Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs

This technique from Cook’s Illustrated demonstrates how to cook perfect soft-boiled eggs.

Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs ~ Savory Simple ~ www.savorysimple.netThis technique demonstrates how to get perfect soft boiled eggs every single time!

You may have heard me mention before that I’m a bit obsessed with the geniuses behind Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen. Every recipe and technique I’ve tried from them has been fantastic. My recipe for banana bread muffins was adapted from one of their cookbooks as was my slow cooker meatballs and marinara recipe. Cook’s Illustrated is the most valuable cooking magazine in so many ways. Each issue is an absolute treasure trove of knowledge. They share not only recipes but tips, product reviews and extensively tested techniques. Last week I tried their technique from the January/February 2013 issue for making perfect oven-roasted shrimp and they were perfection.

The same issue had several pages dedicated to the challenge of preparing perfectly soft-cooked eggs.

Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs ~ Savory Simple ~

This technique demonstrates how to get perfect soft boiled eggs every single time!

How do you get perfectly set whites while achieving runny yolks?  And is it possible to create a scalable recipe that will have the same instructions regardless of whether 1, 4 or 6 eggs are used?  The reason this is complicated is because egg whites must reach 180 degrees F in order to set while the yolks must stay below 158 degrees F in order to stay runny.  This presents obvious challenges because it’s very easy to either overcook the yolks or undercook the whites.

After soft-boiling more than 1000 eggs in their test kitchen they discovered the perfect technique. The key is steam. The problem with the traditional method is that cold eggs cool down the boiling water. So the more eggs you add, the longer it takes to cook them properly. But steam will stay at 212 degrees F regardless of how many eggs are added to the pot! Kind of genius, right? It works like a charm every time; fully set tender whites and rich, runny yolks. You can use a steamer if you have one but it’s also easy to apply this technique with a standard saucepan and cover. I like to serve these eggs sliced lengthwise on salads or in an egg cup with toast or steamed asparagus.

Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs ~ Savory Simple ~

This technique demonstrates how to get perfect soft boiled eggs every single time!

Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
6 mins
Total Time
11 mins

This technique from Cook's Illustrated demonstrates how to cook perfect soft-boiled eggs.

Course: Breakfast, Brunch
Cuisine: American, British
Author: Jennifer Farley
  • large or extra large eggs
  • salt and pepper
  1. Add 1/2 inch of water to a saucepan and bring the water to a boil on medium-high heat.
  2. Take the eggs directly from the refrigerator. Use tongs to VERY gently lay the eggs in the bottom of the pan.
  3. Cover and allow the eggs to steam for 6 1/2 minutes.
  4. Run cold water into the pan for 30 seconds. Peel and serve.
Recipe Notes

This technique was shared in the January/February 2013 issue of Cook's Illustrated


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  • I love Cook’s Illustrated too. I love the detailed descriptions and how you can count on their recipes to work out every time. I think they are a little too wordy and detailed for a lot of people, which is a real shame.

  • I’m in love with the ATK folks too! So rarely do I try a recipe from them that isn’t great. These soft-boiled eggs look amazing, wish I had a few for breakfast :) Gotta try this technique!

  • I’m in love with the ATK folks too! So rarely do I try a recipe from them that isn’t great. These soft-boiled eggs look amazing, wish I had a few for breakfast :) Gotta try this technique!

  • This is genius! Thanks for sharing. I also love Cooks’ Illustrated; it’s so interesting reading their explanations of why their techniques work and learning more about kitchen science! I just had some badly overdone soft-boiled eggs at a brunch spot recently, so I will have to give these a try to make up for that experience.

  • That is the perfect egg!! And your photos… my oh my… I’m coming over for some lessons!!!

    I am also obsessed with America’s Test Kitchen…I looooove everything about it!

  • My relationship with eggs is shaky at best (unless they’re going into cookie dough!). I keep running into breakfast-y egg recipes – maybe it’s a sign? :D

    This is absolutely gorgeous, Jen.

  • This sounds so unique, I just have to give it a try! Love Cook’s Illustrated! Their recipes and tips never fail me :)
    Gorgeous photo, Jen!!

  • I love cooks illustrated so much that when I put a “time capsule” together for the year my daughter was born, I put in a CI for them month she was born. I’m sure she’ll roll her eyes some day!
    I love soft boiled eggs, I just wish they were easier to peel. I’ve tried to vinegar trick, but it doesn’t seem to do much.

  • Jen,
    My mom used to fix me ‘dippy eggs’ with buttered toast sliced into thin strips alongside the egg cup. Thanks for the memory, and the technique!

  • Jennifer, I’ve always loved old movies where the star whacks open a perfectly soft-boiled egg (preferably served on a silver tray during breakfast on the veranda) — now I’ll be able to duplicate that scene. :) Your photos are exquisite. One of my favorite cookbooks is “The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook” by Christopher Kimball. I don’t think egg whacking (or properly cooking a soft-boiled egg) was included in that tome. Many thanks!

  • This is great, Jen! I’ve been needing a new way to cook my breakfast protein. Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen is amazing, I agree. I think all of their recipes and instruction are perfect! :) My fave of theirs is the lean meatloaf.

  • What a great post… my Mom made me soft boiled eggs growing up, and excited to try! Also, LOVE the first photo… all are great, but wow, incredible!

  • This may seem like a dumb question but when you say lay the eggs down and then steam for 6.5 minutes – do you mean the burner has been turned off at that point or it’s still on? I know Martha Stewart has a method of putting the eggs in boiling water, letting them boil for 1 minute, covering, shutting off heat, and letting them sit there. Don’t quote me on the exacts, but that’s her general idea. With the CI method, after you put the eggs in and cover the pot, do you still keep the burner on? 6.5 mins of a covered boil would seem far too long to me. But LMK!

    • I leave the burner on the entire time! I make sure the heat isn’t all the way on high, though, because there’s so little water that it could potentially evaporate if the heat isn’t slightly down. But the water that’s in there will say at 212 and so will the steam area. Even cooking! 6 1/2 minutes sounded long to me but it works.

  • Your photography is stunning. I am one of the rare foodies that doesn’t care for runny yolks – but you make them look so appetizing I would probably eat them!

  • Mind blowing photography!! The details on the eggs and shells are impeccable! Thanks for the soft boiled eggs tips. Would give it a try soon!!

  • I read this article too! I’ve made my soft-boiled eggs using this method two or three times since and they’ve turned out perfectly. Before this, my soft-boiled eggs were always inconsistent. Your pictures are gorgeous too!

  • That’s the shortest recipe write up ever ;) Great pics and when I was a little one we would call the slices of toast used to dip in the yolk, soldiers! Loved it..

  • Call me cray-cray, but I have never had a soft-boiled egg before! If it isn’t scrambled, over easy or hard-boiled, I guess I don’t know it exists haha. I’m SO BORING IT HURTS. But this looks fantastic and so gooey and rich.

  • Is there anything better than a soft cooked egg?? I don’t think so. Beautiful picture. My biggest problem when cooking soft-boiled eggs is peeling them. Despite running them under cold water or putting them in ice water, I still never can get them to peel perfectly. Any tips?

  • To the egg-peeler-questioners– the secret is: don’t peel a soft boiled egg! Stand it up it in an egg cup and use a butter knife to behead it, as we say in Berlin. Then have at it with a spoon. If you don’t have an egg cup, try a shot glass. If you don’t have a shot glass, just tap the egg down a little hard on the table, with the wide end down. That should crack the shell on the bottom, and flatten the bottom enough so it stands on its own. Then behead it and grab your spoon.

    Some people peel it and dump the whole thing in a bowl and cut it up and eat the resulting mess– to each his own, but that is not for me.

  • i never have made a soft boiled egg before.. i searched several recipes before settleing on this one . it seemed the best most thought out recipe. i tried it.. n my very first time it turned out just as it should looked just like pictures, for never having eaten one or cooked one before i was impressed at how delicious it turned out to be. thank you.. now i just need an egg cup instead of a small glass stuffed with an inverted paper towel cone to hold my egg

  • Followed these instructions to the letter. Yolks are overlooked and disappointingly cakey. The theory and photos are arresting, but in practice this didn’t deliver.

    • That’s surprising. I use this method all the time and it always works perfectly. Other commenters have had great success, if you’ll scroll up. I’m sorry it didn’t work for you!

    • The key is to have only a little water in the bottom of the pan. Measure that it is only 1/2 inch deep. Most of the egg will be above the water and cooked in steam. And be sure to stop the cooking quickly with cold water after 6 and a half minutes.

  • NO! With your method, the eggs crack. Place 2 refrigerated eggs in a saucepan of cold water. Turn on heat to high and set timer for ten minutes. Drain and run cold water over the eggs for about a minute. Perfect soft-boiled eggs.

      • Six out of ten times refrigerated (or even room temperature) eggs will crack when placed in boiling water. Now your water is all runny with escaped egg gunk. I get so angry and have to dump it out and try again. Now I have hit on the answer and it works: Put two refrigerated eggs in a saucepan, add cold water to cover, turn on heat to high and set timer for ten minutes for extra large eggs. Perfect soft-boiled eggs. It works every time. You may have to subtract time for smaller sized eggs. Set timer for 20 minutes for perfect hard-boiled eggs.

        • Henry, I am so happy to hear that you’ve found a method that works for you! Since none of my eggs have EVER cracked while using my method I will continue to do it my way. Happy cooking!

    • Henry, your method no doubt works for you. Cooks Illustrated explains why this is not fool-proof for every kitchen. Placing cold eggs in boiling water lowers the temperature of the water and this will affect the cooking time required for perfect results. The amount the water temperature is lowered by the cold eggs depends on the amount of water in the pot and the size and number of the eggs. Because of this, cooking time will vary.
      I have also had eggs spill their guts when using the Cooks Illustrated method, but this is rare. Using eggs that aren’t already slightly cracked, and lowering them carefully into the pot with tongs will prevent the results you fear.

    • No, leave the heat on. The water in the pan will continue to create steam from the heat. That steam will stay at 212 degrees which is the perfect temperature for cooking the eggs. The problem with a pot full of water is it will get colder if you add the eggs. This method allows you to cook the eggs for the same amount of time regardless of whether you’re cooking one egg or five. Make sense?

  • I would like to use a fresh egg, but every recipe talks about using cold eggs. I guess I’ll experiment…but if you know how to adjust for this, please let me know!

  • I would like instructions for how long to steam the eggs if you don’t get the water boiling first. That is if you just use tap water (ours is about 70F) and put the eggs in straight away. If I just put the eggs in the water in this fashion it takes exactly 10 minutes on high heat to get the perfect soft boiled egg. I wonder if steaming will be different.

  • You are indeed a treasure Jennifer. At lasy a fool-proof way to cook eggs perfectly. I have in the past left it to the hubby to time the eggs – it avoids that look if I do it and the eggs are not runny enough (which is usually the case). Thanks so much. PS. Love the images :)

  • Goodness, If I boiled eggs for 1o minutes, they would be hard boiled. I am anxious to try this soft boiled recipe. My mother was from England and I know they are big on soft boiled eggs there. All of us kids have silver egg cups from when we were babes. I love soft boiled eggs.

  • I grew up in England where we are raised on boiled eggs and toast’ soldiers.’ I can’t believe they wasted 1,000 eggs like that and they never realized that the answer is to bring the eggs to room temperature first. Boil enough water to cover them then cook a small egg for three minutes, a large egg for four minutes and an extra large egg for five minutes. Perfect every time.

  • Tried this method and it worked perfectly. Just to be on the safe side and may not have been necessary, i did put a pinhole in the large end of the eggs which I always did with my old method of putting them in a full pan of boiling water to keep them from cracking. The eggs using your method turned out absolutely perfect at 6 minutes. Thanks for sharing a new method for me to use to have perfectly soft boiled eggs.

  • this worked wonderfully! but next time I think i would only run it under cold water for about 15-20 secs., they were not real hot

  • I use this method (Cook’s Illustrated subscriber, well worth it) and it works perfectly every time. I wanted to acknowledge that if it doesn’t work for you, it might be that your cookware doesn’t conduct and distribute heat very well (I use All-Clad and Mauviel). An investment in good cookware (that will last a lifetime) is an investment in a better life!

  • I just tried out this method and and my oh my what a huge difference this makes! My eggs were perfect! I wasn’t fond of them growing up as my mother always made them too runny but I enjoyed watching my sister gobble them up as if they were the best thing in the world. Now I can actually partake in enjoying them as much as my sissy did! Thank you!

  • We do not keep eggs in the refrigerator in NZ, so I wonder what impact room temperature eggs would have on the timing? Seems like an experiment waiting to be done!

    • I’m so sorry to hear that it didn’t work for you! If you read the comments above everyone seems to be having good success with this technique. But I guess no methods are completely perfect.

  • Hey, Jennifer. Have you tried steaming with a steaming basket? Think it makes any difference? Going to give this a try this weekend! Thanks!

    • I haven’t tried a steamer basket but I think that will work perfectly since the idea is just to get the eggs to the right temperature for a certain amount of time. Let me know how it goes!

  • Sorry if this is a silly question, but I’m having a hard time finding a good answer anywhere else – I have a steamer basket I use for my veggies. How long would I steam my eggs using the basket, rather than the bottom-of-pan method? Would the technique be the same? For my veggies, I typically put them in the basket over an inch of water and then start the heat, letting the veggies sit there while the water comes to boil and then steaming until tender. Should I do the same for eggs or only put the eggs in the basket after the water starts boiling? I might just have to mess around with some trial and error on this one, I think.

    • Not a silly question! I haven’t used a steamer basket, BUT In theory you would use it for the same amount of time since the steam will be the same temperature as the water used in the method. Let me know how it goes if you try it!

      • I gave it a go this morning and it worked perfectly. I only set my timer for 5 minutes because I wasn’t right at the stove when it started boiling, so I wasn’t positive how long it’d been boiling/steaming already. I then removed it from heat and let it sit for a bit, probably less than a minute. Ran then under cold water for a bit so I could handle them and then they were ready. The first one I handled my standard way – karate chopped in half and scooped out the halves (yes, I am one who prefers to disembowel and eat the resulting mess, as gorgeous as the egg cups are, lol). The second egg, I decided to try something different. These eggs were so perfectly cooked with such perfectly done whites, I peeled – yes, peeled – that second egg. It took a slightly daintier hand than if you were peeling a hard-boiled egg, but with such fully cooked whites, this still peeled just fine. I then had a lovely whole egg that, when broken open, had lovely runny yolks, only slightly cooked around the edges. Perfect. (Have I mentioned ‘perfect’ enough times – because that’s what these eggs were.) Goodbye, boiling; hello, steaming! :)

  • This recipe works well. Cook’s Illustrated calls this “Soft-Cooked Eggs.” Michel Roux, in his incomparable cookbook, “Eggs,” and Marie Simmons, in the James Beard award-winning “The Good Egg,” also title their recipes “Soft-Cooked Eggs.”
    Marie Simmons writes that “it’s a mistake to call it a “boiled” egg. The key to a perfect soft-cooked egg (and a delicious, nicely colored hard-cooked egg as well) is NOT TO BOIL IT — boiling an egg will cause the proteins to toughen.”

  • Tried this method yesterday and it was perfect. I was using room temperature extra large eggs so I settled on 6 Min. Thank you for sharing this ingenious technique.

  • First attempt: flawless. I steamed them for 7.5 minutes as I’m at 4500 feet above sea level (lower steam temperature). They are Perfect. Eating them now, lol.

  • I don’t see what SIZE sauce pan to use. 1/2 inch in a small pan covers more of the egg than a large(r) one. Please what size saucepan?

    • It doesn’t matter what size saucepan you use because the goal is simply to create steam with that 1/2 inch of water. I would use something larger for more eggs and something smaller for less eggs.

  • Perfect! I grew up with the cold water to boil for 3 mins, always had various results. This was easy and the eggs are supreme.

  • Thank you!!! This really does work every single time and running cold water over the egg just until you can handle it works well too. Egg stays hot inside and peels easily!

  • OK. .. one egg popped. 1 the other was almost perfect ?. Will do 5.5 minutes next time.
    Like idea of steamer basket.

    First time user of this site … following.