How to Separate Eggs

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Who knew a 9-year old would find separating eggs so much fun? I taught my nephew how to separate eggs last week and every day he asked to separate more eggs. I think we went through a couple dozen, making ice cream from scratch 3 times, cake, pavlova, and a lot of scrambled eggs for breakfast. Lots of recipes call for separated eggs. Here’s what we do:

How to Separate Eggs

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Method

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Set out two bowls. Crack the egg gently on a flat surface or on the rim of a bowl, as close to the middle of the egg as possible. If you crack it on the rim of a bowl it might be easier to get the egg to crack right in the middle, but you are more likely to get pieces of egg shell in the egg whites. These days I crack eggs on a flat surface.

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Working over a small bowl, use your thumbs to gently pry the egg halves apart. Let the yolk settle in the lower half of the egg shell while the egg whites run off the sides of the egg into the bowl. Gently transfer the egg yolk back and forth between the egg shell halves, letting as much egg white as you can drip into the bowl below. Be careful so as not to break the egg yolk. Place the egg yolk in a separate bowl.

If you are planning to whip the egg whites for a recipe, you might want to separate the eggs one by one into a smaller bowl, and then transfer the separated egg into larger bowls. This way if you break a yolk it will not break into all the egg whites you've separated. The fat in the egg yolk (or any oil) will interfere with the egg white's ability to whip up properly. For this reason also you should also wash your hands carefully, to remove any natural body oils, before working with egg whites.

If you get a piece of egg shell in the separated eggs, fish it out with a larger piece of shell.

Note that chilled eggs are easier to separate (the yolk doesn't break as easily), but most recipes call for working with eggs at room temperature. So, you either let your eggs get to room temperature before separating them, in which case you'll need to be a bit more careful with the egg yolks, or let the eggs get to room temperature after you've separated them, in which case you should cover them in their bowl with plastic wrap and use them as soon as they get to room temp.

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Another way to separate eggs is to crack the egg open into your upturned palm. Let the egg whites slide through your finger tips. This is faster than the other method but if you are planning on whipping the egg whites, the less the egg whites come in contact with your hands, and the natural oils on them, the better.

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Showing 4 of 21 Comments

  • SSSV

    I grew up with a little brother who was allergic to egg yolks so we had almost everything with strictly whites – the photo of your nephew reminds me of him as a kid!

    The two half separation method is by far the easiest once you’ve done it a few times. It just takes a steady hand and a little patience to learn and soon it will be second hand. We never got sick from eggs separated this way.

    Most common recipes call for the eggs to be cooked enough to kill any possible bacteria and, as illustrated by the recent egg-contamination scare, if you are planning to prepare a recipe with undercooked eggs, choose local, organic eggs and you will significantly lessen your exposure to contaminates.

    Love the blog Elise – THANK YOU!

  • Liisa

    Thanks to everyone for the suggestions! I am making my first “egg yolks only” recipe this weekend, and was worried about how to separate eggs. This was very helpful. Thank you all so much!
    P.S. Do you have any ideas on recipes that use only egg whites? I’ll have leftovers and don’t want to throw them away.

    We usually add them to our scrambled eggs. Sometimes I like to make meringue cookies (search for meringue on the site and you’ll see the recipes). ~Elise

  • Anonymous

    I work in a bakery, and we use an amazing amount of egg yolks. Definitely think that using a bowl and clean hands is the way to go for separating whites and yolks, at least for speed. Cold eggs work better, less yolks break. But if you are gentle with the yolks, you won’t have any breaking anyways.

  • Aimee

    Elise, came across this article and while I love all your recipes, I have to disagree with this. I took a professional baking introductory course and was told strictly to never, ever break eggs by transferring them from half shell to half shell, since the outside of shells are full of bacteria. I wash my hands first with anti-bacterial soap and separate by hand.

    If you are planning to cook the separated eggs, then it doesn’t matter, bacteria get killed in the cooking process. If you are planning to eat the eggs raw, and you are concerned about bacteria, you probably should be using pasteurized eggs. ~Elise

  • hena

    There’s an easier way too. It’s faster and works for me if I’m in a hurry. Just carefully break the egg in a bowl.(preferably a chilled one) Take a large tablespoon and scoop out the yolk. Hold the spoon over the bowl for a few seconds more and give it a gentle shake too shake off the eggwhite which clings on. Don’t try this on freshly bought eggs that are warmish.

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