This Retro $6 Gadget Is the Key to Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs

published Jan 13, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Getting your hard- or soft-boiled eggs to cook just right can be a tricky business. Too little time and you get the dreaded uncooked whites; too much time and your yolk could end up like a bouncy rubber ball. While there are all sorts of tricks and special techniques for getting the perfect hard-boiled egg, there’s also one classic helper that’s been around for ages. I’m talking about the plastic egg timer.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Curious about whether or not these things actually work/are necessary, I picked one out on Amazon (I picked the bestseller!) and got to testing. The instructions say you can put as many eggs as you’d like in the pot with the timer — it won’t affect the timing — as long as they all fit in the pot in a single layer. The idea is simple: The timer absorbs heat, just like the eggs do, and the redness darkens to indicate how cooked the eggs are getting. It shows you when the eggs are soft, medium, hard, and all the stages in between.

I went with five eggs, added the timer, and put the pot on the stove. There were no instructions about starting with cold water or boiling water, so I went with cold water for the first go-around. (It worked with boiling water, too, but I recommend starting with cold water to ensure the shells won’t crack, which they are prone to do when you add them to hot water.)

I had a bowl of ice water ready to drop the eggs into (to stop the cooking and cool them enough for peeling). As soon as the timer reached soft-boiled, I transferred one egg to the ice, let it rest there a few seconds so it was cool enough to handle, then peeled it and sliced it in half — all the while watching what was happening to the timer so I wouldn’t miss the next stage of doneness. I repeated this process when the timer hit the medium- and hard-boiled lines. And good gosh, were those eggs perfectly cooked! (So sorry about the soft-boiled egg in the photo. Have you ever tried to peel and slice one in half? Anyway, it was perfectly cooked!)

I might have preferred a bit less time for the medium-cooked eggs, so that the yolk would be a little more runny in the center. But that’s where the lines between “soft” and “medium” come in handy. Once you know how you like your eggs, you can pin-point just the right level of doneness and take them out when you desire. 

I did have three little complaints, though. You can’t read the timer when it’s in the boiling water (I had to lift it out with my slotted spoon so I could read it). Also, you have to stick around the pot to check the timer occasionally. And if you wanted to use it again right away, you are going to have to wait about 20 minutes for it to cool in an ice bath before you can use it again. But these are small complaints (very rarely do I imagine you’re making a second batch of eggs). If the jammy-ness of your eggs is important to you and you’re still really trying to perfect your method, this little gadget just might be able to help you with that.

Do you use an egg timer like this when you boil your eggs?