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How to Poach the Perfect Egg (4 Ways)

As a vegetarian, I am always looking for innovative ways to make meals interesting, tasty, and nutritious for the whole family.

Poached eggs using an egg poacher

Poached eggs using an egg poacher

What's the Best Way to Poach an Egg?

I was taught to poach my eggs in boiling water, which is effective. Even more effective is if you add a little vinegar. Later, I progressed to a proper egg-poacher with plastic cups. It was quite cool; it kept the eggs confined to a formed shape, but the tops always cooked quicker than the bottoms. I arrived at the pièce de résistance when I replaced my poacher with metal cups. Now I know the whole egg is properly poached once the top of the egg is fully cooked.

Here I share my experience with you on poaching eggs. I look forward to hearing how others poach theirs.

Method 1: Use an Egg Poacher

This is my preferred method for egg poaching because the eggs take the shape of the cups, so you're guaranteed a perfectly uniform shape every time. I highly recommend getting metal egg cups for your poacher. (See why below.)

Here's how to cook eggs in an egg poacher.

  • Smear the cups with a little vegetable cooking oil (I find this works better than margarine) to minimise the eggs sticking to the cups.
  • Fill the egg poacher to about half full with water.
  • Place the egg poacher on the hob and turn the heat to full.
  • Crack the eggs into the poacher cups.
  • Place the lid over the poacher and wait until the top of the eggs turns white and the sides are cooked. The sides can easily be checked by gently running a blunt knife around the edge of the egg to see if it lifts away from the poacher cups.
  • When poached, remove the eggs from the poaching cups and place them onto toast.

Don't Buy Plastic Egg-Poacher Cups

In practice, there are a few problems that you have to live with.

1. Even "Non-Stick" Egg Cups Need Greasing

Even if the cups are non-stick, the eggs can sometimes be a little difficult to remove if the cups are not greased. I found that greasing the cups with a little margarine helps. But, even then, the eggs can sometimes stick a little.

The most effective method I've found is to pour a little vegetable cooking oil into one of the cups and swirl it around. Pour the surplus oil into the next cup and swirl it around again, repeating the process until all four cups are suitably oiled. Then, pour the excess oil from the last cup, either disposing of it or pouring it into a frying pan for later use.

2. The Handles Can Get Quite Hot

Even though the cup handles are plastic (phenolic) and the claim is that they don't get hot, they can still get a little hot. You can still have heat rising from the pan, water, cup, and eggs so you may wish to use a tea towel (or something similar) to hold the cup handles when removing the eggs.

If you've oiled the cups with vegetable oil, then the eggs will easily slide out of the cups when you tip them sideways. If they need help, you can prod the edges with a knife.

3. It Can Be Hard to Tell When the Eggs Are Poached

Most poacher egg cups are plastic, which is ok, except that plastic is a good insulator so when the top of the poached egg is cooked, the bottom is still raw. The only way to know for sure when the whole egg is properly poached is by periodically removing the lid and poking a knife down the side of the cup to see if it's cooked or not. The risk is that if you leave it too long, you end up with your yoke being too hard.

4. The Cups Can Melt

We had an egg poacher as described above for years until, one day, it was left unattended on the hob for too long. The water boiled away and the plastic cups melted. Our replacement poacher was identical in every way, except the cups were metal rather than plastic. This proved to be a big bonus.

Its use in principle and practice is identical to that described above, but because the cups were metal rather than plastic, the eggs cooked from the bottom as quickly as they were steamed from the top (with the lid on). This is because metal is a good conductor. So now, as soon as I see that the top is cooked, I know the bottom is too. The whole egg is, thus, properly poached with a nice soft yolk.

Choose an Egg Poacher With Metal Cups

Although egg poachers with plastic cups are good, egg poachers with metal cups are even better. However, finding metal cup egg poachers can be difficult because they are less common and a lot of the descriptions are misleading.

Often, the manufacturer's description will claim that the egg poacher is either steel or aluminium, giving the impression that the cups are metal. But, in fact, it's only the pan that is metal; the cups are plastic.

Therefore, if you're seeking out an egg poacher with metal cups, you'll need to find one where the manufacturer's description specifically states that the cups are metal. Aluminium conducts heat better than steel, but as long as it's metal (aluminium or steel) it will do a good job.

The only point to watch out for with aluminium is that the cooking area where food comes into direct contact (in this case, the cups ) should be coated, usually with a non-stick surface. This is because direct contact with aluminium in cooking will impart some of it into your diet, which over time can be a health risk.


I recommend this Norpro Stainless Steel Egg Poacher Skillet. It poaches up to five eggs and comes with stainless steel cups.

An egg poached in water

An egg poached in water

Method 2: Use a Pot of Boiling Water

The way I was first taught, poaching eggs in boiling water, is simple and effective. All that's required is a saucepan of water to boil and the required number of eggs. To reduce the risk of the water boiling over and causing accidents, the saucepan should be less than half full of water.

How to Poach an Egg in Boiling Water

  1. Set a saucepan half full of water on the stove. Add a teaspoon of vinegar and bring to a boil.
  2. Once the water is boiling, reduce to a simmer and stir to create a sort of whirlpool.
  3. Gently crack the eggs into the center of the whirlpool. (Note: If you are concerned about breaking the yolk, consider cracking the eggs into a small bowl first, then simply sliding them into the water when the time comes.)
  4. After 2 to 4 minutes (depending on how runny you like your yolk), remove the eggs with a slotted spoon to allow the water to drain as you lift the eggs from the saucepan.
  5. Place onto a slice of buttered toast (buttered with margarine for a healthier breakfast).

Why Add Vinegar to Poached Eggs?

If you poach eggs this way, the whites become a shapeless mass, so adding a spoonful of vinegar to the boiling water before adding the eggs can help to bind the egg white together. Be careful not to add too much vinegar, otherwise, the eggs will be too vinegary.

As you may notice from the photo, adding a little vinegar helps keeps the white together so that the egg looks more like a fried egg than a poached egg.

Some recipes will suggest adding salt to the water to taste, but I advocate not doing so because we have too much salt in our diet as it is.

Other Ways to Poach Eggs

An Egg-Poacher Without the Skillet

Rather than a full egg poacher, an egg poacher without a skillet works in the same way but takes up less storage space. I recommend the Norpro Non-Stick 4-Egg Poacher. It comes without a skillet, so it takes up less storage space and can be used in any suitable-sized skillet or frying pan you may already have.

A Microwave and Egg Rings

Other options for poaching eggs may include cups for use in the microwave and egg rings. We do have some microwave cups, but since I have a perfectly good egg poacher, I've never tried them.

The egg rings are designed to get the perfectly shaped fried egg. I guess they could be used to poach the eggs if you use water instead of cooking oil in a pan. This is kind of the halfway method between the two methods discussed above. It would be interesting to hear if anyone has experimented with egg rings in this way.

A perfectly poached egg on toast

A perfectly poached egg on toast

How to Make Poached Egg on Toast

Poaching eggs is quick, so you’ll want to start toasting your bread before you poach your eggs so that you can butter the toast (with butter or margarine) while the eggs are poaching.

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

2 min

1 min

3 min

1 to 2 eggs per person


  • Eggs (1 or 2 per person)
  • Teaspoon of vinegar; if egg poached in water (optional)
  • Tablespoon of vegetable cooking oil if egg poached in an egg poacher
  • Sliced bread (one slice per egg)
  • Knob of margarine or butter


  1. Fill the saucepan one-third of the way full with water and place on the stove on high heat.
  2. Bring the water to a boil.
  3. Optionally, add a spoonful of vinegar (to help bind the egg).
  4. Crack the eggs into the boiling water (one at a time) and leave them for about 2 to 4 minutes (depending on how runny you like your yolks).
  5. Promptly remove each egg with a draining spoon and place on toast (one egg per slice of buttered toast).
  6. Immediately serve (while still hot) as a wholesome breakfast, quick lunch, or a light evening meal or snack.

© 2012 Arthur Russ