There are few more irritating moments in the kitchen for me than when a boiled egg doesn’t peel properly. You know what I’m talking about: The shell pulls off bits of egg along with it and what you end up with is a pocked and torn tidbit, a destroyed soldier in need of serious furlough.

This is especially so if you’re making deviled eggs; chop them up and who really cares how destroyed they got in the peeling, other than that the process drove you a little mad. But if your goal is a lovely platter of perhaps Easter brunch devilers, suddenly your Lenten discipline to stop uttering expletives in the kitchen goes out the window.

The goal for the clean peeling of eggs is to get the membrane under the shell to separate from the cooked egg white. Here’s the deal: there are all kinds of approaches to this imperfect process. I find that most often these tips work. And sometimes they don’t. So if you have a foolproof, failsafe way to boil and peel eggs clean, by all means let’s hear it.

1. Use old eggs. Please. It’s an old practice, and for me, one that’s meaningful. In other words, buy your eggs now for Easter. I had some week-old eggs that I tested against some three week old eggs. The latter were markedly cleaner to peel. The difference between today’s eggs and last week’s doesn’t seem to matter as much.

2. To boil the eggs, place them in a single layer in your pan and cover them by about an inch of cool water. Starting with hot water can crack the eggs. If your eggs are on the fresher side, add a teaspoon of baking soda, which is meant to increase the Ph of the egg and encourage the membrane to separate more easily when peeling. Bring the water to a boil, then remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for 16 minutes (time those minutes from this point, not from when you first put the eggs on to boil, and be careful not to overcook them). This amount of time produces a bright yellow, hard-cooked yolk for a large egg. Cool the eggs immediately by running cold water over them in the pot until they are cool to touch. You can crack the eggs immediately or keep them in the refrigerator (dry, not in water) until you’re ready to use them.

3. Crack the eggs one of two ways: drain the water and put the lid back on the pot, shaking the pot gently from side to side to crack the eggs. Or, take out one egg at a time and crack it at both ends, then gently roll the egg on the counter under the palm of your hand to crack the shell entirely.

4. Peel the egg under cool running water to encourage the separation of the membrane. Start peeling from the large end of the egg where there is a natural indentation, a good place to get under the membrane.

5. If the eggs are not peeling easily, take a little furlough yourself by refrigerating them (dry) for as much time as you have before they’re needed, and try again.

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15 Responses to "Technique: Hard boiled eggs, and how to peel them clean"
  1. Thanks for some up-dated info...lots of eggs to color this year...any hints for coloring eggs?! says:

    We love Easter at our house and coloring eggs is a special treat for all of us…how do you celebrate at Easter?
    Elizabeth

    • Roger Toomey says:

      There is a tradition in which the Passion Story is told with colored eggs. The RED eggs are the symbol of the blood of Christ as he was on the cross. BLACK (or dark colored) eggs are when HE gave up the ghost and the earth went dark. When we see BROWN or WHITE eggs we remember that he was taken from the cross and wrapped in a linen shroud and placed in a tomb. Three days later the women walked in the YELLOW starlight to get to the tomb in the early morning. They arrived at the tomb just as the sun was rising and discovered that the ORANGE stone had been rolled away and it was empty. Just as the earth in the winter is dead, in the spring it turns GREEN that which was dead is now alive. Of course Jesus came to visit for a time but eventually He rose into heaven, the BLUE sky. But he said to wait and He would send another to be with the believers and at Pentecost the Spirit came in a flash of light (MULTICOLORED) to be with us. And he now rules as King with PURPLE robes.

      As we look at an egg it looks pretty dead. But put it under a chicken and what looked like it was dead becomes a life. So the shell is a lot like the tomb. So we crack open the tomb. Each person takes an egg. One holds an egg end up and the other takes his egg and hits the held egg with the end of his. One egg will break. Then they change positions and hit good ends again. If one has both of his ends broken he loses the game. If both eggs have one end broken they try one more time until one egg has both ends broken. Some people say as they hit the eggs together “HE has risen”, the other person says “Indeed HE has risen”.

      It’s just a fun way to tell the story and get all of the eggs broken.

      • Roger,
        That also was the tradition in our household. We all looked forward to picking out our egg, and going around to each person and cracking egg ends…
        I always wondered if anyone else did this, or was it something my Dad made up. Now I know….Happy Easter.
        Jan Kalush Moore

  2. Ronnie says:

    Older eggs always peel easier than fresh eggs……………………….

  3. Roger Toomey says:

    Number one is older eggs, but I’ve also found farm eggs work better than store bought eggs. I have no idea why this should be so. Also, I let them set for 10 minutes not 16. Maybe you have extra large eggs. After that….I still have difficultly getting them to perfectly peal.

    But if you are just wanting to peal them for egg salad, etc. Put them on a cutting board on their side. Hold an end with one hand and take a table knife (not sharp, don’t want to cut fingers if you miss) and give them a quick (this is important, not slow) whack as close to center as possible. Then take the knife and run it around the shell of each half being careful to go between the small shards on the edge and the egg. If you hit it fast and hard enough there won’t be any shell in the egg. This is far faster than trying to remove a whole shell at a time.

  4. Bridget says:

    Hey Maureen,

    My mother always said older eggs were the way to go. When I went to culinary school, I found out why. The older the egg gets, the larger the air pocket gets as the moisture is evaporating from the shell. Now…
    I must say, that when I use organic eggs I NEVER have a problem, fresh ones too! This is also the time that I had changed my method of cooking them. So… I’m not certain witch came first; the EGG or the WAY I STARTED TO COOK THEM.

    Method:
    Cold large eggs (nothing but large in this fridge, since that is the correct size for baking).
    Cover with an inch above of cold water.
    Bring to a boil and cook (softly) 1.5 minutes (never a HARD rolling boil, it will make it a tough egg).
    Shut off heat and cover for 5 minutes.
    Scoop out each egg with a pasta scoop and let rest (they are continuing to cook) in a bowl.
    When they are cool enough to handle, they are ready to peel, eat, store, color? 🙂

    Always try to purchase organic eggs, my holistic doctor says its a must, you just don’t want to know what the others chickens were fed!

    Bridget
    BTW – Egg salad on a rice cake is awesome!

  5. Emiine Haddad Reifsnyder says:

    I read in my first cookbook ever, that if you add salt to the cold water that is an inch over the eggs, boil for
    12 minutes, purge immediately in cold water (as you said) — let cool on a metal rack – then peel.

    Isn’t there a name for hitting the eggs? I am going to the Ladies’ Cedar Club Meeting tonight and will ask around.

    Em

  6. Roger, thank you for this information–fascinating–I never knew.

  7. tootsie says:

    the last person to end up with the unbroken Red egg has good luck for the year,

  8. Laura Pryor says:

    Hi Maureen! Thanks for all your posts, i love reading them! I was so frustrated last weekend trying to make soft-boiled eggs! (Saturdays were basically hard-boiled, sundays runny and inedible). Do you have the perfect method for those as well?
    Thanks!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Laura! The approach is the same for soft-boiled eggs, just decreasing the cook time once the water comes to a boil, is turned off and the pot covered to cook. The time depends on the size of the eggs. For large eggs (rather than extra-large), a soft-boiled egg should take about 9 minutes. Try adding an extra egg to the batch and test it after 8 minutes to see if it’s cooked to the level of softness you like, then continue cooking for another minute if it’s too soft.

  9. tammy says:

    yikes mr toomey! i will NEVER eat another easter egg as long as i live…….how graphic and utterly horrifying……imagonnasticktochocolate eggs and bunnies. in my family eggs and bunnies represent new beginnings, new life, spring is here, the days are getting longer while the nights get shorter…….

  10. carolynchester says:

    I just hard boiled 4 chicken eggs and when I peeled them some of the white area was pink. what is this and is it safe to eat?

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hello–I have not encountered this before and what I have read suggests that the pink rings may indicate something is off. The fact that it happened on more than one is odd; sometimes there can be a blood spot but it would be highly unlikely in more than one egg. I would discard and get some new fresh eggs.

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