Eggs are a versatile protein, pairing with a wide variety of flavors and dishes. And there's almost as many methods for cooking and preparing eggs as there are ways to serve them. One popular choice is fried. Fried eggs are cooked in a frying pan and keep the white and yolk intact. They commonly emerge from the pan with runny yolks and set whites, but can be cooked through completely depending on your preference.
Whether you're frying up eggs as a main dish first thing in the morning or preparing one to top a rice bowl or piece of toast, our guide will walk you through the ins and outs of fried eggs.
Best Oil for Frying Eggs
First, you'll want to choose what fat to use to fry the eggs. Since fried eggs tend to be cooked at a relatively low temperature, any cooking fat will do. Butter is a popular choice thanks to the rich flavor it provides, as is olive oil. Bacon fat, ghee, canola oil, grapeseed oil, and peanut oil all work well. Keep in mind that whatever oil you choose will affect the flavor. Go for a neutral oil like vegetable or canola if you'd prefer not to add any flavor at all.
Tools for Frying Eggs
You'll need two major tools when preparing to fry an egg: a skillet and a spatula. Any size skillet will do if you're frying one egg, from eight to ten to 12 inches. Typically, you can squeeze two eggs into an 8-inch skillet and no more. If you're looking to fry more than one or two eggs at a time, size up to ten or 12 inches.
While a nonstick skillet will provide a nice safety net, you can fry eggs in any type of skillet. Nonstick is the first choice since you can use less oil and avoid the bottoms sticking, causing you to puncture the yolk while retrieving the egg from the pan. This includes cast iron, which (if well-seasoned) has a built-in nonstick coating. If you'd like to use a stainless steel or similar pan, use extra fat to ensure that the eggs don't stick.
A super-thin metal spatula works best when frying eggs since it will allow you to wedge underneath the egg without disturbing the delicate yolk or tearing the tender white. A sturdy but thin plastic spatula will work in a pinch.
Fried Egg Basics
Pan-frying is one of the quickest and easiest ways to cook an egg, but these simple tips will help to ensure success:
- Use fresh eggs. While older (but not spoiled) eggs are best for hard or soft boiling, fresh eggs are best for frying. The egg whites stay more compact and intact, so they are less likely to run in the pan and will cook up nice and tidy.
- Break the egg into a bowl. If you're concerned about getting eggshell pieces into your egg or prematurely piercing the yolk, break the egg into a small bowl. If anything goes amiss, then you can carefully extract the piece of shell or, if your yolk bursts, reserve the egg for scrambling or baking and start again.
- Use low heat. Unless you're hoping for super crispy egg whites, it's best to use medium or lower heat. This will allow the egg white to set up completely but not overcook or crisp too much.
- Don't over-crowd the pan. You can fry up to four eggs at once in a large pan, but it's best to allow plenty of room. This will help the eggs cook more evenly and will prevent the egg whites from merging in the pan.
How to Fry an Egg
There are a couple of major techniques for frying an egg. One is basting with oil while the other is the more common lid technique. The basting technique requires more oil since you'll be spooning it over the top of the egg, and tends to yield a firmer, crisper white. The lid technique requires only requires a small amount of oil and yields softer egg whites.
- Basting Technique: Heat a skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium-low heat. Add about two tablespoons of oil. Once hot, gently slide in the egg or eggs. Let cook just until the bottom of the egg begins to look opaque. Use a spoon to scoop up some of the hot oil and drizzle it over the egg whites, avoiding the yolk. Repeat until the egg is done to your liking.
- Lid Method: He a skillet over medium-low heat and add one teaspoon of fat per egg. Once hot, gently slide in the egg. Once the bottom of the egg begins to look opaque, tightly cover with a lid and cook until the whites are set and there is only a very thin translucent ring around the yolk. It will continue to cook for a few seconds after you remove it from the pan.
You can also add a small splash of water to the pan when using the lid method, effectively steaming the eggs. This often adds a thin white film on top of the yolk.
Types of Fried Eggs
If you've ever visited a diner, then you know there are a number of different ways to order fried eggs. If you're confused about what the different names mean and how to make these specific types of fried eggs, here's a quick guide.
Eggs that are cooked sunny-side up have the yolk fully showing on the top. Typically the whites are just cooked through while the yolk is nice and runny. This is what most people think of when they think of a fried egg. You can make a sunny-side up egg using the basting or lid method, but avoid adding water to the pan. This will create a film over the lovely yolk.
Over easy eggs are fried just until the whites are almost set and then carefully flipped. This finishes cooking the whites without cooking the yolk. If you'd like to make your fried eggs over easy, cook them until the whites are opaque but still giggly, with a little transparency just around the yolk. Slide a very thin spatula under the yolk and gently flip. Cook for just a few seconds to set the whites. If you over-cook, your yolk won't be liquid.
Over medium eggs are made the exact same way as over easy eggs, they're simply cooked a little longer after the flip. This means the yolk will be about halfway cooked; partially set up but still creamy and not completely opaque. Check your egg often, gingerly lifting it with a spatula, and take it out of the pan as soon as it reaches your desired doneness.
Over hard eggs are fried, flipped, and then cooked until the egg yolks is completely cooked through, or "hard." You will still want to check your egg often to make sure you don't overcook it—otherwise, you'll end up with rubbery egg whites. As soon as the yolk is cooked, remove it from the pan and enjoy.
The crispy edges on fried eggs can be divisive, with some insisting eggs should never be crispy. If you're a fan of a little crunch on your egg whites, simply crank up the heat. The basting method works especially well since it uses more oil. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil to the pan and heat over medium-high heat. Once hot but not smoking, add the egg. As soon as the bottom of the whites have set up, begin to spoon over the oil. The higher heat and excess oil will form crisp edges before the yolk cooks.
In addition to enjoying fried eggs simply topped with a little salt and pepper and maybe a side of toast, try using them to top the following dishes: