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.
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 also 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.
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.
How to Soft-Boil an Egg
This tried-and-tested method will result in perfect soft-boiled eggs every single time. To make a soft-boiled egg, add 1/2 inch of water to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
Use tongs to take eggs directly from the refrigerator and lay them at the bottom of the saucepan. Cover the saucepan and let the eggs steam.
After the eggs have finished steaming, run cold water into the pan to prevent the eggs from cooking further.
The cook time for these soft-boiled eggs is exactly 6 1/2 minutes. You’ll need to set a timer, and try not to wander too far from the stove. As soon as the timer goes off you need to immediately rinse the eggs in cold water. If you fail to do this, the eggs will continue cooking and may go past the soft-boiled stage.
How to Peel
The easiest way to peel a soft-boiled egg is to gently crack it all over with a spoon. Use your fingers to peel the eggshell off, beginning at the fattest part of the egg.
If you’d like to avoid peeling the egg altogether, cut the top off and scoop the insides out with a spoon. Or dunk a piece of toast into the gooey egg yolk and enjoy your eggs that way.
- Be very gentle when placing the raw eggs in the saucepan. You don’t want to accidentally crack an egg!
- Once the raw eggs have been placed in the saucepan, do not adjust the heat level whatsoever.
- You can add as many eggs into the saucepan as you’d like, but make sure to cook them in a single layer. If you stack the eggs, you won’t achieve the same results.
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. Soft-boiled eggs are also delicious atop bowls of ramen, savory oatmeal, and fried rice.
More Easy Egg Recipes:
You should also check out my Ramen Eggs, Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Quiche, Swiss, Mushroom, & Spinach Frittata, Asparagus Egg Tart, and Tomato Feta Egg Tart.
Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs
- 1-6 large or extra large eggs (use more or less as needed)
- salt and ground black pepper to taste
- 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.
Please read my full post for additional recipe notes, tips, and serving suggestions!
For immediate help troubleshooting a recipe, please email me using the form on my contact page. I’ll try to respond to urgent questions as quickly as possible! For all general questions, please leave a comment here :)
This worked beautifully on my first try and I am thrilled that I now know how to make a soft-boiled egg! Thank you.
John MacArthur says
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
Roe L says
Thank you very much. My soft-boiled eggs have been horrible. I will truly enjoy them now. Thanks again.
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!
I used my steamer….6.5 minutes = PERFECTION!!!!
Sean Flanigan says
Three eggs 6 minutes came out so perfect! I was able to peel the eggs gently and when I broke in the yolks were the most velvety texture
Soft and creamy!
This is my new go to!
Thanks for this recipe!!!!
Do you turn off the burner when you put the eggs in?
Jennifer Farley says
No, you want to maintain a steady heat :)
Jacqueline Mee-Lee says
First time trying and it worked to perfection. Thank you. Always used to boil eggs just hoping they came out right. With this simple method, I am happy I will be able to repeat the perfect degree of runny every time.
I found that doing several eggs at the same time, I had to be quick taking them out and placing them in cold water, or the yolk became more set rather than runny.
How would this work with jumbo eggs?
Sarah Sawbridge says
It works! I am so happy I’ve found this page. I’ve tried every method going and even bought a boiled egg machine which I still failed at. The eggs were absolutely perfect, thank you :)