How to Separate Eggs

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

Method

separating-eggs-1.jpg

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.

separating-eggs-2.jpg separating-eggs-3.jpg
separating-eggs-4.jpg separating-eggs-5.jpg

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.

separating-eggs-6.jpg

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.

separating-eggs-7.jpg

22 |

Filed under ,

22 Comments

  1. elbuzzard

    I’ve always heard that using the eggshells to separate the eggs increases the chances of bad bacteria getting into the eggs, because the outside of the shells may not be the cleanest surface in the world.

    But this is the way I’ve always done it, and I’m not dead (yet).

  2. Susan

    Excellent description. And thanks for the reminder about cold eggs being easier to separate.

    I’ve discovered that for me it is easiest to crack an egg for separating by hitting it “just right” with the dull side of the blade of a table knife. This cracks the shell without cracking the yolk.

    Also, if you are doing several eggs and you happen to get an especially nice half shell early on in the process, you may want to use that shell for one of the halves in later transfers.

  3. Elise

    Hi Jerry – Yep, egg separators work too, but I still like doing them by hand.

    Hi DewDrop – that stoneware egg separator is hilarious! Though I think if my nephew had seen me use something like this he would refuse to eat anything I made with those eggs.

    Hi El Buzzard – Fortunately, cooking the eggs kills bacteria.

    Hi Susan – We also found that saving a particularly good shell half was useful for some of the eggs that didn’t break cleanly. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Priya

    I love all of the recipes you have on your blog. I have a question about the usage of eggs in cakes. I am allergic to them so cannot eat cakes or any thing that has egg in it.What is a good substitute for eggs in cakes?

  5. Lisa

    My grandfather told me that in “the old days” when picking up eggs meant, literally, going out to the coop and picking up some eggs, yolks were less runny. Sure enough, I find that “free-range” or organic eggs have much stronger yolks. They taste the same, but it’s harder to break the yolk. If I need to separate eggs, sometimes I splurge on the pricier “naturally raised” eggs because they’re so much easier to work with.

  6. Joy Case

    A variation on the hand method of seperating eggs is to crack the egg into a small dish and using your (clean) hands, reach in with the first 2 or 3 fingers and pick the egg yolk out, letting the white drip back. I’ve seen this on TV, by several chefs, including Emeril. I think that it’s easier than cracking them into your palm, I always managed to break the yolk that way.

  7. Vicki

    I’m with Joy. I’ve had the best luck cracking the egg into a bowl and then picking up the yolk with my fingers.

  8. Elise

    Hi Priya – you might try Ener-G Egg Replacer; it’s a product designed for baking.

    Hi Lisa – I have a friend who raises chickens who occasionally gives me fresh eggs, and they are much easier to work with, firmer yolks.

    Hey Trig – Indeed! I think when my nephew visits again in a few weeks we’ll get him helping out with some Pavlova.

    Hi Joy and Vicki – Great idea, thank you!

    To all – I found another idea in the comments of Shiny Happy Jennifer: crack the eggs into a slotted spoon. The egg whites just drip through the slots, but the yolk stays on the spoon. Brilliant.

  9. Linda

    Hi Elise

    For me, nothing works better than a clean pair of hands and a plate. I crack the egg on a flat plate with my right hand. Then gently ease the egg into my left hand and let the egg white drip through my fingers. Yolk stays whole and no broken egg shell bits to fish out.

    Linda

  10. herb smith

    A great way to separate eggs is a small plastic funnel used only in the kitchen for this job. Break gently in the funnel and collect the whites in a glass. Put the yolk in another glass.

  11. mm

    The stoneware egg separator is the coolest!! Although in my opinion, the way to separate eggs with the least amount of bacteria is for you to create a small hole at the base (or head) of the egg then just let the egg whites slide out by itself. Once all the whites come out, you can crack the egg open and presto, the egg yolk is ready for use.

  12. frances

    Hi Elbuzzard,
    Because eggs are not too clean on the outside I have made it a habit to always rinse the eggs before cracking. It gives me the idea the eggs are clean enough and I can handle them with more ease without being afraid of dropping pieces of eggshell into the bowl.

  13. Mark

    I don’t get it. They make tools just for seperateing eggs. I have one and it works fine and no messy hands.

  14. jamileena

    I think egg separators are a waste of money, waste of washing energy (no dishwasher in my house) and a waste of essential kitchen space. I have a very small kitchen with little storage and tools that aren’t used, are given away. I find my hands are the best tool for separating eggs. My mom taught me this method and it works every time, no shell piercing the yolk that runs into the white’s bowl…It’s so easy, I wonder why anyone invented an egg separator in the first place? Maybe to keep your hands clean, but if you are cooking…your hands are likely to get messy!

  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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!

I apologize for the inconvenience, but comments are closed. You can share your thoughts on our Facebook page ~ Elise.