experimenting: boil times for soft boiled eggs

My first few attempts at soft boiled eggs were a wreck.

I ran into issues with every guide I followed. Primarily, I ended up with loads of under-cooked eggs. Ones I could hardly peel without the whites tearing apart at the slightest resistance. Sort of like this runny mess:

Runny Undercooked Egg

I’m surprised it survived the peeling at all.

Nearly every guide recommends the following–bring water to a boil, add eggs, lower to simmer and cook for a total of 5:45-6 minutes. Sounds pretty straightforward, but it just wasn’t working for me. After making my way through at least a full dozen eggs without success, I decided to test a variety of cook times.

My first step was to consider every detail that could affect the final outcome. With these factors in mind, I formed a routine that I can follow in the future to ensure a perfect egg every time.

If this routine does not suit you, feel free to make adjustments. Whatever you do, just make sure to remember and stick to whatever process you choose.

controlled process for soft boiling eggs

Ingredients

  • 4-6 large eggs (from my experience, age insignificant)
  • Large pot
  • Bowl filled with ice and water

Instructions

  1. Pull eggs out of fridge
  2. Put water on to boil. Water should come between your fingernail and knuckle above an egg when placed in water
  3. Bring water to a full, rolling boil
  4. Turn heat all the way to low so eggs do not bounce and crack
  5. Carefully add all eggs (a spider strainer helps here)
  6. Stir eggs in water for 30 seconds and make sure the heat comes down to a simmer
  7. Simmer for the remainder of time (varies, but 8 minutes total is a safe starting point). Check frequently to adjust simmer if necessary
  8. Pull eggs out of water and place directly into ice bath
http://vegramen.com/experiments/boil-times-for-soft-boiled-eggs/

What other factors could affect the boiling process? Well, loads of things.

First–pan size. As suggested in the process above, now that I’ve perfected my routine I will always use the same pan size and roughly the same amount of eggs. This will ensure that the water will boil the same way and the eggs will have the same amount of room to move around.

“Boil” and “simmer” are imprecise terms as well. I think this may be one of the biggest causes of discrepancy between how my eggs turned out vs the outcome in certain guides. Unless you can sous vide your eggs, your best bet will be to become mindful of your own definition and stick to it.

I know that my water has reached a full boil when it literally cannot boil any more. The top is rolling and if left for another 30 seconds it simply will not become any more rapid.

I know that my water is at a simmer when the top is slightly rolling, medium bubbles are coming to the top, but the eggs are just slightly wavering. Occasional soft bounces or a sound like teeth chattering are expected and let me know the temperature hasn’t dropped too low. If I don’t hear a bounce or chatter for over a minute, I raise the temp a bit.

Whatever your definition of simmer and boil–pay close attention and stick to it. This will ensure a perfectly controlled process for all future egg endeavors.

Once the boiling process is complete for your ideal length (more on that shortly), place the eggs in an ice bath. This halts the cooking process.

Got some time? Let the eggs chill for a while. I’ve read that if left in the ice bath for a while, it helps the shell expand and detach from the egg–a nice bonus, especially since peeling these guys can be rough. Serious Eats recommends letting them chill for at least 15 minutes: “The cooler the egg is, the firmer and tighter its structure will be, and the less likely is it to develop craters when you pry off the shell”. If you want a pretty egg, this is definitely worth the wait.
Boiling Soft Boiled Eggs
Soft Boiled Eggs in Ice Bath

Below are the eggs I boiled for this experiment, post-boil. I pulled the eggs out at different intervals–6, 7, 8 and 9 minutes as marked on each image. Mind the odd arrangement.

While taking photos, I realized another significant factor that could affect the outcome of each egg–size! While all “large” eggs, they had a surprisingly high variance in size.

The 6 minute egg (following my controlled process) was under-cooked. The 7 minute, 8 minute, and 9 minute egg were all acceptable. The 7 minute egg was closer to ideal, however it was also smaller than the other eggs. The 9 minute egg was acceptable, although the egg was a bit larger. Because of this, I concluded that the safest “starting point” would be 8 minutes.

Uncooked Eggs
Boiled and Peeled Soft Boiled Eggs
Boil Times for Soft Boiled Eggs

If this is your first go at soft boiled eggs, I highly suggest leaning a bit closer to the 8 minute mark. At best, they will be perfect. At worst, they will just be slightly overcooked. This is much better than a batch of unusable, under-cooked eggs. Here is a shot of a batch of eggs all cooked for 8 minutes.

Safe 8 Minute Boiled Egg

Notice how cleanly they peeled compared to the 6 minute egg above. They slipped out of their shells quickly and without much resistance. Despite the size variance, they were all cooked at least acceptably. No eggs were wasted. That is much more than I could say about my first attempts at soft boiled eggs.

I have since made quite a few batches following my own controlled process, and have narrowed my “perfect” boiling time down to 7 minutes, 30 seconds.

With such a narrow timeframe to either over- or under-cook your eggs, there are many variables that could make your soft boiled eggs less than perfect. Pay attention to every detail as you complete the boiling process so that you can repeat it in the future. Start on the higher end of boil times (8 minutes is safe), stick to your process, and slowly reduce the boil time in future attempts until you find your perfect boil time.

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