Essential Tools for Cooking Eggs

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

This week, we launched our Definitive Guide to Eggs, a collection of our most critical knowledge about egg cookery. That includes what common egg-packaging labels like "All Natural" and "Farm-Fresh" really mean (spoiler alert—those two mean exactly nothing). It tells you what to look for when egg shopping, and why a few feathers on a farmers-market specimen are nothing to worry about; what the differences are between grades AA, A, and B; and what you can expect from the various sizes of eggs on the market (yes, "peewee"-sized eggs are a real thing, though rare). And, of course, we've got an abundance of cooking techniques and recipes, however you happen to like your eggs—poached, fried, scrambled, in a fancy-pants French omelette or a firm and well-browned American one.

Once you're fully versed, it's time to get...crackin'. But which tools do you need to get the job done? Becoming an egg master doesn't require any fancy gadgets, but each cooking method does call for a couple of basics that you won't want to be without. Here are the essentials.

For Boiling (and Steaming) Eggs

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[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Whether you prefer a soft-boiled egg with a runny yolk (preferably served in a cute egg cup) or a hard-boiled egg to eat on the go, we have the cooking and shelling techniques you need to ensure easy peeling and perfect texture. For boiled eggs, you'll want a lidded saucier pan with sloping sides, and a slotted spoon to carefully fish those eggs out of the water.

A better alternative to boiling eggs is steaming them, for which you'll need a steamer basket. Steaming cooks the eggs more evenly and gently and reduces the risk of cracking, since you don't need to lower the eggs into the water and they're prevented from jostling each other in the pot.

For Scrambling Eggs

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Making scrambled eggs correctly requires stirring them quickly and consistently over the right level of heat: very low if you want your eggs soft and spoonable; low if you like them a bit firmer, but still moist and creamy; and medium-high or high if you prefer them delightfully fluffy.

You'll need just two essential tools for soft-scrambled and fluffy scrambled eggs. First and most important is a nonstick skillet in mint condition, with no scratches or flaws—to produce the right consistency in your eggs with no sticking, nothing beats a nonstick surface. (Because they only function well when they're flawless, we recommend buying cheap nonstick pans and replacing them as necessary.) The second item you'll need is a spatula, specifically a nonstick one. We love these simple silicone spatulas: Their slippery material won't damage the coating on your pan as they coax your eggs into beautiful curds.

For fancy French scrambled eggs with a spoonable consistency, you'll want that slope-sided saucepan again, as well as a whisk. The whisk helps break up the scrambled egg curds as soon as they form, and the curved sides of the pan ensure that there's nowhere for pockets of curd to hide.

For Frying Eggs

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[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

There are quite a few variations on the humble fried egg: an egg with extra-crispy whites, a sunny-side up golden yolk, or a delicately flipped over-easy egg. Fried eggs necessitate either a nonstick pan or a nicely seasoned cast iron pan. (The latter is useful if you like your whites crispy and a bit browned.) If your cast iron skillet hasn't developed its seasoning yet, skip it: A stuck egg means you'll end up pushing and prodding it, and that means a broken yolk, which means a disappointing breakfast.

If you're using the nonstick pan, we also suggest using a nonstick turner-style spatula like this one: The sharp edge on its silicone-coated steel flipper makes it your best bet for getting underneath that egg and flipping it without destroying the yolk. For the cast iron pan, you'll want to use a flexible slotted turner.

For Making Omelettes

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Achieving the pale-gold, silky exterior and moist, lightly scrambled interior of a classic French omelette requires a little know-how and some practice. But don't discount the importance of your equipment: Once again, you'll need an unscratched nonstick skillet (or, if you're so inclined, you can opt for a well-seasoned carbon steel pan) that allows you to easily manipulate the eggs and form the omelette as it cooks, as well as a disposable plastic fork for stirring. (If you want to crank out French omelettes on the regular, you can also pick up a more durable nylon fork for the same purpose.) And, once you plate your creation, if the shape isn't quite to your liking, you can always use a clean kitchen towel to finagle the omelette into something more professional-looking. Your guests will be none the wiser.

If you prefer a big, fluffy, overstuffed American-style omelette, like this one filled with asparagus, bacon, and gooey Gruyère, you don't need much more than the aforementioned skillet and a silicone spatula. And a healthy appetite, of course.

For Poaching Eggs

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[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Poaching eggs can be an intimidating proposition. The goal is to get those perfectly shaped, just-set whites to tightly hug a still-soft yolk; too often, what many cooks end up with is a pot of boiling water-and-egg soup. As with a French omelette, all you really need to succeed here is good technique and the appropriate tools, the most important of which is a fine-mesh strainer. Simply heat a sufficiently large pot of water to about 180°F (82°C)—an instant-read thermometer is pretty helpful for making sure the temperature is just right—and crack an egg into a strainer set over a small bowl. Agitate the strainer slightly so the proteins come together and the wispy whites drain away, then carefully lower the egg into the water. Swirl the water, lift out the eggs with a slotted spoon, and eggs Benedict at home is just a few minutes away.

For Sous Vide Eggs

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Though it's a bit time-consuming, the most precise way to make soft-cooked or poached eggs is by using an immersion circulator for sous vide cooking. Armed with a precision cooker, you can accurately cook your eggs so that they're exactly as done as you like. It's an especially useful technique when you're cooking for a crowd—in contrast with using a skillet, you can toss as many eggs as you want into a Cambro container before setting the circulator to the desired temperature. Just be sure to toss them in gently—they are eggs, after all.