How to Soft Boil an Egg

With No Muss, No Fuss, and No Exploding Eggs

Perfect soft-boiled egg served in an egg cup

malcolm park / Getty Images 

A soft-boiled egg is an egg that's cooked in its shell, by immersing it in simmering water, until the white is set but still soft, and the yolk is still liquid. 

Cooking time for a soft-boiled egg is 3 to 4 minutes, and indeed many aficionados specify their desired doneness by referring to a "3-minute egg" or "4-minute egg." With the former, there may be a slight amount of unset white around the yolk, but with the latter, the white is fully set.

How to Cook a Soft-Boiled Egg

To cook soft boiled eggs, you'll need a pot of water, a slotted spoon, and a colander

Technique A:

  1. Bring your water to a boil.
  2. Gently place the eggs in the water, and when the water comes back to a boil, lower it to a simmer.
  3. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Then remove with a slotted spoon, transfer to the colander, cool under cold running water to stop the cooking, and serve warm.

Technique B:

  1. Place the eggs in your empty pot and cover with cold water.
  2. Bring it to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Remove and drain as described above.

Note that these cooking times assume that the eggs are at room temperature when they go into the water. If you cook your eggs straight from the fridge, you're going to need to cook them for more time:

  • 5 to 7 minutes using Technique A
  • or 3 to 5 minutes using Technique B

To get your eggs to room temperature, either let them sit on the counter for an hour, or immerse them in warm water for 5 minutes.

Soft Boiled Eggs and Salmonella

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause food poisoning, and it's present in poultry and eggs, among other things. While it's easily killed through normal cooking, a soft-boiled egg is considered "undercooked," which means there's a risk, albeit a very small one, of developing a foodborne illness from eating it.

How small? Per-capita shell egg consumption in the United States is around 178 eggs per year, and the CDC estimates that 1 in 20,000 eggs is infected with salmonella. Thus, the average person can be expected to encounter a contaminated egg once every 112 years.

With that said, to be extremely safe, avoid uncooked and partially cooked eggs. This goes particularly for children under 5, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone with a compromised immune system.

Or to be 100 percent safe, use pasteurized eggs for your soft-boiled eggs (or any other egg preparations that produce a liquid yolk, like poached, over-easy or sunny-side up eggs).

Soft-Boiled Eggs in the Microwave?

The microwave is a wonderful tool. You can even cook a decent poached egg in one. But the microwave is not a good tool for cooking soft-boiled eggs, because microwaving whole eggs can make them explode.

And they don't just explode in the microwave, as if that weren't bad enough. No, whole eggs cooked in the microwave explode when you try to crack them, which means they'll explode right in your face.

What happens is, the microwave creates a pocket of superheated liquid in the center of the egg, which remains stable while the shell is intact.

But once the shell is breached, the pressure is explosively released, shooting globules of superheated egg and fragments of shell into your face at ballistic speeds. This will definitely burn you, and if you're particularly unfortunate, could permanently blind you.

So, don't do that.

Especially since the technique is no easier or faster than doing it on the stovetop, owing to the fact that you have to boil water anyway, and you have to wait at least 5 minutes to let the microwaved egg cool before cracking it (or else it might explode).

Peeling Soft-Boiled Eggs

With soft-boiled eggs, it's not so much a matter of peeling them, as with a hard-boiled egg. That's because with a soft-boiled egg, its yolk isn't merely soft, it's still liquid; and the white itself, while nonliquid, is still very soft.

Thus, attempting to peel a soft-boiled egg will yield only a handful of shapeless, runny egg.

Instead, soft-boiled eggs are served by slicing off the top of the shell and then scooping out the scrumptious, silky-smooth egg within, or simply dipping your toast triangles into it.

It's helpful to use an egg cup, which holds the egg upright while you do the slicing and eating. Anyone who loves soft-boiled eggs probably already owns their own egg cup, but if you want to try a soft-boiled egg and you don't have an egg cup, you can always use a shot glass.