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Be a Better Cook

Stop Effing Up Your Eggs: Here’s How to Perfectly Poach an Egg Every Time

What's the secret to a gorgeous, gooey-but-runny poached egg that doesn't fall apart in the pot? Follow these steps to find out.

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Let’s be honest: Poached eggs are kind of intimidating. They’re like little works of art, each one carefully spooned into not-quite-boiling water and gently folded to create a little pocket that holds the best surprise in the form of a slightly runny, just barely cooked yolk that oozes out when cut open. It’s like a saucy topping for your favorite breakfasts, salads and even a simple piece of toast. But in actuality, achieving a perfect poached egg isn’t exactly simple.

Poaching is a process that’s both elegant and gentle, and it requires a certain level of care and attention. You can’t rush it – trying to speed through will only result in some messy eggs. And it’s earned a bit of a scary reputation from all the do’s, don’ts and gadgets that exist to make poaching an egg seem easier, although all of those measures have really only created a cloud of eggy-water confusion. There are plenty of different techniques to try, from swirling to shaping to achieving just the right mix of bubbling water and acidity. So, if you’ve ever stood in front of your stove watching yet another egg break into white wispies and sinking yolks, you aren’t the only one wondering why poach is so darn difficult.

Well, it’s time to perfect your breakfast-making skills and become an egg expert. We’re walking you through the process of how to poach an egg perfectly. With these simple steps, you’ll discover that poaching can be easy – and even elegant. Here’s how to achieve a flawless final product that looks as good as it tastes, all while avoiding common woes like breaking, overcooking and undercooking.

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What you’ll need

  • Large, wide skillet
  • Slotted spoon
  • Kitchen thermometer
  • Vinegar or fresh lemon juice
  • Custard cup or small dish
  • Clean linen cloth or paper towels
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Step-by-step poaching

1. Prep your pan

Be a Better Cook: Poach an Egg

Fill a 10- or 12-inch skillet with 1 inch of water. (Tip: You’ll need 5½ cups of water for a 12-inch skillet or 3½ cups for a 10-inch skillet.)

2. Add a little acid

Be a Better Cook: Poach an Egg

Acidify the water: Add 1 teaspoon white vinegar or fresh lemon juice for every 1 cup water used. Acidity helps speed up the coagulation of egg whites.

Heat water to between 185°F and 190°F, until small bubble begin to form at base of skillet but water does not come to a simmer, maintaining temperature throughout cooking process. With a slotted spoon, stir up bubbles from bottom.

3. Crack your eggs

Be a Better Cook: Poach an Egg

Gently break 1 egg into a small custard cup or dish.

4. Add eggs to the skillet

Be a Better Cook: Poach an Egg

Lower dish into water and slide in egg; repeat with up to 3 eggs for a 12-inch skillet.

5. Gently fold and let cook

Be a Better Cook: Poach an Egg

Immediately use a slotted spoon to gently spoon edges of egg white over eggs.

6. Let eggs cook briefly

Be a Better Cook: Poach an Egg

Cook undisturbed for 4 to 4½ minutes; water should remain between 185°F and 190°F. With spoon, remove egg from water. (Tip: If eggs stick to bottom, gently nudge with spoon before removing from water.)

7. Remove eggs from the skillet

Be a Better Cook: Poach an Egg

Transfer eggs to a clean dish towel and gently wipe or trim away any loose egg white or jagged edges. Serve immediately or refrigerate in a bowl of ice water for up to 8 hours.

If you’re refrigerating your poached eggs, reheat them in barely simmering water for 1 minute.

Enjoy!

Be a Better Cook: Poach an Egg

Ready to enjoy your beautifully poached eggs? We love serving them on top of our Chicken Sweet Potato Hash. Get the recipe here.

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Having trouble? Try these pro-level tips and tricks

Always use fresh eggs

It sounds obvious, but fresh is best when you’re poaching eggs. The fresher your eggs are, the more tightly they’ll stay together while cooking. As eggs get older, the very composition of their egg whites begins to change; the whites lose viscosity and become thinner, which makes them more prone to separation. Older eggs also tend to produce more wisps and strands of whites. To achieve that perfect teardrop shape, you’ll want to use the freshest eggs possible.

Poach eggs cold, not at room temperature

If you’re having trouble getting your eggs to stay together once you’ve slipped them into your slightly-simmering water, try using cold eggs right out of the fridge. When eggs have the chance to sit out at room temperature – even for just 5 minutes – they begin to change in consistency and viscosity. Cold eggs are more viscous, meaning they’re thicker and stickier, so they’ll be better able to hold together when you begin cooking them. Room-temp or slightly warm eggs will be more prone to falling apart.

Water depth matters

If you’re struggling to get your egg yolks and whites to stay perfectly bundled together once they’ve hit the skillet, you might need to add more water. The depth of the water inside your pot or pan matters, and if it’s too shallow, you can wind up with eggs over-easy instead of perfectly poached. Make sure you’re working with a couple of inches of water so your eggs can sink just a little.

But be careful not to add too much water. If your eggs wind up in water that’s more than 4 inches deep, the whites may rise to the top while the yolks sink to the bottom.

Don’t get overambitious

When you’re in a hurry or need to get food on the table for a crowd, it’s super tempting to drop all of your eggs in so they can cook at the same time. But don’t give in to that temptation! If you overcrowd your skillet, you’ll wind up with some seriously wonky (and definitely not perfectly poached) eggs. Poaching requires a careful eye, and you need to watch each egg closely to determine when they’re finished cooking. And they can cook so quickly that by the time you’re done adding all of your eggs in, the first ones are overcooked.

Aim for 3 to 4 eggs at a time. Once you’ve mastered the art of the poached egg, you can step up to a larger skillet or pot and try a few more – but even experienced home cooks tend to stick with no more than 4 eggs at a time.

Move slowly and gently

Treat your eggs like precious cargo throughout the poaching process. They’re delicate, and one wrong (or suddenly abrupt) move can puncture the egg, leading the yolk to spill out or separate. Be cautious and careful as you slide each egg into the bubbling water, and move gently as you spoon each out once cooked. You’ll also want to be extra gentle as you pat your finished poached eggs dry before serving.

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Poached eggs are a great addition to these recipes

Poached eggs are a great topping for a crunchy slice of whole-grain toast or a savory veggie-filled hash. But if you need a bit more inspiration so you can put your new pro poaching skills to use, try these recipes. They’re some of our favorites for breakfast, brunch and lunch – or even breakfast for dinner!