For the best jammy eggs, our expert recommends steaming.
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how to cook a soft boiled egg

The perfect soft-boiled egg should have a jammy, slightly runny yolk and a just-set white. Get this right and you're ready to serve favorites like ramen, protein-packed grain bowls, and even something as simple as a soft-boiled egg and with toast fingers. But what's the best way to cook soft-boiled eggs? The process is not unlike making hard-boiled eggs, so let's crack into it.

What Eggs Should You Use?

When you make hard-boiled eggs, you'll want to use old eggs (aka eggs that were laid at least two weeks ago), since they'll be easier to peel. However, fresh eggs are best for cooking soft-boiled eggs.

"A sunny-side up egg or a soft-boiled egg should be made with really fresh pasteurized eggs because bacteria will not have had time to grow," says Rosemary Trout, the program director and assistant clinical professor of Culinary Arts & Food Science at Drexel University. Plus, there's an aesthetic bonus: "The fresher the egg, the better looking it is when you crack it open," adds Trout. You'll see a super yellow yolk and a bright egg white that is ready to be smeared over buttered toast or scooped out of its shell with a spoon.

How to Cook Soft-Boiled Eggs

There are two common methods for cooking soft-boiled eggs: boiling or steaming, the former of which is the more popular method and the one that probably comes to mind first.

To cook large eggs:

  1. Place them in a single layer in a medium pot and fill with cold water, covering the eggs by about an inch. Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
  2. As soon as the water comes to a rapid boil, turn off the heat completely and cover the pan with a lid. Set a timer for four to five minutes.
  3. Once the eggs are cooked, use a slotted spoon to carefully remove them from the water and transfer to an ice bath for 30 seconds to stop the cooking (This will also make them easier to handle). Use the slotted spoon to remove them from the water and serve warm.

"Soft-boiled eggs are harder to peel than hard-boiled, so they're usually served in egg cups. That way, you can just knock the top of the shell off and eat the egg from there," says Lisa Steele, a fifth-generation chicken keeper and author of The Fresh Eggs Daily Cookbook.

How Long to Boil Eggs

How long to boil your eggs depends on how runny you like the yolk to be. Here is a general guideline for boiling soft-boiled eggs:

  • Medium eggs: 3 to 4 1/2 minutes
  • Large eggs: 4 to 5 minutes
  • Jumbo eggs: 4 1/2 to 6 minutes

Try Steaming Soft-Boiled Eggs Instead

Steele insists on steaming eggs, rather than boiling them. It's foolproof and much gentler than boiling, she says. Plus, it makes them so much easier to peel—an added bonus if you're serving peeled soft-boiled eggs with ramen or salads. 

  1. To steam soft-boiled eggs, set a colander or bamboo steamer over simmering water.
  2. Once the steam comes up through the steamer basket, add the eggs and set a timer for 4 to 6 minutes for a super runny yolk, or 6 to 8 minutes for a partially cooked, jammy yolk.
  3. Remove the eggs to an ice bath for 30 seconds if serving in the shells or until cool enough to peel if serving peeled.

Risks of Consuming Soft-Boiled Eggs

Like any animal-derived protein, there is some risk associated with consuming undercooked eggs. "From a food safety perspective, the recommendation is to not consume eggs under 165 degrees Fahrenheit, unless you're using pasteurized eggs, which lowers the microbial risk," says Trout. Soft-boiled eggs are usually between 140 degrees and 150 degrees, which means that any lingering pathogenic bacteria may not fully cook off.

The best way to avoid consuming foodborne pathogens is to consume the freshest eggs possible. If you're purchasing eggs at the grocery store, check the carton carefully. "Ignore the sell-by or use-by date; those dates are pretty arbitrary. Instead, you want to look for a three-digit code on the end of the carton, probably near the sell-by or best-buy date. The number goes from 001 to 365, which indicates the day of the year that the eggs were put in the carton," says Steele. Choose the carton with the highest number, as that will contain the freshest eggs.

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