Tips for the Perfect Fried Egg

Photo by Charles Haynes

I got an email from a reader asking for help with fried eggs.

Hi — I don’t know what I do wrong, but although I am generally a good cook, I can’t make a decent fried egg to save my soul.  They either are all crispy and burned on the edges or slimy and yucky on top.  If I try “over-easy” I get “broken yolk” as they seem to stick to the pan.  If I use non-stick pans, I get a weird light brown on the bottom that is unattractive.


I’ve got to admit I’m not the greatest fried egg maker. I’m too impatient, but I always know what I did wrong about three seconds after I did it. If I take my time and don’t try to work on too many things at once, I can do them. Here’s what I’ve learned.

  • First, don’t be afraid of butter or bacon fat. The egg shouldn’t be floating on it, but I’ve come pretty close.
  • Second, you can’t cook an egg faster by turning the heat up more. I love doing meat on super-hot surfaces, but with an egg you’ll get a burned bottom and a runny top at the same time. Not good. So take your time.
  • Third, find a lid that fits over your pan and use it. Clear is better, so you can see how it’s looking, but you can use anything that fits tight enough to keep the steam in.

Putting it all together

So, here’s my method.

Melt two or more tablespoons of bacon fat in a pan that is just large enough for the number of eggs you’re making. I’ll use a six-inch for two eggs.

Crack the eggs into the pan. If you’re worried about splashing grease, crack the eggs into a teacup or a bowl, then pour them into the pan. Add salt and pepper. (You don’t have to, but if you’re going to, do it now rather than after it’s cooked.)

Don’t try to lift the edges right away. You have to wait for the bottom to cook before you can move the eggs around. Turn the heat sort of low — I can’t say exactly, since electric and gas stovetops have very different definitions of “medium” — and put on the lid.

Check every minute or so, or look through the clear lid if you’ve got one, until the top of the yolk starts to turn white. That’s when you can safely flip them over.

If I’m doing sunny side up, I’ll tilt the pan a little so the bacon fat pools at one side. Then spoon the hot fat over the top of the egg a few times to make sure it’s cooked on top. Another way I’ve seen at diners is to pour a few tablespoons of water on the hot pan next to the eggs and put the lid back on. The steam will finish the top so it’s not runny.

The most important thing is to just take your time, which is why this is so hard for me. Keep the heat low, don’t tell yourself you can turn it up and “just keep a close eye on it”. It won’t work.

What did I miss?

I’ve never worked at a diner, so I’m sure there are lots more great tips. Who’s got a good one? Leave a comment and share the knowledge.

By the way, that egg in the picture at the top is actually a fried egg truffle — white chocolate and fruit filling. Follow that link for some more amazing dessert pics.


  1. As an egg pro here is a few tips.
    Get a cast iron pan dedicate it to eggs and nothing but eggs or an occasional french toast and omelette. No grease other than butter shalt touch this pan. Season the pan. After seasoning rub butter into it. temp at medium low (varies) put teaspoon of butter, when thoroughly melted put eggs on top. Shake the pan at intervals to ensure the eggs are not sticking. If you want sunny side up a clear lid will help steam the top of the egg whites or turn the heat lower and be patient. Over easy practice flipping the eggs in the pan, one should never have to use a spatula. Once flipped 60-80 seconds should be plenty of time to flip into a plate.

    If you are not sure go to a wafflehouse or similar where the grill work can be seen from the seating area during a slow moment and ask cookie if they can show you how.

  2. Billie C says:

    I cook over easy eggs all the time. First and formost don’t turn up the heat. It changes the protien of the egg and gives you that tough, brown, yucky edge.
    I have a cast iron pan I cook eggs in. I do cook other things in it, but since it’s small, not too many other things. I set the temp just above medium low on the electric stove. A small blue flame on the propane stove. Shortening, butter or bacon fat. (bacon adds the best flavor to the eggs) I cook eggs one at a time. break the egg into the skillet into the side where the cooking fat has flowed to. Wait for the whites to set up around the yolk, then tip the pan and slid the spatula under the egg, tipping the pan at the same time to roll the egg over, back into the fat. I don’t season the egg in the pan because not everyone likes the amount of seasoning I do. leaving it off lets the person eating the egg determine how much they want on it. for sunnyside up eggs. be sure there is plenty of fat in the pan and use the edge of the spatula to “splash” the hot fat over the top of the egg to set the white over the yolk.

  3. I agree with both of you, except for one thing that boxley said: Most people aren’t going to flip eggs successfully in a cast iron skillet. It’s just too heavy to control that well. Especially if you’re holding it with a towel or oven mitt to keep from burning your hand.

  4. Sir Struggle says:

    Wow, this is actually one of those things that I’ve been doing so long, I don’t think about it anymore. It’s like a grilled cheese sandwich. I have friends that end up with those that are black on one side and white on the other. It’s just a question of too much heat.

    Most stove-tops (at least the ones at my house, my sister’s house and my Mother’s) have knobs where low to medium heat is 1-3, medium to medium high is 3-6 and anything above that (6-10) is essentially high. On all of the 3 stoves mentioned before, I can boil water at 6 and I usually simmer at 2. People think medium heat is 5 (and why wouldn’t they?) but that will take the pan up to 425-450 or so.

    I agree completely with you here, Drew. Temperature is the key, but some people don’t know that ranges can be deceptive with their temps.

  5. thanks for all the great tips

  6. Fascinating.

    The first time I ever cooked (and I was unsupervised) was a fried egg for a sandwich. I was really annoyed to find out we were out of Miracle Whip, although I should have tried looking in the pantry. My parents were even more nonplussed that I had a sandwich, thinking I had been mooching off the neighbors. They didn’t believe me when I said I made it myself, although when they finally got back inside and looked in the kitchen, the pan was still hot, and more importantly, over the front burner.

    Oh, and I was four at the time.

    I pulled a chair up to the stove, dragged the cast iron skillet that always had bacon grease in it over to the front burner, got the grease hot, got the egg out, and just had me a good old time. But there was no “white stuff” in the fridge, although I got told that we had some in the pantry.

    48 years later, I now no longer cook for a family of six, and am quite the expert at basted and over medium. I can now also cook scrambled eggs to my kids liking (the ones that want it wet, and the ones that want it crunchy).

    And I don’t think anyone is trying to flip eggs over in a cast iron skillet like you might in a Teflon skillet, but flipping eggs with a spatula certainly isn’t that hard. :)

    • Sir Struggle says:

      It’s kind of funny how people are dead set on their personal liking for steak temperatures, but can be rather whimsical about the way their eggs are done. Sometimes I like runny yolks (flip and sear for just a few seconds on the other side and remove immediately, mixed with hot sauce…yum) but sometimes I like the harder yolk texture if it’s added to a sandwich or something.

    • Go read boxley’s comment again: “Over easy practice flipping the eggs in the pan, one should never have to use a spatula.” Flipping in a cast iron skillet is exactly what he’s talking about.

      I know him in real life. There’s lots of stuff he does that most people would think he doesn’t really mean.

      • Wow. I missed that part. And considering the amount of bacon grease that I use, the probability of scarring myself (and everybody else around me) approaches 100%. You have to have a decent amount of grease to baste eggs.

  7. Sir Struggle says:

    Oh and I use nonstick pans for mine and have never had a problem. I’ve probably saved a few cholesterol points that way too. Cast Iron works wonderfully if it’s properly seasoned and clean, but if you’re cooking more than one egg at a time flipping can be an issue. I love my Lodge pan, but mostly use it for things like cornbread, to get that crunchy bottom crust.

    Disclaimer: I actually cook in a restaurant, so things come natural to me that might not for other folks.

    • I can see flipping them with the pan in a non-stick. I do that when I cook omelets. It helps when they aren’t old and sticking of course, which for the smaller pans, is the case.

      After cooking for a family of six, four of them teenagers, plus their friends, I feel like I have worked in a restaurant!

  8. I can’t flip an egg without using a spatula and I still often ended up with the broken yolk. I accidentally determined how to do it. The yolk is rarely in the center; it’s usually to one side. Slide the spatula under the yolk first then under the rest of the egg, then flip. I agree about getting fat on top of the egg to cook the white. I’ve also basted eggs: add a couple of tablespoons of liquid (water or stock) and cover. Some of the liquid can be spooned over the egg to cook the top.

    Personally I think even when a nonstick pan is used, you need some fat in the pan.

  9. Regarding the steam trick, I use a small piece of ice in lieu of the water. I just toss it in beside the egg and cover. It finishes off the top quickly.

  10. My iron skillets are Griswold — predecessor to Lodge. I use them for everything! Once they’re seasoned, an iron skillet does not need all the “special care and attention” everyone makes a fuss about… As long as you don’t put them in the dishwasher, leave them sitting in a sink with water, and wash them as soon as they’ve cooled a bit… they won’t need seasoned until … well, I can’t remember the last time I seasoned my skillets! I scrub them with hot soapy water with a scrubby sponge, dry them with a towel, then set them on a burner until they’re almost smoking (actually, I’ve forgotten them on the burner and they’re fine–the house smells, but the skillet is fine!)

    Oh, we were talking about eggs! Fried eggs… yes… a bit of butter or bacon fat is the best. Actually, I love to “poach” my eggs in bacon fat and drain on paper towels. So I guess no one wants to talk to me right now! lol

  11. Barbara, why not? I do mine in bacon fat all the time.

    And speaking of seasoning cast iron … Lodge pre-seasoned is nice, but I don’t like the pebbled surface from the sand casting. I prefer the smooth machined surface of older pans.

  12. My girlfriend and I like some golden crispiness around the edge (else, we’d poach instead of fry — which we also do sometimes).

    So here’s my unashamedly non-pro method:

    Cook one egg at a time to avoid egg whites merging together (not a problem if you have a bigger pan of course).

    Pour enough groundnut oil into a non-stick pan to cover the base. Heat on high until oil gets pretty damned hot, but not smoking hot. Best to put the lid on while heating the oil, so the lid gets hot too.

    Crack the egg straight into the pan: it should bubble and sizzle noisily, and maybe spit a little. Immediately cover with the lid, and turn the heat down low.

    After a short time (1 minute? I never time it), remove egg from pan with a wooden spatula, and gently shake off the excess oil (place on a paper towel too, if necessary). The egg white is perfectly cooked on top, the yolk is nice and gooey, and there’s crispy golden ‘frills’ on the outside/underneath for extra flavour and texture.

    Usual accompaniments are wholemeal bread, sausage, bacon, mushrooms and a little black pepper and brown sauce. Nice!

  13. Wow! I have to make a fried-egg video sometime.

    I use an 8-in nonstick pan with a tablespoon or two of butter, I prefer the flavor to bacon fat when I make eggs. You start the pan on low, gently crack the eggs in after the butter has melted, and what I do is I immediately break the white around the yolk and tip the pan a bit to make it spread more. This makes the white thinner and therefore cook faster than the yolk, giving me cooked white and runny yolk that I love to sop up with buttery toast and extra seasoning. Once I’ve pierced the white and spread it around, I crank the heat up a bit to medium high, timing is crucial here. Watch them, don’t leave the stove, as soon as the whites are barely set on top but before they start to get brown on the bottom I gently flip with a spatula (getting the spatula all the way under the yolk is important) and fry a few seconds on the other side, never more than 30 I think but I’d really have to time it sometime. Just enough to set the whites up while leaving the yolk very runny. Then slide into a plate, grate some white pepper and sprinkle with powdered fat-free chicken broth. Serve with real bread, toasted and buttered. Mmmmmmmmm….

    I swear this is one of my favourite meals ever, I could eat it every day and never get tired of it. So simple and so good.

  14. Oh I saw my father in-law make eggs once, he cranked the pan to medium-high, cracked the egg into the butter, immediately separated the whites from the yolk with the spatula, scraped them to one side and shoved around a bit just enough to make them set, rolled the yolk around a few seconds to just barely cook the surface, and plate the whole thing. It was really yummy. Perfectly cooked, not-crispy whites and runny yolk.

  15. Christina B says:

    I used to struggle to make fried eggs until I discovered that you can cook an egg without ruining it for practically EVER if the heat is low enough!

    So, I make my eggs one at a time in a small non-stick pan (tiny, fits one egg with enough room to flip it) and use lots of bacon fat. I start with low heat (about 3 out of 10 on my electric stove), because you can’t go back once the egg is overdone. The spatula I use is a very thin metal one (I’m talking thin as in not very thick, not the width… and yes I know you aren’t supposed to use metal in non-stick pans but I’m careful!) because I like to be able to slip it under the egg easily. Also, because the spatula is so thin, when I press it down into the pan beside the egg, the bacon grease can juuuust slide over the top, and that makes it extra easy to then slip the spatula under the egg! I also don’t lift my egg up very high to flip it… I more just tilt the spatula to roll the egg over. It doesn’t bother me to have a little fold in the egg white : ) And when my egg is done, I have a lovely runny yolk and perfectly soft but cooked through white, instead of a nasty rubbery crispy white (yuck) and overcooked yolk!

    If you are interested in finding out a lot about cooking eggs (and it IS fascinating) check out this link Cooking for Eggheads from Discover Magazine.

  16. Christina B says:

    Oh and I forgot to add… Drew, you have just cleared up something that has bothered me for years about my cast iron pan! I didn’t realize that there was a texture difference between preseasoned cast iron pans and just regular ones. That might explain why I cannot for the life of me cook an egg without it sticking to my cast iron pan (which has a very well seasoned but still pebbly surface) while my mom can cook beautiful fried eggs in HER cast iron pan which is smooth as silk. I mean, her pan shines like black patent leather, you can almost see your reflection in her pan.

  17. Christina, just to be clear I don’t think it has anything to do with being pre-seasoned. Lodge sells a line of non-seasoned pans, and the surface is exactly the same. I haven’t seen a new iron pan with a smooth surface … well, ever.

  18. Glad to know that the picture is not actually an egg. I stared at that for a while trying to figure out what in the heck was wrong with that egg! LOL

  19. There are new cast iron pans without that ridged finish–Lodge makes a high end pan that doesn’t have it. The best way to find one, and the cheapest, is to check thrift stores. You will find them there at times, and yard sales occasionally.

    My husband taught me to make fried eggs when we got married thirty some years ago. Slightly warm grease, if I make sausage or bacon first I set the pan off the burner to cool a little bit before I start the eggs. Once cracked in the pan I just flip grease over them until the yolk is well set but just slightly soft. I take one out at a time while the second one is finishing and top them with sliced cheese on the plate. The important thing is to watch your heat and the egg to keep from getting the brown crusties or lacy edges!

  20. ChristinaB: Thank you for that link! It was a fascinating read 😀 I have to get myself a sous-vide setup…

  21. Oh, and I remember reading somewhere about how Hervé This uncooked an egg too. Just google “the man who uncooked an egg”.

  22. Here’s that Hervé This link:,,1969723,00.html All I can say is … wow.

  23. Drew, can you give us the instructions for seasoning a cast iron skillet? I have several, even some old ones from my mom. However over the years, I have had some well meaning, but deluded friends put them in the dishwasher, or leave them standing in water in the sink. The pretty black seasoned finish has faded, and I would like to make sure they are as well seasoned as possible. Thanks for your help.

  24. Andrew has a really nice page on cast iron (and sheet steel). And his instructions for seasoning cast iron are nicely to-the-point.

  25. I have yet to make a fried egg turn out right when cooked in the traditional way. I am horrible at the flipping part. My pancakes are bad too. 😛

    However, Alton Brown did an episode a while back on easy breakfast foods, and he had a fried egg recipe I now feed to hubby most mornings. Crack the egg into the pan, season it, cover it, and leave it alone for 5 or so minutes depending on how runny you want your eggs. Hubby likes it over hard so I generally leave it for about 6 minutes, until there is no more jiggle then I pop it right onto a plate. No flipping involved.

    It may not be as tasty as a traditional fried egg, I wouldn’t know since I’m not a big fan of fried eggs (I’d eat scrambled eggs every morning if I could). Hubby likes ’em, and that is good enough for me.

    Y’all are making me want to give this whole flipping eggs thing another try! :)

  26. Seasonging Cast Iron: I read the link you provided… I just don’t understand why everyone says to wash the iron skillet and put a light coating of oil on it to store… I never do the oil after scrubbing the daylights out of them and my skillets are better than non-stick pans… I don’t even dry them off… I just put them on a burner and burn them dry.
    If people are having trouble with their skillets even after following the “professional instructions,” I would guess that that light coating of oil has not been rubbed enough… The instructions say to apply a light coating of oil but they do not say that the oil must be rubbed and rubbed until you can’t tell it’s there…

  27. I always crack eggs into a separate dish before adding them to whatever I’m cooking. Just in case. Never know when a little piece of shell will decide to not cooperate and then drop into the pan/bowl/batter. I prefer to use a Pyrex dessert cup, but if one isn’t available, a coffee mug, tea cup, or juice cup will also work.

  28. Jessica says:

    OK, Im 15 and i SERIOUSLY don’t undertsnad this!!!! My grandmother makes eggs for me all the time but she breaks the Yoke and its SUPER good and still calls them fried eggs. IDK what exactly she is doing because i have never watched her make them and she lives about 150 miles away from me…My mom can’t help cause she CAN NOT cook and my dad is the same way…SOOOOO can yall help me??? I need it to be put in the Easiest words/ways possible!! Thanks

  29. Jessica, they’re still fried even if you break the yolk. All my tips are in the article above, but I’m thinking I should do a quick video of it. Keep an eye on the front page, I should have that up soon.


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