why can't I peel an egg?
December 7, 2005 1:30 PM   Subscribe

I've lost my ability to peel a hardboiled egg. Are the eggs different, or is my technique? I used to be able to take the shell and the icky membrane off in one fell swoop, but now things have changed, and I seem to mangle every egg I touch. If I eat any more bits of eggshell, I may calcify. Any hints from people who really like their egg salad?
posted by pinky to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Eggs can be very different. Rumor has it that the fresher the egg, the easier it will be to peel, but I've never bothered to test it out.
posted by o2b at 1:34 PM on December 7, 2005

I've always rolled the egg gently between my hands until the shell cracks into a billion pieces but was still attached to the membrane...then you can just peel the whole thing off in one clean movement.
posted by johnsmith415 at 1:34 PM on December 7, 2005

I eat three hardboil egg whites every morning with breakfast. The membrane shell adhesion seems to be highly sensitive to how it goes through the temperature change cycle, some weird hysterisis thing going on. My formula: 1.) take the eggs out of the refrigerator an hour before boiling. The flash transition from refrigerated to boiling temperatures increases shell - membrane stickiness. 2.) boil for 15 minutes or so. 3.) wait till they are close to room temperature to peel.

Not that they never stick; but almost never. Eggs are not like machine parts. They are more like snowflakes!
posted by bukvich at 1:38 PM on December 7, 2005

Rumor has it that the fresher the egg, the easier it will be to peel, but I've never bothered to test it out.

This is, indeed, the case. My parents raised chickens growing up, and I was always able to peel those fresh brown eggs with ease. But the standard white eggs from the store never, ever peel easily. It also may have something to do with how long the eggs are boiled, if over-boiled the shells stick more, but I am not sure about that.

You can try holding the egg under running water as you peel it, it may make the egg peeling go more smoothly.
posted by rhapsodie at 1:40 PM on December 7, 2005

What works best for me is chilling the boiled eggs in the fridge immediately after cooking. A colder egg always seems to peel easier.
posted by pmbuko at 1:47 PM on December 7, 2005

To echo the previous comments, if I am making a large batch of deviled eggs (which, surprisingly, is quite often), after boiling the eggs, I drop them into cold water for a few minutes to help with peeling them. I also occasionally use a spoon to gently tap the egg all over, creating small breaks over the shell, and then find the biggest tear and take the shell off from there. You can also rinse off the exposed egg afterwards to get off any little flecks of shell you may have missed.
posted by buddha9090 at 1:52 PM on December 7, 2005

Run them under cold water while you break them.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 1:53 PM on December 7, 2005

Whap one end of egg on countertop. Whack opposite end. Set egg on side and roll it under your palm till you hear a good bit of crackling. Fingernail off a speck of shell and the rest should follow easily.
posted by scratch at 1:57 PM on December 7, 2005

I believe it has to do with boil time - what I do that always works for a peelable egg is:

- place eggs in pot, fill with water so about 1" of water above egg-line
- put on stove
- turn stove on "high"
- after it starts rapidly boiling, leave in for 15 minutes
- remove and place in cold water (refreshing every once in a while so it stays cold)
- let sit for about an hour
- refrigerate
- peel happily
posted by tristeza at 1:57 PM on December 7, 2005

wow - I am impressed at the egg boiling/peeling skills of everyone! I'd like to make a bad egg-related pun to show my appreciation, but I can't think of any at the moment.
posted by pinky at 2:00 PM on December 7, 2005

thanks for your eggspertise? (sorry)
posted by exogenous at 2:09 PM on December 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

The biggest factor with white, not-uber-fresh eggs, is boiling time.

If they are not boiled long enough, the membrane sticks quite firmly to the egg white...

Try boiling your eggs an extra few minutes if they're consistently hard to peel... you'll notice a world of difference...
posted by twiggy at 2:09 PM on December 7, 2005

A trick I learned from Oprah: add a tablespoon of salt to your egg water. I don't why briny water makes the eggs easier to peel, but it does.
posted by Sara Anne at 2:13 PM on December 7, 2005

Rumor has it that the fresher the egg, the easier it will be to peel

My understanding (and experience) is that the opposite is true, at least with store-bought eggs. I leave the fresher eggs for something else, and use older eggs for boiling.

I generally have no trouble peeling eggs. My method:
  1. Bring eggs to a roiling boil in well-salted water.
  2. Turn off heat and cover. Let stand for 15 minutes.
  3. Move pan to sink and run cold water in it to stop cooking.
  4. Tap each end of an egg on the counter, then rock the egg from end to end, rotating until the entire shell is well-cracked (I find if I roll the egg, it often breaks in the middle).
  5. Put the egg back under water and peel.
The water makes it ever-so-much-easier.

Finally, the brand of eggs you buy is going to make a difference. I get a spendy, cage-free variety. Last time I got cheap eggs, they didn't peel easily, and I boil too many eggs to put up with that.
posted by frykitty at 2:23 PM on December 7, 2005

Farm-fresh/brown eggs seem to me to be much, much easier to peel than white eggs.
posted by Cosine at 2:24 PM on December 7, 2005

Rumor has it that the fresher the egg, the easier it will be to peel, but I've never bothered to test it out.

In my experience the exact opposite is true: the fresher the egg, the harder it is to peel. My granny had lots of chickens too, by the way.

Cecil agrees.
posted by koenie at 2:26 PM on December 7, 2005

I was told to boil them, put them in ice water, then drop them in boiling water again for a few seconds to make the shell expand, then store `em or peel `em. I've never actually had the patience to do that, but good luck!
posted by blue_beetle at 2:35 PM on December 7, 2005

The Joy of Cooking (the new edition, at least) says that the more-freshly hard-boiled an egg is, the harder it is to peel (something about air insinuating itself between shell and egg over time)

My technique consists of: crack, roll on hard surface, and a little running water to remove the clinging crunchies.
posted by misterbrandt at 2:37 PM on December 7, 2005

I second the 'whack both ends, then roll' technique. And I prefer to peel under a stream of cold-ish water. Then I pat the eggs dry with a towel and go from there.

A related question: how long will eggs last in the fridge? Do I really have to throw them out after the date stamped on the package? Really?

I eat some fairly questionable foods as far as expiration dates/fridge keeping times go (or so says my mom), but eggs have always freaked me out in this sense... How long is too long?
posted by inging at 2:51 PM on December 7, 2005

Inging, don't worry about it--within reason. (I wouldn't use eggs older than about a month.) Or you could sacrifice one egg (assuming you're doing hard-boiled) by cracking it into a bowl. If it's bad, you'll know. If it's good, go 'head and use the rest of them.
posted by scratch at 3:52 PM on December 7, 2005

Re: how old is too old for an egg.

I think as long as it's in the fridge, it's ok, but I wouldn't keep it for longer than a week or two after the sell-by date. From my experience, the whites start to dehydrate and when you cook it, the texture is slightly different. I seem to remember that a fried old egg being somewhat tough.
posted by scalespace at 3:58 PM on December 7, 2005

I keep 'em in the fridge for months after the use-by date. Within reason, of course -- even in the fridge, they can get so old they dry out (but I think that would take a year).

Usually, I only use eggs in baking. Occasionally have one or two for breakfast though, always scrambled. I know there's people who can tell (and would prefer to have) fresh eggs, but I've never been able to discern much difference between old and new. (Maybe it's more obvious with over-easy or soft-boiled eggs?)
posted by Rash at 4:20 PM on December 7, 2005

I've always found that the older the egg is (within reason, obv.), the easier it is to peel. I only get brown eggs rarely, but I don't recall a difference between peeling brown and white.

I cook them the long way, so the yolk stays yellow, and I run them under cold water for a much shorter time than I should. But my secret tip: Peel 'em while they're hot. I discovered this by accident -- I only like eating hard-boiled eggs when they're hot.
posted by booksandlibretti at 4:35 PM on December 7, 2005

Inging - a fresh egg has a very plump yolk, and a very firm white. As they get older, the yolk sits lower and the white spreads further in the pan. They are getting a bit too old (but still edible) when it's almost impossible to keep the yolk together when cracking them, and if you crack one and the yolk is kind of mixed up with the white - well, you'll smell it first.

Like with milk, you will know when an egg is bad.
posted by tomble at 4:47 PM on December 7, 2005

You can tell whether eggs are bad by putting them in a bowl of room temperature water. If they sink, they're fresh. If they float but don't touch the top, they're on the way out (and probably ideal for boiling). If they break the surface, toss them.

I've always done this, and it's been a reliable indicator for me.

My technique - start with cold water, bring just to a rolling boil, then cover and turn off the heat. Let sit for 13 minutes then shock in ice water. They'll be perfect. If you want centered yolks, turn the carton on its side the night before.
posted by Caviar at 5:04 PM on December 7, 2005

Run the egg under cold water while peeling
posted by prairiepmb at 5:52 PM on December 7, 2005

Delia Smith says to use older eggs for hard-boiling because they peel easier (the membrane inside starts to weaken) and to use only the freshest eggs for poaching (because the yolks hold together better). And that's the gospel in my house. I also find that peeling under running water makes things a lot easier.
posted by web-goddess at 6:08 PM on December 7, 2005

I had to peel dozens of eggs for my Cool Hand Luke party. I baked the eggs instead of boiling them and then cracked the less pointy end (where the air bubble tended to be) and peeled them under cold running water I got through about one hundred fifty in half an hour.
posted by I Foody at 7:40 PM on December 7, 2005

Another on the side of older eggs being easier to peel.
posted by dipolemoment at 7:44 PM on December 7, 2005

I'm not going to mark a "best answer" - mainly because I have a bowlful of hardboiled eggs in the fridge and I don't need to make more for a few days.

but thank you to everyone for responding! It's been very annoying, mangling every egg I've touched recently. Especially since I was the seder-plate egg-peeling queen for the majority of my childhood.
posted by pinky at 8:20 PM on December 7, 2005

I Foody: You don't have any sort of contact info so I'll ask here. What's a Cool Hand Luke party? It sounds interesting.
posted by scalespace at 8:21 PM on December 7, 2005

Scalespace: A Cool Hand Luke party (at least I'm assuming that I Foody meant this) is where you try to recreate the scene in Cool Hand Luke where Paul Newman tries to eat 50 hard boiled eggs in one sitting...without throwing up. YUM! Incidentally, I earned my prison cred the same way...
posted by johnsmith415 at 10:26 PM on December 7, 2005

Yeah its in that vein, its basically a normal party only people can put in 5 bucks into a pot, whoever eats the most hard boiled eggs wins. No one gets anywhere near 50. I also put tarps on the floor and wear dark glasses.
posted by I Foody at 11:02 PM on December 7, 2005

I'll third/fourth/fifth/(?) putting the egg under cold water for a minute or two before peeling. My sister never does this and I hate eating her pock-marked hard boiled eggs.
posted by KathyK at 9:05 AM on December 8, 2005

Eggs can be used safely far past the "purchase by" date. In cookbooks written for cruising sailors, it is often suggested that eggs can be stored for months. They stay fresher tasting if they are rubbed with something that inhibits drying out - say vaseline, or some kind of wax.
posted by shifafa at 11:00 AM on December 8, 2005

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