Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs

Do you love a soft-boiled egg with a delicate runny yolk? So do I! This foolproof technique from Cook’s Illustrated demonstrates how to make soft-boiled eggs perfectly every single time. As it turns out, the trick is in the steam.

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

I’ve mentioned 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 a 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.

Recently 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 how to soft boil an egg. It’s a skill I struggled with for years when I was first learning to cook.

Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs ~ Savory Simple ~ www.savorysimple.net

A side-by-side photo of soft boiled eggs.

The science behind soft-boiled eggs

How do you achieve perfectly set whites while maintaining runny yolks? Is it possible to create a scalable recipe that has the exact 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, as 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 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 soft-boiled eggs sliced lengthwise on salads (such as this Arugula Salad with Soft Boiled Eggs, Bacon, and Shallot Dijon Vinaigrette), or in an egg cup with toast or steamed asparagus.

Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs ~ Savory Simple ~ www.savorysimple.net

A close up photo of a perfect soft boiled egg.

soft-boiled-egg
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Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs

4.91 from 10 votes
This easy technique from Cook's Illustrated demonstrates how to cook perfect soft-boiled eggs.
Course Breakfast, Brunch
Cuisine American, British
Keyword soft-boiled eggs
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 6 minutes
Total Time 11 minutes
Servings 1
Calories 78
Author Jennifer Farley

Ingredients

  • 1-6 large or extra large eggs (use more or less as needed)
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Add 1/2 inch of water to a medium or large saucepan, and bring the water to a boil on medium-high heat.
  • Take the eggs directly from the refrigerator. Use tongs to VERY gently lay the eggs in the bottom of the pan.
  • Cover and allow the eggs to steam for 6 1/2 minutes. Do not adjust the heat level. 
  • Run cold water into the pan for 30 seconds to halt the cooking process. Peel and serve immediately.

Notes

This technique is scaleable, but don't stack up the eggs. Make sure they're in a single layer in the pan. 
This technique was shared in the January/February 2013 issue of Cook's Illustrated

Nutrition

Calories: 78kcal | Carbohydrates: 0.6g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 1.6g

Recipe Troubleshooting

For help troubleshooting a recipe, please email recipehelp@savorysimple.net. I’ll try to respond to urgent questions as quickly as possible! This email address is only for recipe troubleshooting; Solicitations will be ignored.

About Jennifer Farley

Jennifer graduated from the Culinary Arts program at L’Academie de Cuisine, and has worked professionally as a line cook, pastry chef, and cooking instructor. Her cookbook, The Gourmet Kitchen, was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster.

Affiliate Disclaimer: Posts may contain affiliate links. I am a participant in the rewardStyle and Amazon affiliate programs, which help support Savory Simple by providing me with a small commission fee when you shop through my links, at no additional cost to you.

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  • 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.

  • 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.

    • Perhaps you live at a higher altitude. At higher altitude the boiling point of water drops considerably. This fact was used to map Tibet mountains accurately when the country was closed to foreigners. USDA has correction tables.

  • 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.

    Thanks.

    +Peace

  • Must be a dumb question, since no one else asked it. but do you turn the heat off when it boils, keep it boiling, or lower the heat?

    • Hi Ronnie! Thanks so much! I’ve had that egg dish for years and I’m not sure where I got it, but I think it was part of a Nigella Lawson set.

      • I let them sit in the cold water until completely cooled then popped them in the fridge in the shell. I did not reheat them; I ate them cold. I cracked the shell on the bottom, peeled it away a bit, then carefully scooped the whole egg out with a small spoon. I was pleasantly surprised by the yolk. I expected it would have thickened. I cooked 14 for the week. I cannot wait to see what they look like tomorrow. :)

  • I wonder how they would be transported. I often eat my breakfast at work. I have a colleague who hard boils her eggs and opens them at work for breakfast and says they are still warm. It would be wonderful to transport a soft cooked egg to work, make a piece of toast and enjoy the soft cooked egg.

  • Seems to me that essentially boiling them for 6-1/2 minutes, they’d be hard boiled.

    What I do is bring water to a rolling boil. Add the eggs very gently. Cover with lid. Turn OFF the heat. Let sit in the covered pan for 7-1/2 minutes. Remove eggs from the water and flush with cold water. Perfect every time.

  • Just getting ready to try your soft boiled egg recipe. It seems so simple!
    I appreciated your version of the French egg salad and will look forward to receiving your recipe recommendations.
    Thanks – John M

  • I have never attempted to cook soft boiled eggs, although i love them. I followed your instructions with some minor tweeks. I used 3 medium sized eggs and shortened the time to 6 minutes. Everything else was per your recipe. They came out just as your picture portrays. Tender firm whites with a medium firm yolk with creamy runny center. Any longer on the time would have resulted in more of a hard boiled egg. My next try i will scale back the time a little more, maybe 20 secs. I enjoy them more on the runny side. Great for dipping toast. My first try was a great success. Thank you!