With Easter just around the corner, you may be asking “how difficult can it be to boil an egg?” The answer is not difficult at all if you don’t care what the egg looks like when it’s peeled. If, however, this matters to you, then the answer is not so straightforward. The reason is that peeling the eggs without the shells sticking and gouging the whites is often problematic.
Through the years, I’ve tried a lot of different tricks in my quest for the Perfect Hard Boiled Egg. For example, I’ve tried using “old” eggs, putting salt or vinegar in the water, trying to peel the eggs as soon as they come out of the water, starting with room temperature eggs, plunging boiled eggs in ice water, etc. Nothing seemed to consistently work until I tried one of the recommendations from Serious Eats.
In a nutshell the one thing that works all the time for me is steaming the eggs as opposed to boiling them.
How Fresh Are the Eggs Anyway?
Years ago I read somewhere that the three-digit code stamped on the egg carton along with the best-by date indicates the day of the year that the eggs were packed. The three-digit code starts with 001 for January 1, and ends with 365 for December 31 (or 366 in a leap year). The code shown below is 065. This means that the eggs were packed on the 65th day of the year which was March 6.
When I go shopping for eggs, I always purchase them based on that code. In fact, I have EpochConverter – What’s the Current Day Number saved on my iPhone!
The Secret to Producing Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs Every Time – Steaming
I actually discovered the secret of steaming the eggs as opposed to cooking them in boiling water several years ago when I was trying the make the Master Taste Tester the perfect soft cooked egg. With eggs straight from the refrigerator, the steaming did several things. First, the temperature of the water didn’t plunge as occurs when one puts cold eggs in boiling water. Second, it doesn’t matter whether I’m cooking one egg or many. Finally, the steam evenly cooks the eggs on all sides. The consistent result was a perfect soft cooked egg.
If steaming would work on a soft cooked egg, then logic would suggest that it should work equally well on a hard-cooked egg. Guess what? It does!
I put large eggs straight from the refrigerator in a steamer basket set in a pan of water. The water was below the level of the steamer basket. I brought the water to a boil over medium heat. Then, I put the lid on the pan, and steamed the eggs with the pan still over medium heat for 14 minutes.
Is Plunging the Cooked Eggs in Ice Water Really Necessary?
The Serious Eats post adds the step of plunging the steamed eggs in ice water for 15 minutes. When I did this, the eggs were perfect. However, Mr. Wizard (a.k.a. The Master Taste Tester) asked whether plunging the eggs in ice water really did anything, or was the steaming really the key? It was actually a good question since plunging boiled eggs in ice water was often ineffective for me in producing an easy peel.
After a science lesson from Mr. Wizard in latent heat, I steamed several more eggs for 14 minutes. This time, I rinsed them in cold water after the 14 minutes of steaming. While one egg was still a little bit hot, I peeled it. The peel came off perfectly! I let another of the eggs come to room temperature before attempting to peel it. Guess what? It still peeled perfectly. Finally, I refrigerated one of the eggs before peeling it. Again, the peel came off perfectly.
Another time, I tried the steaming with the freshest eggs that I could find. The result was still that the eggs peeled perfectly!
Mr. Wizard was right – it’s the steaming of the eggs that produces the Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs Every Time. In addition, it could be a latent heat effect interacting with the proteins in the egg membrane.
Alternatives to Steamer Basket
There are several inexpensive alternatives to using a steamer basket to steam the eggs. One is a Microwave Egg Boiler. This is actually how The Master Taste Tester cooks his eggs. It requires a small amount of water in the bottom with the eggs enclosed in metal lined plastic. The metal protects the eggs from the microwaves. When the water in the bottom comes to a boil in the microwave, steam is produced that then steams the eggs. Perfect eggs every time.
Another alternative is an electric egg cooker. The water is placed in the bottom of the egg cooker with the eggs above. As the water heats up, steam is produced that in turn steams the eggs.
I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ve read that one can also use an Instant Pot or pressure cooker to boil the eggs using the same steaming technique.
Regardless of how you do it, steam is the key to perfect hard boiled eggs every time.
So now you can make your Easter Eggs with full confidence that they will peel perfectly! Yum!
This is an updated post from March 25, 2018. If you liked the above information, please consider rating it and leaving a comment below. Also be the first to receive notifications of new posts by email, enter your email address in the Subscribe box. Thank you so much for visiting the Pudge Factor!
How difficult can it be to boil an egg? The answer is not difficult at all if you don’t care what the egg looks like when it’s peeled. If, however, this matters to you, then the answer is not so straightforward. The reason is that peeling the eggs without the shells sticking and gouging the whites is often problematic. For Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs Every Time, steam them!
- Large eggs straight from refrigerator
- Steamer basket set in pan with lid
- Place steamer basket in pan. Add water to just below the bottom of steamer basket.
- Place eggs in steamer basket; bring water to a boil over medium heat.
Cover pan; steam eggs 14 minutes. If using extra-large eggs, increase time to 16 minutes. (See Note 1)
Rinse eggs in cold water. (See Note 2)
- Peel or refrigerate unpeeled for later use.
Yield: As many eggs as are steamed. (See Note 3)
- It's important to keep the lid on the pan for the entire time that the eggs are steaming. Also, it's important to keep the pan over medium heat so that the water continues to boil and produce steam.
- The reason for rinsing the eggs in cold water is to stop the cooking. Plunging them in ice will serve the same purpose of stopping the cooking.
- If you're making a lot of eggs, it's a good idea to test one after the steaming has finished to ensure that it's properly cooked. I live in a location that is close to sea level. At sea level, water boils at 212° F. If you live in at a higher altitude water boils at a lower temperature than at sea level which impacts the heat of the steam and the cooking of the egg.