon as your eggs are done, transfer them to a bowl or plate. If you're not serving them immediately, cover them loosely with foil to keep warm.

Poached eggs

Poached eggs are beautiful to behold but they can be challenging to make at first. Their delicate texture and near-perfect form are big draws — not to mention the allure of their bright yellow, ridiculously sexy, oozing yolks. There's no need to relegate this egg preparation to the realm of fancy restaurant brunches anymore. By steering clear of a handful of common mistakes, you can enjoy eggs Benedict in your home whenever you want.

Using less-than-fresh eggs

The older the eggs, the more the whites thin out and become less viscous. In turn, poaching old eggs causes the whites to separate into streaky strands that muddle the water. You want to use fresh eggs when you're poaching so that the whites stay cohesive, resulting in finished products that hold together.

Adding the eggs directly into the water

Poaching eggs requires a light hand, a gentle touch. You want to avoid cracking the eggs directly into the water so that you can exercise more control over their entry. I like to crack them into small, shallow bowls and ease them into the water from there. There should be zero splash and some degree of finesse.

Adding the vinegar to the pot before adding the egg

Many recipes call for vinegar in the cooking water before the eggs are added. I have found that while you want the acidity to hasten the rate at which your eggs cook, they tend to hold together better when the small amount of vinegar is added to the eggs themselves before putting them into the water. The contact is less dispersed and more concentrated. Try it!

Adding the egg to water that's too hot or too cold

The temperature of your water matters a lot when you poach eggs. If your water is at a full boil, it is much too hot and will cause streaks of the egg whites to break off. If the water is not hot enough, you'll notice the whites and the yolks separating altogether. The key is to ease your eggs into the water when it is at a gentle simmer — meaning that some small bubbles are noticeable right below the surface of the water but it's not roiling.

Seasoning the water

Since you salt water to cook everything else — spaghetti, potatoes, etc. — you may be tempted to do the same when you poach eggs. Don't do it! Salt breaks down food, which is why you want its presence to soften pasta and hearty vegetables. You don't want it to break down the whites in the eggs when you add them to the water. Just the opposite: you need those whites to stay together. Save the seasoning for when the eggs are finished cooking.

Boiled eggs

Boiled eggs are simple, unadorned beauties that can sometimes be underrated. I don't know why since they are perfect for so many things. Creamy egg salad? Check. Zesty deviled eggs come brunch hour? Check. Crusty tartine topping? Check. And they're delectable all alone with a sprinkling of flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heed these warnings and you'll be as obsessed with boiled eggs as I am.

Adding the eggs to hot water

People commonly add their eggs to the cooking water once it has boiled. This is a natural move that seems right since we often add other ingredients to boiling water. However, cold eggs from the refrigerator are more likely to crack when put into direct contact with hot water. To avoid this, gently place the eggs in the empty pot, then cover the eggs with cold water.

Letting the eggs cook at a boil the entire time

Allowing the eggs to cook the entire time in boiling water is a surefire way to overcook them. To avoid the disturbing gray yolks of overcooked eggs, be sure to remove the pot from the heat once the water boils. Even off the heat, the water remains plenty hot, gently cooking your eggs. Let them sit in the water for about 10 minutes for hard-boiled eggs and about 5 minutes for soft-boiled results.

Leaving the eggs in the hot water for too long after removing the pot from the heat

Boiled eggs require attention. If you leave your eggs in the hot water for too long after turning off the heat, the eggs will cook beyond the soft-boiled or hard-boiled stage and become sad, rubbery little things. Set a timer depending on how cooked you prefer your eggs, and using a slotted spoon, immediately remove them from the hot water when the timer goes off.

Peeling the eggs before they've cooled down

While it may be tempting to immediately peel your eggs once they're finished cooking, wait a little. The cooling time allows for the egg to separate from the shell slightly, making the peeling process less like a massacre. Trust me. I have been impatient before and ended up with large chunks of egg stuck to the shell. No need to cue the sad violin, just wait a few minutes!

Crowding too many eggs in the pot

Maybe you want to boil a large batch of eggs for the rest of the week. Perhaps your bigger pot is in the dishwasher. Whatever the reason, I've seen people try to boil way too many eggs at once in a pot that's too small. Avoid overcrowding whenever possible. Since most stoves heat a little unevenly, putting too many eggs in close proximity increases the likelihood of uneven cooking. There's no room for the little guys to move around! They might even have head-on collisions and crack. Yikes.

Eggs are tasty and good for you, so I hope you'll consider making them more often. Although they are known as a breakfast thing, I highly recommend enjoying them at all hours of the day. May these well-meaning hints lead you to a fulfilling life rife with fancy brunch-time egg dishes.