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Peeling hard boiled eggs: How in the heck can I get that membrane to break loose without tearing off chunks of white?

Anyone can hard boil and peel an egg, right? Maybe not. Everyone has their own theory on the "right" way to do it, and tried and true methods from around the globe are as varied as the cooks themselves. What's a chef to do?

Boiling Eggs - The Yolk of the Matter

I used to teach cooking classes at the college level from Wayne Gisslen's book, Professional Cooking, Second Edition. Gisslen suggests bringing the eggs to room temperature before cooking-either by setting them out for an hour or by placing them in warm water for 5 minutes-to stop them from cracking when boiled. Carefully place the eggs in boiling water and reduce to a simmer. Cook 3-4 minutes for soft boiled, 5-7 minutes for medium cooked and 12-15 for hard cooked. The exact cooking time depends on egg temperature, size of eggs and the amount of water you use. I tend to use large eggs and simmer for 17 minutes. Once boiled, chill your eggs immediately under cold running water. To peel, crack and start at the large end where the air sac is located.

While this is a popular way to boil and peel hard boiled eggs, it's certainly not the only way. The fine folks at the American Egg Board say to place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan. Then cover with enough tap water to submerge the eggs by at least one inch of water. Cover and bring just to a boil and remove from the heat source. Let the eggs stand covered for 15 minutes for large eggs, less for the smaller variety. Place under cold running water or in an ice bath. To remove shell, simply crack by tapping all over, roll egg between hands to loosen shell and start peeling at the large end. Julia Child used this method.

Why Eggs are Hard to Peel and What You Can Do about It

So, back to your original question: how do you peel the perfect egg? The age of an egg is the determining factor in how easily it will peel. The fresher the egg, the harder it is to peel-no matter how you cook it. A two week old refrigerated egg will peel beautifully for you once cooked, while an egg fresh from the chicken could be your worst nightmare.

How to determine the age of an egg is simple here in the US if you buy eggs graded under the USDA voluntary grading service. The day of the year that the eggs are processed and placed into the carton must be shown on each carton with the USDA grade shield. This is called the "Pack Date." The number is a three-digit code that represents the consecutive day of the year. For example, January 1 is shown as "001" and December 31 as "365." Also, most packers show a month and day on the end of the carton which indicates the last day the eggs should be sold at retail or used by consumers.

About Chef David Nelson and Chefs4Students.org

Chef David Nelson discovered his passion for cooking during his high school years and attended Johnson and Wales Culinary Institute in 1977. As a certified instructor with AH&MA, he taught courses in Resort Management at the Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs, Colorado where he now lives with his wife Pamela. He has taught cooking classes, done guest chef gigs, given seminars, and won numerous cooking competitions. His credits or recipes have been acknowledged in publications such as Cooking Light magazine, Restaurant News, Food Arts and in Janie Hibler's cookbook, Wild about Game.

In 1999 he co-founded Chef2Chef.net, the Internet's largest Culinary Portal. He and his wife Pamela's latest endeavor is raising money for culinary students in the U.S. and abroad. They and chefs from around the globe find creative ways to raise money and disperse grants twice a year. Visit www.Chefs4Students.org for more details on how you can get involved.

Think you can do it better? Share your tried and true techniques and read what other chefs have to say in C2C's Ask a Chef forum: Hard Boiled Eggs.