The 3 Myths You’ve Heard About Poached Eggs—and How to Do It Right
We're cracking down on the common misconceptions you've heard about poached eggs. Plus, our expert Test Kitchen shares the right way to do it, with step-by-step tips and images.
For those who love a good runny, golden yolk, poached eggs are the way to go. When cooked correctly, the egg takes the form of a delicate bubble atop your plate. It’ll have firm whites on the outside and a fluid center. Pierce it with your fork and the yolk will ooze out in a delightful (and totally delicious) way.
So why don’t we poach eggs more often? The technique is a little fiddly, and it can take a few trial runs to master. To make matters worse, recipes often overcomplicate the method for poaching eggs, making them seem intimidating and extra fussy to make. Our expert food editor Peggy Woodward cracked open the most common myths about poaching eggs:
Myth 1: You need special equipment to do it.
From silicone egg cups to egg-poaching pans, plenty of companies are willing to poach the money of innocent would-be egg cookers.
Truth: All you need is a gentle touch and plenty of practice. Single-use gadgets will only collect dust in your drawers.
Myth 2: Adding vinegar to the simmering water helps hold the whites together.
The scent of boiling vinegar in your kitchen is said to be worth it, as it helps the egg stay in one piece.
Truth: Vinegar is unnecessary. Adding a splash to the pot will only add vinegar flavor to your eggs. Probably not what you’re going for.
Myth 3: You should swirl the water before adding your eggs
When I tried this method, I watched in dismay as my egg dissolved in the swirling water.
Truth: A whirlpool creates too much agitation for the egg’s delicate protein. What you really want to poach in is still, simmering water, which provides a gentle environment for the egg to cook.
Here’s What Really Matters When You’re Poaching Eggs
Choose the Right Eggs
First things first, you’ll want to start with fresh eggs. They’re the best for poaching because they tend to hold their shape. If there’s no chicken coop in the backyard, follow this simple trick to test the freshness of your eggs:
Gently drop an egg in a glass of water.
- If it lies on its side at the bottom of the glass, then it’s fresh.
- If it stands up, the egg is still good to eat, but might be better for hard boiling.
- If it floats, then toss it. The egg is too old to use.
Use a Big Enough Pot
Your egg should have plenty of room while poaching. Fill a deep saucepan with a few inches of water. If you’re poaching multiple eggs at a time (experts only!), use a wide pot, such as a saute pan.
Water Temperature Matters
Poached eggs like a specific temperature. Boiling water is too hot and hot water is too cool. You want a very low simmer. Bubbles should periodically gently spring up from the bottom of the pan.
Keep checking to make sure the water doesn’t boil-as we learned with the swirling myth, it’s best to keep the water as still as possible to keep your eggs intact.
Handle With Care
Once the water is ready, handle your eggs with TLC. Carefully break each into its own container: a ramekin, small bowl, tea cup or measuring cup will do. Then lower the cup close to the water’s surface and gently tip the egg in. The less it’s disturbed, the better.
Use the Tools You’re Comfortable With
A simple slotted spoon works best for removing eggs from the water. Carefully scoop out each egg, one at a time. The slots will allow water to drain off, and will catch any pesky trailing bits of egg white.
Drain Excess Water
A damp, watery egg isn’t going to be very good. Set up some plates covered in paper towels. As your eggs are poached, carefully drop them here to drain. At this point you can remove any wispy tails with the edge of your spoon.
As with most things in life, perfection takes practice. So cut yourself some slack if an egg (or two) breaks in the water. Keep calm and poach on.
How to Poach an Egg, Step by Step
Large eggs, however many you’d like (they don’t keep well, so only make what you’ll eat right away)
Saucepan or skillet with high sides
Small tea cups, bowls, or ramekins
Step 1: Get Your Water Ready
Place 2-3 in. of water in your pan or pot. Turn the heat up; you’re going to bring it to a boil.
Step 2: Get Your Eggs Ready
Break cold eggs, one at a time, into small ramekins or cups. Have them ready near the stove. (If you’re only poaching one egg at a time, you can also crack them as you go. I like to do it all at once so I don’t have to keep washing my hands and dealing with eggshells.)
Step 3: Cook
Your water should be boiling. Turn it down to a gentle simmer. Bubbles should gently float up from the bottom of the pan.
Moment of truth! Hold an egg bowl over the water, as close as you comfortably can. Nice and easy, gently slip the egg into the water. Give it a few seconds to gather itself.
If you’re relatively new to poaching, we suggest going one egg at a time. You’ll learn a lot from your first couple eggs (which may look a little sloppy, but which will probably taste just fine). If you’re more comfortable poaching, slip all the eggs that can fit in the pan, making sure none are touching.
Cook, uncovered, 3-5 minutes or until whites are completely set and yolks begin to thicken but are not hard. Using a slotted spoon, lift eggs out of water. Drain on paper towels.
Make sure to practice poaching! Enjoy your eggs plain on toast, or Benedict, or with a side of seasonal veggies. If you prefer your eggs boiled, learn how to boil eggs the traditional way, or make Instant Pot hard-boiled eggs.