How To Hard-Boil Eggs, For Godly Or Ungodly Purposes

Interestingly (or maybe not interestingly) (I mean, we are talking about boiled eggs, and we are gonna have to calibrate our "interesting" scale pretty generously here), hard-boiled eggs, when made properly, receive a much softer boiling than soft-boiled eggs. The "-boiled" is what confuses things: It makes you think that the difference between the two is that one is subjected to a hard boil, and the other to a soft one. Which is almost true: One of them is subjected to a hard boil. The soft-boiled egg.

That's fucking maddening, right? Not just the fact of this misleading nomenclature—soft eggs getting hard boils and being called soft-boiled, it's a goddamn outrage!—but also, above and beyond that, the fact that some asshole expects you to read and care about that. I mean, that is the worst. Oh, man. But really, it was just a ruse. A ploy, even! To weed out the impatient, the unworthy, so that we, the passionate, the obsessive, the frightening-to-our-fellow-subway-passengers-what-with-all-the-muttering-and-twitching, may keep for ourselves the great and terrible secrets of egg cookery.

Let us proceed.

Really, the intent of the whole hard-boiled/soft-boiled thing is to indicate that one of the two eggs is boiled to hardness (to a fully solidified yolk, that is) while the other is boiled to softness (to firm egg-white but a still-runny yolk)—but the trick is, that's inaccurate, too. Because actually, a properly made hard-boiled egg is scarcely boiled at all. In fact, we ought to call it a hardly-boiled egg, amirite? Guys? Hardly?

[Sigh.]

Anyway, this is germane culinary knowledge this particular weekend, because Easter is upon us, which means that many of us are hard-boiling and dyeing and decorating and hiding and hunting and finding Easter eggs, and then, because most of us will have undertaken this enterprise without having learned the proper way to cook hard-boiled eggs, we are kinda glumly nibbling at one or two of these dry, miserable, sulfurous-smelling, lousy-tasting boiled-to-shit eggs. If anyone were interested in quantifying this sort of thing, surely surveys would reveal a 759,000-percent spike in the consumption of egg salad in the week immediately following Easter, because that is about the only thing to do with those awful, dry, shitty hard-boiled eggs, other than pelting Mark Emmert with them, which tends to carry a substantial risk of imprisonment.

(Nothing against egg salad, of course, except for the fact that it is myocardial infarction incarnate.)

This is kind of a shame, isn't it? After all, fried eggs are grand, and poached eggs are lovely, and when they're not made the wrong way, scrambled eggs can be divine, too. Eggs are good! Ergo, hard-boiled eggs should be good, too. And: They can be good! Flavorful and hearty and not at all like brimstone. You just have to make them the right way, and they'll be plenty tasty enough for you to want to consume them. Let's do it.


The first thing to do, of course, is acquire eggs. Presumably you can manage this part. The next part should also be manageable, since neglecting things and procrastinating basically are your life's work: Leave your eggs alone in the refrigerator for a week. Hey, look!—you already did this part! Man, that was some amazing foresight and planning by you. Extra credit for the 14 additional weeks you left your eggs alone in there. Classic you, always going above and beyond.

You let your eggs languish in the refrigerator for a week for a reason, and it's to show them exactly who's in charge around here—but also because, as an egg ages, its albumen (the egg white) sticks less determinedly to the inside of the shell, which makes peeling the eventual cooked egg much, much easier. Don't go too far with this, of course—at some point, the peeling-readiness of the egg will become somewhat less important than its likelihood of tying your intestines into an elaborate balloon-animal and then ejecting that animal forcefully from your pelvis—but sure, give your carton of eggs a few days or a week to hang out in the refrigerator and wish they'd been fertilized.

Now, remove, oh, four or five or six eggs from the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature on the countertop. Thankfully this, like the previous step, entails no culinary technique more sophisticated than not doing anything for a while. Just set your eggs (gently!) in a bowl, on the counter, and leave them alone for a while. A half-hour? Sure. That sounds good.

There's a reason for this oddball behavior, too. The more gradually your eggs are warmed to their final cooked state, the less likely they are to crack their shells along the way, so you are allowing them to complete the first stage of this process at their own pace, which is pretty slow. This almost certainly involves chemistry or some shit, which you can learn for yourself by, um, looking it up somewhere else. The point, here, is: Leave your eggs alone on the counter for a while. OK? OK.

So you've neglected your eggs in the fridge and you've neglected them on the countertop. Where will you next not do anything to them? In a pot. Fill a large pot with, oh, three or four inches of the coldest water your tap can produce. Also, place your big pot of water on whatever stovetop burner you will be using to boil your eggs. You're doing these things before adding the eggs to the pot so that they won't have a chance to roll around and crack their shells as you schlep the pot around, filling it with water and moving it from the tap to the stovetop. Smart, yes? Oh, cram it, you big grouch.

(Now, here's the part where, if you want, you can perform a couple of steps of fairly minor value, which may or may not maximize your odds of turning out the best possible hard-boiled eggs, if your death-grip on perfection is just that fucking tight. For one thing, you can add a pinch of baking soda to the water; this will penetrate the eggs during cooking and ensure full separation of albumen from shell, which ought not to be a concern for the old-ass velociraptor eggs you're using in the first place. Also, you can use a pin or thumbtack to—very gently!—poke a small hole in the wide end of each egg; this will allow a very small amount air to escape the egg as that air expands during cooking, ensuring that this expanding air does not cause the shell to crack, which ought not to be a concern, since you allowed the eggs to come to room temperature before cooking them and are starting them out in cold water. Decide for yourself. Maybe goosing the marginal odds is worth the fussiness of these steps to you, or, on the other hand, maybe you are not the scary ex-husband dude from from Sleeping With the Enemy.)

The next thing to do (whether you completed the fussy extra steps or not) is to (again, very gently) lower your eggs on their sides all the way to the bottom of your large pot of water. That is to say, do not lower them to the surface of the water and then release them for the pleasurable glunk! sound they make when they go under, for truly I say to you that the next sound you shall hear shall be the cracking of their shells and the ruining of your eggs. Gently lower your eggs all the way to the bottom of the pot and set them onto it.

Your eggs should be at least an inch or two beneath the surface of the water, once they're all in there. The volume of water determines how quickly this operation will come to a boil, and—just as crucially, if not more so—how quickly it will cool back down. The size of your pot and the heating power of your stovetop and whether or not you remember to turn it on this time for once in your friggin' life will also have a say in all of that, so there's no use in busting out the trusty TI-83 to calculate exactly how much water you need. You'll need enough water to put an inch or two of uninhabited water above your eggs. If your pot doesn't have enough water, fill a coffee mug (ahem, with water) from the tap and pour that in there, and repeat as necessary.

And now, turn the heat all the way up under your pot. You are now cooking your eggs. Don't walk away, though, or if you do, don't walk away for longer than a couple of minutes, tops. First the water will get warm, and then hot, and then bubbly-hot down at the bottom and noisy, and then it will simmer a teeny bit, and then, as soon as your water begins to boil in earnest—literally as soon as you see some largish bubbles breaking on the surface of the water—turn the heat all the way off, remove the pot from the hot burner altogether, clamp a lid on it, and set a timer for 15 minutes.

See? You haven't really boiled your eggs at all. You've heated them. They are not remotely cooked yet; most of the actual cooking will occur not as the water boils, but as it cools. There's a reason for this, and for its explanation you will have to tolerate a moment of science-y shit. When you heat an egg yolk beyond 158 degrees Fahrenheit, the iron in the yolk reacts with the sulfur in the egg-white to create iron sulfide—that bad-smelling green coating on the yolk you'll remember from such educational films as Yo, These Hard-Boiled Eggs Smell Like a Crab-Shack Dumpster and Overcooked Eggs: The Fartiest Breakfast of All. That stuff's not bad for you, but it looks bad and it smells bad, and you only find it sheathing dry, sad, bad-tasting egg yolks. Is that what you want for your eggs? Of course not. You want the best for your eggs. Even the ones destined to thwock into the back of Mark Emmert's enormous, porcine, cash-stuffed head deserve better than iron sulfide.

All you've done here is start the eggs cooking. If you arranged things OK and got them off the heat before they'd been exposed to any more boiling than absolutely necessary, their yolks will never top that 158-degree threshold (or, if they do, it'll only be for a few scant moments); when you eventually peel and eat them, their yolks will remind you much more of the rich, delicious yolks familiar from other egg preparations than they do of the bench seat in your farty beer-swilling uncle's old pickup truck that you rode around in for a couple of days back in 1987 when your parents took a vacation without you.

Hey now! That timer is ticking away while you're reading about throwing eggs at Mark Emmert and/or choking yourself to sweet, sweet unconsciousness. Fill a big bowl with cold water, and toss a few ice cubes in there, too. When the timer finally goes off, use a slotted spoon or a salad spoon or a ladle to extract your eggs from the pot of hot water and place them—gently!—in the bowl of cold water. Ten or so minutes in the cold water will arrest their cooking completely, which is what you want, since they're done.


You can of course proceed from here to dyeing or deviling or egg-salading your hard-boiled eggs; first, though, go ahead and peel one of them. Hey look! The peels come right off! You did that. Neat. Sprinkle the egg with some kosher salt and take a big honking bite of it. Hey look! A pretty yellow yolk that tastes like egg yolk and not like a matchbook! You did that, too. Or, more precisely, you didn't do it, because for real, most of what you did here was just standing around. That's good work.

Happy Easter.


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Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. Peevishly correct his foolishness on Twitter @albertburneko, or send him your creepy longform hate-missives at albertburneko@gmail.com. You can find lots more Foodspin at foodspin.deadspin.com.

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