What’s the secret to making hard-boiled eggs that stand out from the pack? It’s all about time and temperature. But even though it seems like cooking an egg should be easy, there is a lot of conflicting information out there about what will make your boiled eggs turn out perfectly every time.
They say that if you don’t use older eggs (which have thinner shells and therefore tend to peel more easily), cooking them for a shorter time will yield the best results. But they also say that older eggs are easier to peel, so what is the solution? Can you boil new and old eggs together, so you get the best of both worlds?
Probably not. If we’re going to determine what method produces the easiest-peeling hard-boiled eggs, we’ll have to do a lot of testing. One that I found worked well is pressure cooker hard-boiled eggs.
For this experiment, I tried six different variations of hard-boiled egg cooking: new eggs, old eggs, cold start, cold start with an ice water bath, short cooking time, and long cooking time. The first four are pretty self-explanatory. “Cold start” means letting the eggs cook in cool water (starting at room temperature), and “short cooking time,” of course, refers to cooking them for a shorter amount of time.
I’ve heard that those methods produce easier-to-peel eggs, but I wanted to determine if they were true under controlled circumstances. I also wondered if chilling the cooked eggs in an ice bath made them easier to peel. A quick search of the web yielded hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes that claimed to know how to make hard-boiled eggs with easy-to-peel shells—and most of them mentioned at least one of these four things.
I also wondered about cooking time. If you cook older eggs for a long time, will they be easier to peel? I’ve had this problem at restaurants and on the occasional try at home: I hard-boiled some fresh eggs and left them in their shells before peeling them for a day or two. When I finally got around to eating one of those delicacies, it had turned smelly and oxidized, rendering it impossible to peel. I realized that the eggs in this experiment would probably never make it past 24 hours after cooking if I wanted to eat them for my lunch!
The real question is whether you can cook a batch of hard-boiled eggs that are easier to peel straight out of the shell.
The most important thing to look for when you want to boil eggs that are easy to peel is a starting temperature of cold water. When the eggs are added to cool or room-temperature water and brought up to a boil, a chilly start produces eggs with shells that slide off more easily than those cooked using other methods. An ice bath for cooling the eggs after cooking makes them harder to peel.
The other factor that affects your chances of having easy-to-peel boiled eggs is cooking time: The longer you cook the eggs, the harder it is to get the shells off. If you’re looking for very soft-boiled eggs (often used in egg salad), definitely go for a short cooking time. A little less boiling gives you the results you’re looking for.
In this experiment, I tested each of these factors to see if any combination would produce eggs that were easy to peel right out of the shell without sticking or tearing apart.
A few words about boiling eggs: Eggs cooked for longer than about 15 minutes will become more and more difficult to peel—but not impossible.