By Leslie Kelly

Frying eggs is one of those seemingly straightforward techniques every cook needs to have in their back pocket, but, for many, it's all broken yolks and slimy whites. (Which sounds kind of like a country song, doesn't it?) Here are a few rules to follow to help nail that perfect fried egg, whether you like 'em sunny side up or over firm.

Photo via Meredith Publishing

Anatomy of an Egg

Let's take a minute to marvel at this amazing food, a protein powerhouse that goes from raw to cooked in minutes. One of the reasons many cooks find eggs a challenge to fry is that there are two separate types of protein in this handy little package. The lean whites cook more quickly than the creamy yolks. Overcook and end up with rubbery whites. Under-cooked are slimy. To hit the sweet spot, a two-pronged approach is needed. Actually, there are several two-pronged approaches that work well. But first...

Let's Get Cracking

Ever had bits of shell fall into your egg? Well, then you're probably smacking the shell on the rim of the pan. Instead, try tapping it firmly on a flat surface, say, the counter. Separate the two halves of the broken shell as close to the cooking surface as possible to prevent the yolk from breaking. If that happens, you've got the makings of scrambled eggs. But that's another story. If you want to play it ultra-safe and take broken shells out of the equation, crack the egg into a small dish and gently transfer the egg to the hot pan.

Sunny Side Up

  1. Heat a non-stick or a cast iron skillet to around 250 degrees -- don't you love those instant-read thermometers? -- or until the cooking oil starts to shimmer. (If you're winging it, just use medium-high heat.) If you're using butter, wait until it stops sizzling, but before it starts to turn brown.
  2. Add the egg.
  3. Wait until the white begins to set, and then use a fork to gently break up the white closest to the yolk, being careful not to pop the yolk. By doing this, you're pulling the layer of white that surrounds the yolk out towards the edge. This smooth move is used by diner cooks and chefs to even the white out in terms of thickness. It also means the egg won't have that gooey slime that turns so many people off this way of eating eggs.
  4. No need to flip; serve the egg when cooked so that whites are uniformly white (no longer clear).

Over Easy

    1. Follow steps 1-2 above.
    2. As soon as the whites have become slightly firm and the yolk begins to set up, use a large spatula to flip it, turning the egg gently, so the yolk doesn't break.
    3. Cook for another minute and serve with the flipped side up. Season with salt and pepper at the end for the prettiest presentation.

Note: You can avoid flipping the egg by instead basting it with the cooking oil or butter. Another approach involves adding a teaspoon of water to the pan and covering it with a lid until the top of the eggs is cooked, peeking in every 30 seconds to ensure it's not overcooked.

Over Firm, aka Over Hard

Some prefer eggs hard cooked, so the yolks are cooked through completely. Follow the same steps for over easy, but reduce the heat to medium low and continue to cook for two minutes. Reducing the heat at the end will make for a eggs with a creamier texture.

In the Microwave

Purists would scoff at the notion of "frying" in the microwave, yet it is possible to achieve an egg that has a similar appearance as a traditional fried egg. This method is really more like poaching and enjoys the advantage of going from shell to table in about a minute:

  1. Place 1 tablespoon water in a microwave safe bowl or plate.
  2. Crack 1 egg and place on top of the water.
  3. Pierce the yolk with a toothpick.
  4. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap.
  5. Microwave on high for 30 seconds and check to see if it's done. Cook in 10 second increments until it reaches the desired consistency. (Cooking times will vary, depending on the power of the appliance.)

The Next Level: The Ultimate Crispy Egg

This method is genius if you're a fan of all things crisp (though you might have second thoughts after doing the clean up!).

Heat a cast iron skillet on high until it starts to smoke, then add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Put the egg into the pan and stand back. There's likely to be some splattering involved as the whites puff up dramatically in a matter of seconds, the outsides turning dark gold. This technique is so quick you'll want to have everything plated and diners seated before starting. From the crack of the shell to serving time is about 90 seconds.

Photo by Leslie Kelly

More eggscellent advice:

Watch this quick video that shows how to fry an egg!