The Food Lab’s Complete Guide to Buying and Storing Eggs

What Is a Poached Egg?

A poached egg is simply a whole egg cooked in simmering water. When you crack an egg into hot water (or—to be on the safe side!—gently slide a cracked egg into water from a ramekin), the proteins in the egg white immediately begin to coagulate, forming a little pouch that holds the rest of egg during cooking.

Although poached eggs can be tricky to get safely into and out of the hot water, poaching eggs is a much easier method for achieving consistently firm whites and runny yolks than frying or soft-boiling (Who knows what’s going on inside that shell?). If you take poached eggs out of the water as soon as their whites turn opaque, you’ll have a perfectly runny egg yolk every time.


Q: I’ve heard that older eggs are better for boiling because they are easier to peel. Is this true? Is there any culinary advantage to using older eggs?

I believed this for the longest time — until I actually tested it with a few cartons of eggs from different sources, comparing them with some eggs I got from my neighbor in Brooklyn’s backyard that were less than a week old. Guess what? Whether the eggs were a week old or two and a half months old, they were just as likely to have shells that stuck to them when peeling. On top of that, with older eggs, the yolks become uncentered, gravitating toward the egg wall, making for unattractive slices.

No matter how you plan on cooking them, fresh eggs are better than old ones.

How to poach eggs using the Whirlpool Method

Use this method if:

DO NOT use this method if your eggs are 1 week+ old (see diagram at top of page to determine age of your eggs). The structure of old eggs is not good enough to withstand this method of cooking. Use the Easy Method.

Firstly, strain and place eggs in the teacup, as d

Firstly, strain and place eggs in the teacup, as described above for the Easy Method. Also bring the water to a boil then lower heat, as described above.

  1. 7 second whirlpool test – Using the handle of a wooden spoon or a dessert spoon, stir the water using a fast motion in a 7 cm / 3″ circle for about 10 seconds so that when you stop stirring, you get a vortex (“V” shape whirlpool in the water) for around 7 seconds before the water surface levels out (although still spinning). If it’s too fast (eg whirlpool lasts for 10 seconds or longer) and the water temperature is a little bit too low, the egg might spin so fast that the yolk separates from the whites! Yep, been there, done that! ?

  2. Drop egg into middle of vortex – use teacup to careful drop an egg into the vortex. Bring the teacup to as close to the water surface as you can, but ensure the lip of the teacup does not touch the water because it will break the spinning motion. Slide the egg in swiftly – if you tip it in too slowly, then the part that’s in the water will start spinning and set before the rest of the egg (this can cause the egg to form in a “comet” shape with the yolk at one end and a white tail at the other end);

  3. Leave to spin – leave the egg alone in the vortex as it slows and eventually stops spinning naturally;

  4. Cook for 1 1/2 minutes to 2 minutes, depending on how you like your eggs. Lift with slotted spoon and poke to check; and

  5. Drain on paper towels or clean tea towel before serving. KEY TIP: Do not leave on paper towel for over 1 minute otherwise it may stick a bit. Move it onto a plate.

The thing about the Whirlpool Method is that you can make poached eggs with the “perfect” poached egg shape – like a football without the pointy ends, like this:

Different Ways of Poaching Eggs

There are a number of different methods you can use to poach eggs. This is what causes some people confusion as different people swear by different methods.

For example, there’s a popular YouTube cooking channel and in one video they tell you that the vortex method is the best method, then another video by the same channel says the vortex method is overrated.

The truth is poaching eggs is simple if you understand the details of what you’re doing.

Over the last two months, I’ve spent a lot of time comparing different methods to poaching eggs. Let’s go through each method so you can get an idea of which method is best for you.

Then I’ll explain how you can poach multiple eggs at the same time for a large number of people (if you want to show off your poached eggs with a group).

Dispelling Poached Egg Myths

  • Adding a little salt and white vinegar to the water will speed up coagulation of the white, but can also make it more stringy. In all, it’s not really necessary.
  • You don’t need special equipment to poach an egg, just a saucepan, but if you're really nervous to try egg poaching, you can nestle an egg poacher or egg cups in a skillet filled with a couple inches of water and get picture-perfect poached eggs.
  • Gently swirling the water before dropping the egg can prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan, but can also create extra agitation, causing the runny white to separate more.

Poached Eggs in Cling Wrap

An interesting method I’ve seen other people use is to place the eggs in cling wrap (aka cling film, plastic wrap, Glad wrap, clear wrap), then use the cling wrap to keep the eggs in shape as they cook.

Start by taking a small cup or bowl and line it with cling wrap:

Make sure you have plenty of excess as shown above

Make sure you have plenty of excess as shown above so you can easily pick up the eggs later on.

The first time I did this the eggs fell apart when trying to remove them from the cling wrap after cooking. To prevent this, you might want to lightly spray the cling wrap with oil before you add the eggs.

Now crack an egg into the bowl:

Extra tip: if you like the idea of an extra-large

Extra tip: if you like the idea of an extra-large poached egg, you can crack two eggs into the one bowl. They will cook together and you’ll end up with a double-yolker!

Carefully pick up the cling wrap so the egg stays together in the center:

Twist the cling wrap just above the egg and push o

Twist the cling wrap just above the egg and push out as much air as possible until you have a fairly tight package as shown below:

Removing the air is important as it will affect th

Removing the air is important as it will affect the way the eggs cook.

Now when you bring the water to the correct temperature, you simply lower the cling wrap package into the water:

With this method, you can easily poach multiple eg

With this method, you can easily poach multiple eggs at the same time. The water will stay 100% clear as the cling wrap holds everything in place.

You’ll gradually notice the eggs turn white and can easily tell when they’re ready to remove based on how firm the package is.

After removing the cooked eggs from the water, you

After removing the cooked eggs from the water, you simply remove the cling wrap to reveal a tightly-packed poached egg:

The shape of the egg looks weird when compared to

The shape of the egg looks weird when compared to other methods as you will see the wrinkles from the cling wrap in the egg.

The shape of the poached egg depends on how tightly you wrap the egg in cling wrap. You can achieve anything from a ball shape like in the above photo to a more traditional poached egg shape.

Verdict: this method is pretty easy as you don’t need to worry about the egg falling apart in the water. The downside is you end up with an oddly shaped egg with weird wrinkles.

7. Drain eggs before serving

There is nothing worse than a watery poached egg p

There is nothing worse than a watery poached egg placed served on toast. Nobody wants poaching water soaking into their bread!!!

So always drain the egg on paper towels or a clean tea towel before serving. Leave it for at least 10 seconds so the residual heat steams the surface dry. After a minute, take them off the paper towel (or they’ll tend to stick!) and move them to a plate.

Alrighty! Easy Method explained, now onto the Classic Whirlpool method – or skip to the recipe, recipe video or Dozer ?!

Q: What about those letter grades on the side of the carton? Are Grade A eggs better than Grade B?

Like sizing, grading of eggs is a voluntary action that most manufacturers choose to comply with in order to get the USDA stamp of approval on their boxes. USDA grading experts examine sample eggs from each batch to determine the grade based on the quality of the whites, yolks, and shells. Eggs with the firmest whites, tallest-standing yolks, and cleanest shells will get an AA stamp, while eggs with watery whites, flat yolks, and stained shells receive a B. Grade A lies in the middle and is what most retail stores carry for consumers. As far as cooking quality goes, a firm white and yolk are important for things like poached eggs and fried eggs where a nice, tight appearance is desired, but in most cooking or baking application, any grade’ll do — it’s a cosmetic difference alone.

Can I Poach 2 Eggs at Once?

Yes! You can poach as many eggs as you want in one work session and store them in cold water in the fridge for up to 48 hours. When you’re ready to use the eggs, fill a bowl with super hot water from the tap (or you can drop them in boiling water for a very, very quick re-heat). Just be careful not to overcook the eggs as you warm them. A slightly room temperature egg with a perfectly runny yolk is better than one that’s overdone.

Strain Out Some of the Thin Egg Whites With a Mesh Strainer

Cracking the egg into a fine mesh sieve first is another useful method. The sieve strains out some of the thinner whites that can make your poached egg look rather ragged.

Do you have a favorite way of making or serving poached eggs? Please let us know about it in the comments!

Before You Ask, Here Are Three Things You Don’t Need to Do To Make Perfect Poached Eggs

Things that are not necessary, and possibly even detrimental to making a terrific poached egg are:

  1. Adding vinegar to the water. No need to do this! It’s possible that it makes the eggs firm up faster, but it’s just not necessary and you run the risk of making your whites tough instead of tender—no one wants that!

  2. Salting the water. Same issue as adding vinegar! In this case, it’s better to wait until the eggs are on the table to add any salt.

  3. The ‘vortex’ method. Some people swear by making a “vortex” in the cooking water by swirling the pan to help the eggs keep an egg-like shape (instead of spreading out into whisps). It does work fine if you’re only cooking one poached egg, but it’s also not something that you need to do and it won’t work if you need to make more than one poached egg at a time.

More Ways to Cook Eggs

Reader Success Stories

  • Reepicheep

Jun 20, 2020

    Reepicheep Jun 20, 2020

    “I’ve been making my poached eggs for a while, but I made them in a pan and then never looked quite right. After using the first method described here, with the whirlpool, my eggs look and taste much better! Thanks!” …” more

More reader stories Hide reader stories Share your story