It seems like it should be easy to make a fried egg. And yet, the only thing that’s easy about it is how easy it is to screw up.
In my kitchen, the edges of the white are more likely to burn than turn frilly and crisp. And the yolk? If I manage not to break it, don’t worry: I’ll almost certainly overcook it.
Still, I was determined to get this breakfast (and lunch and dinner… ) staple right. So I enlisted the help of James Briscione, director of culinary research at the Institute of Culinary Education. He gave me the rundown on where I was going wrong, and what I should be doing instead.
And his tips were spot on. Here’s what he told me—and the steps that I now follow to make the perfect fried egg every time.
How to Fry an Egg
1. Start with the right pan.
Don’t worry, you don’t need anything fancy. A simple nonstick or cast-iron skillet will both get the job done, Briscione says.
Just make sure it’s the right size. Previously, I was using a standard 10-inch skillet to make one or two eggs. But having too much empty surface area will cause the pan to get too hot—and ups the risk that your egg overcooks or burns. “The egg or eggs should take up at least 1/3 of the pan,” Briscione says. For a single egg, a 5-inch pan is perfect. For two, an 8-inch pan works.
2. Don’t fear the fat.
Even with a nonstick or well-seasoned pan, you’ll still need some extra fat. (This is a fried egg, after all.) Rather than rely on a measuring spoon, Briscione recommends eyeballing the right amount. “You don’t need a certain amount per egg,” he says. “It should be based on whether it’s enough fat to coat the bottom of the pan in a thin layer.”
As for what kind? Oil or clarified butter are the best lipids for the job. Since you’ll be frying in a very hot pan, the higher smoke point means they’ll be less likely to burn than regular butter.
3. Use this dead simple egg-cracking tip.
The thing that killed my breakfast vibes most often was a broken yolk. To avoid them, I started cracking eggs against a flat surface instead of on the corner of my pan, which minimizes the chance of the yolk getting punctured. (It’ll also keep shell fragments from getting into your egg.)
I also started cracking eggs into a small bowl or ramekin before gently pouring them into the pan, as per Briscione’s recommendation. That way, if the yolk does break, you can just toss it out (or save it for another use) and start over.
4. Cook it to perfection.
Getting this part right is actually easier than you think. For a crispy, frilly white and a runny yolk, warm your oil or clarified butter over high heat until it starts to shimmer. Then pour in your egg and lower the heat to medium right away. You’ll know you’re maintaining the proper heat if the egg is bubbling and sizzling the entire time, Briscione says. If that’s not happening, crank up the heat. And if the pan starts to smoke, turn the heat down.
Now let the egg do its thing. Resist the urge to shake the pan, which will cause the egg white to spread out and burn (or worse, break the yolk... gasp!). Instead, use a small spoon to baste the egg white with the oil or butter, taking care not to pour any fat over the yolk. (That’ll make it overcook.) If you’re having trouble collecting fat in the spoon, gently tilt the pan so the fat pools to one side.
After two to three minutes, the egg should be done. The yolk should still look runny, but the white should be fully set and no longer translucent.
Gently slide a thin spatula under the egg, scoop it up, and transfer it to your plate or bowl. Then eat it ASAP. That perfectly gooey yolk and crispy white won’t stay perfect for long, so don’t let it sit around.