Tips For Making The Perfect Hard-Boiled Egg

If there is one thing that great minds simply cannot agree on, it is the one, ultimate method for producing a perfectly hard-boiled egg.

And what makes it perfect? The perfect hard-boiled egg should possess a yolk that's cooked through, but not overcooked. The whites of the egg should not be chewy or rubbery. The yolk should be an orangish-yellow, and never have a green ring of sulfur around it (though you can still eat it if it does.) And, above all else, it should be easy to peel.

As the self-proclaimed queen of deviled eggs, I've hard-boiled thousands of eggs in my quest for the perfect, hard-boiled dozen. Here, I'll share some of the most popular methods out there, as well as the ones that have worked the best for me.

Start with older eggs

Sure, nothing can beat a farm fresh egg... unless you want to hard-boil it. Fresh from the farm eggs, or young eggs, as delicious as they are, do not stand up to hard-boiling. So save yourself the agony of an egg that refuses to peel, and get yourself some supermarket eggs. Supermarket eggs in the U.S. have already aged a bit when you buy them — it can take 30 days or more for mass produced eggs to reach the grocer's shelves. You should be OK with any date they're marked with, but if they're available, look for eggs marked with older dates. You could even let the eggs sit for a week or more in your fridge. Getting into the habit of using older eggs to make hard-boiled eggs will save you loads of frustration when it comes time to peel them.

But what if you have fresh eggs?

Some folks swear you can "hard-boil" a fresh egg by not boiling it at all, but steaming it. Using a normal steamer basket, the eggs are arranged in a layer and placed over steaming water for varying times depending on how many eggs you're preparing. I will confess, I have never tried this method, but Elise at Simply Recipes assures us that it delivers easy to peel eggs, even if they're fresh. For my money, I treasure the fresh eggs I come by too highly to subject them to a hard-boil, or even a hard steam. I want that deliciously fresh, runny yolk! But if you' are in a hard-boiled pinch, and you must get some deviled eggs on the table by later today, give her method a go.

Should you start the eggs in cold or boiling water?

For many years, I've religiously started my hard-boiled eggs in cold water, filled to just above the top of the eggs in a large pot, and set it to boil. It's an extremely popular method of preparing hard-boiled eggs. Even Ina Garten, whose recipes are among the most user-friendly and dependable in the world of cookbooks, extols this method of making hard-boiled eggs. The problem I have found, however, is the start-on-cold method is not as sure-fire as many would have you believe. More than once I have ended up with green-tinged circles around my yolks, or eggs that refused to peel, despite timing my eggs perfectly. Sometimes, the eggs are, frustratingly, not cooked through, making them unusable for deviled eggs.

Enter the start-on-hot method. As recommended over at Serious Eats, eggs are submerged in water that's already boiling. The temperature of the water is quickly lowered to a simmer. The eggs remain in the simmering water for 11 more minutes, longer for extra-large or jumbo. The eggs can then be peeled under running water. While my eggs always get a bath in ice water before peeling (more on that later,) this new method of cooking has proven to deliver me perfectly cooked eggs.

Should you add anything to the water?

I had always held to my habit of adding a teaspoon or two of baking soda to the water when preparing hard-boiled eggs, because somewhere along the line I was told this would give me more peelable shells. Supposedly it raises the alkalinity of the water, making your eggs more peelable. I've also seen recipes that call for adding vinegar to the water, which seems it would have the opposite reaction, yet promises to deliver the same result. Chowhound consulted with Juan Silva, a professor of food technology, who says the vinegar partially dissolves the calcium carbonate in the shell, making it easier to peel.

But will it actually work? After two test batches using this method, I have to say, it really does seem to. Mathew Jedeiken at Buzzfeed agrees, as illustrated in his very thorough testing of all the popular tricks for cooking and peeling hard-boiled eggs. Just one tablespoon of vinegar for every four cups of water is what he recommends for beautifully peelable eggs.

Why do some eggs crack when boiling?

This seems to happen to the best of us. You set some eggs in water to boil, and inevitably, one or two crack during the process, oozing partially-cooked whites into the cooking water, and onto the outside of the egg shells. The reason for this lies in the bubble of air that all eggs contain — it's small in some eggs, but larger in others. When that air expands from heat, it can crack the egg. The resulting egg is still perfectly edible, though unattractive, and can be a real nightmare to peel. The solution? Take your eggs out of the fridge an hour or two before you want to cook them, so they can come closer to room temperature.

Timing makes perfect

So many recipes for hard-boiled eggs include a very specific cooking time that promises you those elusive, perfectly cooked eggs. The problem is, many recipes neglect to mention the size egg the recipe calls for, which can make all the difference in your results. For most recipes, it should be assumed that large eggs are what's called for. If using other sizes, you'll want to adjust the time up or down to achieve similar results. Too short a time will result in soft yolks, or even worse, uncooked whites. Too long a cook time will deliver rubbery eggs with that greenish-grey circle around the yolk. Edible, but blah. Take a look at this chart over at Science of Cooking to figure out the proper cooking time for the size of eggs you purchased.

Give those eggs a bath

This is it, folks. As far as I am concerned, the numero uno way to achieve easily peelable, perfectly set, hard-boiled eggs is this. You need to shock those bad boys in ice water.

As my eggs cook, I set a large bowl on the counter next to my stove. I add as much ice as my freezer will allow, and top it off with a cup or two of water. When my eggs are finished cooking, I remove them from their hot pan with a spider strainer and carefully drop them into the ice bath. I swish them around, and let them cool for at least 15 minutes. Shocking the eggs in ice water has given me the most dependable, easily peelable eggs I've ever made. If you take one bit of advice I give you, it should be this one. Now all you have to do is get to peeling... but how exactly should you do it?

Pick your peeling method

How can there be so many ways to do something as seemingly simple as peel an egg? Yet it seems like everybody's neighbor, grandma, or favorite local chef has a different, tried-and-true method for getting the job done. 

Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer a quick and steady roll of my egg on a cutting board, at which point the shell should peel off in a couple of strips. Some folks like to start their egg this way, and peel the shell off under cold, running water. That'll do too.

And what about storing them? I've found that getting the peeling done all at once is the best bet, rather than storing them in the fridge unpeeled. That magic window of easy peeling really does seem to be right after they emerge from their ice bath. After a couple of days in the fridge, they can start to give you a difficult time again.

What about baking them in the oven?

Oh yes, the "oven baked" eggs recipe that's taken the blogging circuit by storm in recent years. Simply place your eggs in a muffin tin, and pop it into a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes. Voila. Perfect "boiled" eggs.

I've tried this method a few times. Does it work? Yes, your eggs will cook. And I've never seen the dreaded green circle around my yolks this way. But home ovens are notoriously disparate in temperature, and a hard-boiled egg demands a certain precision when it comes to temperatures and timing. My first batch resulted in eggs with a huge, brown, burn mark on the undersides once peeled. Edible, but not pretty. And a wasted half of each egg if I wanted to serve them to guests. Through trial and error, I've determined that 25 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrneheit does the trick in my oven, but even then the eggs get the tiniest brown spot where they rested in the muffin tin.

For my money? Go ahead and make them this way if you just want to meal prep a large portion of eggs for yourself to last the week. If presenting them to guests, however, stick to boiling.

What will you do with them?

My husband adores egg salad, or a sliced hard-boiled egg sandwich on toast. My daughter and I love to just slice a hard-boiled egg in half, and sprinkle it with salt. I've packed hard-boiled eggs for a quick and healthy bite on airplanes, or a breakfast in the car. But the ultimate use for a batch of hard-boiled eggs, in my humble opinion, is good old deviled eggs.

I have a slew of deviled egg recipes in my arsenal, but to start, you need to master the classic, original recipe. Slice your hard-boiled eggs in half, and remove the yolks to a bowl. Add them to your food processor, with a few dollops of good mayonnaise, a large spoonful of your favorite mustard, a couple of shakes of red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Buzz it till creamy, and pour the contents into a large, plastic food storage bag. Snip the corner tip to make a do-it-yourself pastry bag, and pipe the mixture into your egg whites. Sprinkle the eggs with paprika, and you're good to go.