How to Poach a Perfect Egg

The Cook's Illustrated Technique

If you're like me and l-i-v-e for a perfectly poached egg, you will also, like me, have tried all those egg-poaching shenanigans because honestly, you'd do almost anything, wouldn't you? just to figure out how to cook poached eggs to perfection, turning out firm whites and runny yolks each and every time.

Tap your Dorothy heels twice while whistling for Toto? It doesn't work. Neither does Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200. All those crazy egg-poaching techniques, they just don't work, never have, never will. But now? Leave it to Cook's Illustrated to crack the code for perfect poached eggs.

How to Perfectly Poach an Egg ♥, the Cook's Illustrated technique. So easy, you'll never forget!

Easy Techniques for Perfect Poached Eggs. Real Food, Fresh & Fast. Mere Minutes to the Table. Year-Round Kitchen Staple. Budget Friendly. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special. Naturally Gluten Free.


A Good Technique: It's Worth Learning

On My Mind ♥ A red lipstick next to a red purse, symbolizing my mother's idea of good investments.

My mother’s Greatest-Generation mindset was that a good purse and a good lipstick were solid investments. In her world, that meant one good handbag and one perfect lipstick, not closets- or vanities-full. “When you use something every day,” she’d counsel, “spend more. It’s worth it.”

My culinary mindset says that for dishes we make every day, it pays to invest in technique.

Since learning how to perfectly poach eggs, I’ve poached a couple of dozen eggs, all but two turned out exactly right. (A possible explanation for those? They might have been a little old.)

Where my mother and I part?

I want a recipe-boxful of good ways to cook eggs, not just one.

So add perfectly poached eggs to the many easy ways to cook eggs in my repertoire.

Easy Egg Recipes ♥, an inspiring collection with how-to's and recipes

What Is a "Poached" Egg?

How do you cook a "fried" egg? Duh. For "sunny side up" fried eggs, crack an egg or two into a skillet with a shimmer of hot fat, sprinkle the tops with a little salt and pepper, then leave alone until the whites cook and the yolks reach however runny or hard you like 'em. For "over easy" fried eggs, once the whites cook, gently flip the eggs to directly cook both sides, leaving the yolks still quite soft.

How do you cook eggs right in the shell? I have two methods, see Perfect Hard-Cooked Eggs though in the last while, I'm smitten with even-simpler Steamed Eggs especially because it's so easy to cook both soft-cook and hard-cook eggs at the same time, one or two soft for breakfast on the spot, saving the rest for high-protein snacks and meal prep for later.

ABOUT POACHING But poaching. Hmmm, what, exactly, is a poached egg?

First, what is the cooking technique called poaching?

  • Poaching uses no no oil, saving calories.
  • Poaching is a lot like boiling, that is, cooking a food in a boiling liquid.

But there's nuance here: poaching is slightly different from boiling.

  • Poaching is a gentler cooking method than boiling.
  • The liquid is kept at a lower temperature, a bare simmer, so the food cooks more slowly and more gently.

ABOUT POACHING EGGS So that means that ...

  • Poached eggs are cracked into a hot liquid, usually salted water, to gently cook for a few minutes.
  • Once cooked, a poached egg turns out like a misshapen blob, the yolk hidden inside.
  • Poached eggs can have yolks that are runny or hard-cooked or anywhere in between. But honestly? My aim is always-always for a runny poached egg, creating a "creamy sauce".
  • With any luck, the whites collect themselves in nice neat packages around the yolks.

But that's the issue with poached eggs. The whites don't always cooperate!

Enter Cook's Illustrated ... and a splash of vinegar.

How to Poach Eggs Using Cook's Illustrated's Tips

These tips really work, whether cooking a couple of poached eggs.

  • CHOOSE THE RIGHT PAN Perfectly poach eggs in a skillet, not a saucepan. In the shallow pan, the eggs move around less and are less likely to break apart.
  • SALT & VINEGAR Perfectly poach eggs in water that includes salt, which flavors the eggs, and vinegar, which holds the whites together.
  • EASY DOES IT For perfectly poached eggs, gently slip the eggs into the water, don’t directly crack them from the shell.
  • NIX THE BOILING WATER! Perfectly poach eggs off-heat in hot water, not boiling water. First bring the water to a boil, then turn off the heat. Perhaps it’s our cold Midwestern winter climate but I’ve also found it necessary to hold that heat in with a lid.
  • CLOCKWORK For perfectly poached eggs, watch the clock. To my taste, that’s five minutes, exactly. To my sister, who’s a Nervous Nelly about soft egg whites, that’s likely closer to seven minutes.

When to Poach Eggs

EGGS BENDICT! The most common use for poached eggs is for Eggs Benedict, that's the brunch classic where you top a toasted English muffin half with Canadian bacon and a poached egg, then drape it with a classic buttery sauce called "hollandaise" (here's how to make hollandaise in a blender. So good!

AND BEYOND But me, I love-love-love a poached egg over morning oatmeal, as a quick lunch over salad greens or as a budget-friendly protein for a big dinner salad with greens, grains and other vegetables.

BETTER IN SMALL BATCHES Poached eggs are perfect for when you're cooking for one or two or a small family. If you have a bunch of teenage-boy style big eaters who're going to scarf down three or four eggs? Frankly, poached eggs aren't the best choice: my personal limit is four or maybe five poached eggs per skillet.

Poached eggs are served right away while they're hot and soft.

POACHED EGGS FOR A CROWD? That said, we have good friends who cook poached eggs for a large group every year. They pre-poach the eggs, then gently rewarm the eggs using sous vide just before serving. Sorry, I'm not an expert here but share the idea in case it's inspiring for others to figure out the details.

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How do you save and share favorite recipes? recipes that fit your personal cooking style? a particular recipe your mom or daughter or best friend would just love? If this recipe-that's-really-technique hits the mark, go ahead, save and share! I'd be honored ...

How to Poach a Perfect Egg ♥, the Cook's Illustrated technique. So easy, you'll never forget!


Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Time to table: 10 minutes
Makes 4 poached eggs
  • Water
  • Kosher salt or sea salt for the water
  • White vinegar
  • 4 large eggs
  • Salt & pepper for the eggs

Fill a shallow skillet with about 1-1/2 inches of water, an 8-inch skillet works for two eggs, a 12-inch works for four eggs. Add salt (about 1/2 tablespoon) and vinegar (a big splash, about a tablespoon). Bring the water to a hard boil, a good ‘n’ bubbly boil.

While the water comes to a boil, crack the eggs into small bowls (I use small ramekins), one per egg or one per person if you don't mind a couple of eggs poaching together. Dig out a slotted spoon, preferably one only slightly larger than an egg. Place a single layer of paper towel over a plate. Keep all these nearby.

Once the water boils, work quickly:

  • Turn off the heat but leave the skillet on the element.
  • Two at a time, one in each hand, tip the small bowls into the water, gently slipping the eggs into the skillet. Keep the eggs separate, as far apart as you can.
  • Cover the skillet with a lid.
  • Set the timer for 5 minutes for runny yolks or 6 - 7 minutes for firm yolks.
  • That's it!

Except ... now walk away, whatever it takes to stop looking under the lid and letting the heat escape! It’s that residual heat that is needed to perfectly poach the eggs. Get the paper, make toast, cut up some fruit, pour some coffee: whatever it takes.

After five to seven minutes, gently lift each egg out of the water with the slotted spoon and gently rest the egg on the paper towel for a few seconds, this removes that last bit of water which makes for watery poached eggs. Gently lift each egg off the paper towel and onto a plate or into a bowl of soup. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.

Savor and enjoy! For wholesome, homey comfort food, there’s nothing quite like a perfectly poached egg.

FOR MORE INFO If you "skipped straight to the recipe," please scroll back to the top of this page for ingredient information, ingredient substitutions, tips and more. If you print this recipe, you'll want to check the recipe online for even more tips and extra information about ingredient substitutions, best results and more. See .
NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Large Egg: 71 Calories; 4g Tot Fat; 2g Sat Fat; 211mg Cholesterol; 70mg Sodium; 0g Carb; 0g Fiber; 0g Sugar; 6g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS Old Points 2 & PointsPlus 2 & SmartPoints & Freestyle 0 & myWW green 2 & blue 0 & purple 0 & future WW points
For more life-changing culinary techniques, find a copy of The Science of Good Cooking by Cook’s Illustrated. The book is on my Amazon wishlist but I heard Jack Bishop's from Cook's Illustrated interview on The Splendid Table awhile back and made my first perfect poached eggs the very next morning!

More Easy, Healthy Egg Recipes

~ egg recipes ~

Easy Egg Recipes ♥, an inspiring collection with how-to's and recipes
Simple Egg Salad ♥, classic with a twist, perfect for make-ahead sandwiches.

Homemade Egg McMuffin ♥, the egg is cooked in the microwave, creating a tender, tasty round just the right size to tuck into an English Muffin with cheese and Canadian bacon.

Shakshuka (Eggs Nested in Summer Vegetables) ♥, a traditional North African and Israeli dish, just peppers and tomatoes slowly simmered, then 'nested' to cook whole eggs.

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail, you'll find my current address in the FAQs. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, for more scratch cooking recipes using whole, healthful ingredients, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. I mini-farm sat for friends for a couple of weeks over the New Year's break (summer holidays here in NZ); their hens each produced an egg everyday. A friend came from Japan to stay for a week during that time and with all the fresh eggs she was keen to learn how to prepare poached eggs, as she likes eggs benedict. The method I use is just as you have shared here, and my friend was really pleased how easy it was for her to do too. With such fresh eggs I found I had to put more water in the pan than usuaI, because the eggs sat up so much higher than the ones I buy. I also use a lid to help retain the heat.

  2. Robyn ~ What a world this is! I write something in the middle of the United States, in minutes you read it in New Zealand where you've just been visited by a friend from Japan! And we all like our poached eggs ...

    PS Great tip about more water for farm-fresh eggs, thanks!

  3. I'm so glad to start the day with yolk porn.

    Would you mind if I link to this for my Green Eggs and Ham post coming out in time for Dr Seuss' birthday? I fried the eggs for my eggs Benedict (the green part refers to adding CSA farm share spinach to the Hollandaise) because I like fried eggs and have yet to master the perfectly poached technique. But I've got 4 teeny ramekins, a 12 inch skillet, and a lid that fits over it, so I'm game to try.

    I'd have to set the timer for 6 minutes though. Just because it's in the middle.

  4. They've gotta be fresh eggs. Old eggs are great for cooking hard-boiled and easy shucking. New eggs hold together and don’t spread out. Method sounds good, I like the vinegar. Helps a lot.

  5. Charlie1/25/2013

    We have poached eggs a couple of times a week. We like them on toast, French peasant bread from Breadsmith. I mostly do what your recipe calls for, but I haven't put salt into the water. I'll try that, though. And I haven't been turning off the heat, covering the pan, or timing them. I use a non-stick skillet, and watch the eggs cook.


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna