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Practicing the basics: hard-boiled eggs

Hard-boiled eggs are great for breakfast, lunch, or a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack when you need a jolt of protein. And they come in their own container!

There is a bit of mythology on the best way to hard-boil an egg, though. Mostly this comes from the fact that you can’t use an insertion-thermometer to check the internal temperature; it’s a guessing game. And one of the debates (apart from how long to cook it) is whether to place the egg in boiling water, or in cold water and then heat it.

After consulting many experts’ “fool-proof” methods (which are all different in some respects), here is a really good method that should give you consistently good results. Nothing is guaranteed; eggs vary, as does the amount of heat your stovetop produces. But my own testing shows that this is a solid approach.

Suggested reading:

Ingredients:

  • Large eggs
  • Cold tap water
  • Icewater

Place the eggs in a single layer in a pot. Add cold tap water until the water level is one inch above the top of the eggs. Don’t skimp on the water — fully submerging the eggs ensures that heat penetrates the eggs from all sides. Make sure you are using a pot large enough for all eggs to sit on the bottom in a single layer.

Place the pot on the stove and heat it, uncovered, over high heat until it just begins to boil. As the water approaches a boil, the eggs are already starting to cook in their outer layers. But it will take a while for the heat to reach all the way into the center. Starting the eggs in cold water reduces the risk of the shell cracking while it’s cooking.

Remove the pot from heat, cover, and let stand for ten minutes. The eggs are still cooking during this phase.

Transfer the eggs to a bowl of icewater, and let stand for five minutes. At this point the eggs are done cooking, and so we want to reduce their temperature as quickly as possible. The icewater will do this, but it still takes time to penetrate to the center (call this “carryover cooling” — it’s the same basic principle). Some recipes call for “shocking” the eggs in icewater for just one minute, but that isn’t enough time to cool them all the way through.

Remove from icewater and serve.

Tips and suggestions:

  • Hard-boiled eggs in their shell will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week, and peeled ones will keep for up to two days. The icewater bath will bring the eggs to a low enough temperature that they will not cook any further, but after five minutes they are still in the “danger zone” temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees that is optimal for bacteria to grow. Unless you intend to eat them within about an hour, it’s best to quickly move them to the refrigerator to fully cool them. And leave them in their shells for as long as possible; the shell is a natural barrier to bacteria and other pathogens.
  • Hard-boiled eggs with a green yolk are still safe to eat; the green color comes from a reaction with sulfur in the egg that occurs when the eggs are overcooked. The icewater bath helps to prevent green yolks by cooling the eggs faster.

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