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What is a Fried Egg?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jan 25, 2024
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A fried egg is an egg which has been cracked and fried in a pan or on a griddle, with the yolk being left intact. Many cultures have a long history of making some version of the fried egg, with fried eggs classically appearing as a breakfast food, and different regional cuisines have evolved a wide array of toppings, garnishes, and accompanying dishes for fried eggs. Fried eggs are popular with home cooks because they are fast and easy to make, and they are also usually on offer in restaurants which offer breakfast foods.

There are two basic types of fried egg: over and sunny side up. Sunny side up eggs are cooked on one side only, on medium heat so that the egg cooks through without burning on the bottom. Over eggs are flipped partway through, so that the egg cooks on both sides. Terms like “easy,” “medium,” and “hard” describe how thoroughly the egg is cooked, with “easy” describing an egg with a runny yolk, while hard eggs have yolks which are cooked all the way through.

A wide variety of oils can be used for frying eggs, including butter, lard, and vegetable oil. Sometimes, eggs are cooked in a pan with meat, and the drippings from the meat lubricate the pan enough for the eggs to fry. Health-conscious cooks may use cooking sprays instead of oils to fry their eggs, with the goal of transferring less grease to the plate. Common accompaniments for fried eggs include potato dishes like hash browns, bacon, sausages, and toast.

Many people have a marked preference for a level of doneness when it comes to their fried eggs. Some consumers enjoy eggs with runny yolks, often eating them with toast to mop up the yolk. Others prefer hard yolks. From a food safety perspective, hard eggs are safer to eat, carrying less risk of salmonella and other food borne diseases, and in some regions, restaurants may be reluctant to prepare fried eggs with soft yolks for this reason.

In a variation on the basic fried egg, some people fry an egg in a hole made in a piece of bread, creating a dish known as toad in the hole, egg in the basket, or egg in toast. Other variations on fried eggs include the fried eggs eaten over rice or vegetables in many parts of Asia as a hearty lunch, and fried eggs seasoned with a variety of spices to create distinctive colors and flavorings.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By GlassAxe — On Apr 19, 2011

I was watching a show about exotic food and one of the episodes featured a fried egg recipe from Morocco. The dish was eggs cooked in rancid fat of some sort. I am wondering if anyone has ever tried this dish. I am willing to try anything new at least once, but I do not know if I could ever go this far. I am curious to know though how it tastes, and if it is as bad as it sounds.

By Alchemy — On Apr 18, 2011

@GiraffeEars- That sounds like an interesting fried egg breakfast. My parents were from the south so our breakfasts were a little different from normal. We would often eat fried eggs smothered in hot sauce, grits, biscuits, and blackened catfish.

What made the eggs somewhat unique is that we would smother them in hot sauce as soon as we cracked them into the pan. the eggs were always cooked over easy, and as soon as you flip the eggs, you turn the heat to high just long enough to evaporate most of the liquid in the hot sauce. To this day, smothered eggs are still my favorite.

By GiraffeEars — On Apr 16, 2011

I spent half of my childhood on the big island of Hawaii, and one of the island favorites, a dish you could find at any diner any time of day, was the loco moco. This is an absolutely perfect fried egg recipe that you could eat any time of day.

The loco moco consists of a bowl of rice that is topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and smothered in gravy. Some establishments smother the dish in brown gravy, others in white country gravy, but either way it was delicious. I would always order mine with an egg over easy and brown gravy to go.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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