There was a time when I thought frying an egg was one of the simplest things you could do in the kitchen. Crack the egg in the pan, season with salt and pepper, wait a minute or so, and bam, perfect egg . . . right? But my just-wing-it technique often turned out yolks cooked way harder than I liked—or, on the other end of the spectrum, unpleasantly gooey whites.
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Turns out, the ideal fried egg—with a cooked white and a runny yolk—can be tricky to make because egg whites and egg yolks set at different temperatures. Whites contain mostly water and some protein, and yolks contain all that plus some fat. Additionally, the proteins found in each component are different. These differences cause whites and yolks to react differently to heat. Egg whites are fully cooked at 180 degrees, while egg yolks begin to thicken at 150 degrees and are fully set at 158 degrees.
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Cook’s Illustrated former senior editor Andrew Janjigian discovered that the best way to get fully set whites without overcooking the yolks is to cover the skillet with a lid while the eggs cook off heat—this traps steam and heats the eggs from the top and the bottom. This way, the whites will cook faster so that they finish cooking at the same time as the yolk.
While the perfect fried egg is great on its own, it can make lots of other recipes even better, too—such as the Breakfast Sandwiches from The Complete Cookbook for Teen Chefs. In that recipe, we start with Andrew’s egg-frying method; then, we lay a slice of cheese on top of each egg and let it melt while the egg finishes cooking.
To make that recipe even easier, you can also fill your sandwiches with crispy, hands-off microwave-fried bacon (or quick-cooking sausage patties). Finally, layer the sandwich components on a roll or English muffin for an easy, filling, and tasty breakfast. Perf-egg-tion!