The Secret To Making Perfect Sunny Side Up Eggs With Runny Yolks

How is it that something as simple as sunny side up eggs can be so impossible to make? I’ve been chasing them since childhood but have never nailed them — not until recently.

Despite how easy it sounds to fry an egg, it seems we all have the same complaints. Either the whites are unset — dare I describe them as phlegmy? — or the whites are set but so are the yolks.

All around the world, the sunny side up egg appears on diner plates with fully set whites and cooked but delightfully runny yolks. If you’ve only dared get them at restaurants where you know you’re going to be happy, I’m here to tell you that there is absolutely a way to make them at home. Every. Damn. Time.

What You Need

In addition to an egg, oil or butter, and a pan with a lid, you need a gentle touch. “Eggs should be treated with love and gentleness so that they’re glistening, velvety and bright,” said New York-based chef Mariam Shah.

This “gentleness” applies to every aspect of cooking your perfect egg, including the heat. It’s better to go a little lower than you think you should, rather than use a too-hot pan. There’s the risk of burning the butter — or worse, getting eggs that are the wrong texture.

“My least favorite method of frying an egg [is] in piping-hot oil where the edges get burnt and crispy. I have no idea why people like crunchy, chewy eggs!” Shah said.

If available to you, fresh eggs are the best option. The eggs shown in the video for this article were laid that same morning. (Full disclosure: I live in Vermont. I can walk outside and find a fresh chicken egg any day of the week.) Believe it or not, fresh eggs make the process easier.

Shah confirmed this: “When you cook with fresh eggs, the whites stay close to the yolk. They don’t spread all over the frying pan like limp skin off fish! They have a healthy, plump consistency.”

That’s not to say that you can’t use store-bought, but if you’ve got access to fresh eggs, take advantage of it.

How To Make A Perfect Sunny Side Up Egg

Gather your ingredients and equipment. First and foremost, you need a small pan with a tight-fitting lid. A small pan keeps the egg from spreading too much (especially if it’s store-bought) and the lid makes the magic happen. You can fry one or two eggs at a time using a small pan.

Butter is a great fat for making eggs, but you can also get creative. “I fry my eggs in some wonderfully robust olive oil. Sometimes I’ll use olive oils that have been infused with herbs or garlic,” Shah said.

Salt and pepper are a must. I prefer red pepper flakes, but whatever you like is what you should grab.

You probably won’t need a spatula, but have one handy ― and also a knife.

Finally, have a couple of teaspoons of water nearby.

Get cooking. Heat your small pan over medium-high heat, and when it’s warm — but not hot — add the butter. Coat the pan with melted butter. Turn the heat down to medium.

Crack the egg directly into the pan if you’re feeling confident. (Cracking into a ramekin first will allow you to avoid cleaning out a broken yolk or fishing shell out of the pan.) Time is of the essence, so if you’re someone who gets shell into the egg often, use the ramekin ahead of time.

“To make sure there are no runny whites, take a knife and poke some holes in the whites,” Shah said. “That breaks the membrane and cooks it fully with the rest of the whites.” (This was the advice I needed. I’d never heard this, and I could see how much of a difference it made.)

Add a couple of teaspoons of water to the pan, and then quickly cover it with the lid to steam the egg. Or check out the tips at the end of the article for another method that works just as well.

Let the egg cook for about two minutes. Don’t uncover it before then, but also don’t allow it to go more than 2 1/2 minutes. Avoid the temptation to peek.

Slide the egg onto a plate and season. “I season with salt and pepper, focusing mostly on the yolk. That way, when I slice into the yolk it will carry that salt and pepper over the rest of the egg,” Shah said.

More Tips And Tricks

It’s really that simple. The process of cooking the best egg I’ve ever made took me all of three minutes from start to finish, and I feel so confident that I’ll make more the next time I have friends over for breakfast or brunch.

There are some other ways to get your whites to set and keep your yolks cooked but runny. While some people flip their eggs, that’s completely unnecessary (and a skill that I will never master without fully cooking my yolks). For an easier route, try basting your eggs. This method is great if you’re using an infused oil.

Rather than adding water and steaming, “if you want to cook the top of your yolk so that it has a pink film and isn’t bright yellow, all you need to do is use a spoon to take some of that hot oil from the pan and [gently spread] it over the yolk/egg,” Shah said. “This method of basting with hot oil from the pan will also ensure that any runny whites will get fully cooked.”

And there you have it — a quick, easy and foolproof way to get the egg you crave every time.