Every home cook who’s a fan of eggs has sooner or later found themselves asking the question, “What’s the difference between an omelet and scrambled eggs?”
Heck, that’s probably why you’re here, too. It all comes down to how the eggs are cooked and which of these two ways you—and the folks you cook for—like the most.
While omelets and scrambled eggs are both made from whisked eggs, they differ in cooking technique. An omelet is cooked flat over medium-high heat and carefully folded, whereas scrambled eggs are slow-cooked over medium-low heat and deliberately mangled.
You’re essentially using the same set of tools (a frying pan and a spatula) and taking the same three ingredients (whisked eggs, cooking oil, and butter) but applying a different technique for different results:
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, before folding the omelet in half, many tend to add cubed ham, shredded cheese, and, in some cases, mushrooms sautéed in advance in a strip down the center. Doing so makes the omelet more decadent.
Whether you’re about to cook up an omelet or make yourself some scrambled eggs, you need to pay attention to a thing or two if you want to achieve the tastiest outcomes.
So let’s see what these things are.
Start With the Number of Eggs to Use
Omelets and scrambled eggs are made à la minute, and they taste best when eaten shortly after serving. Leftovers dry out and can’t be salvaged, especially when reheated, so try not to have them in the first place.
You’ll need a couple of eggs per person for less hungry diners, and a few eggs per person for more. As a general rule of thumb, the correct quantity of eggs to add to an omelet or scrambled eggs is 2-3 eggs per person.
Still, what’s right for me isn’t guaranteed to be the same for you. So do take my rules of thumb with a generous grain of salt, then try them out and experiment with them until you come up with ones of your own.
The Diameter of Your Frying Pan Matters
Use a frying pan that’s too small, and you’ll easily overwhelm it with the amount of scrambled eggs, or cook an omelet that’s too thick to fold appropriately in half.
Conversely, cook with a frying pan that’s too big, and it will dry out your scrambled eggs or yield an omelet so thin, you’ll have a hard time not mangling it when trying to fold it in half.
This, my friends, is a classic Goldilocks situation. The question is how you can get yourselves out of it without eating everyone’s porridge and sleeping on everyone’s bed.
Through much trial and error, I’ve found that an 8-inch skillet allows you to cook 2-3 eggs at a time, a 10-inch skillet 3-4 eggs, and a 12-inch skillet 4-5 eggs. Of course, this is an imperfect approximation and will vary by +/- an egg depending on how big the eggs in your fridge.
Suppose you’re already about the exceed this fictitious limit. What should you do? Cook your eggs in batches.
Select the Right Kitchenware for the Job
When cooking an omelet, use a non-stick or ceramic pan and a plastic fish spatula (check out my picks for the best spatulas). The slick coating will keep the omelet from sticking to the surface of the pan, and the flexible spatula will slide right under it, allowing you to fold it worry-free.
The best tools for scrambled eggs are a seasoned cast iron skillet and a wooden spatula. The seasoning on the skillet will keep the eggs from sticking, but the sturdiness of the wooden spatula will assist you in scrambling them as much as your heart desires.
Use a stainless steel frying pan only if you know what you’re doing.
Low-fat, high-protein foods, like eggs and fish fillets, are prone to sticking (badly) to stainless steel cookware’s surface. The only way to keep that from happening is by using the right amount of heat and quantity of oil—which can be a notoriously tricky thing to do.
Warm, Crack, and Whisk the Eggs “Just Enough”
Bring the eggs to room temperature by taking them out of your fridge and resting them for 15-20 minutes before cooking.
Crack each egg on a clean and flat surface like a thick cutting board or your countertop, then, using both of your hands like claws, split the cracked shell into two and pour the egg’s goodness in a bowl.
With a whisk (preferably) or fork (alternatively), beat the eggs for 25-30 seconds until they’ve become silky and uniform. Don’t beat them for too long; you’ll insert an unnecessary amount of air into them.
Pan-Fry in a Mix of Cooking Oil and Butter
Sure, you could use just cooking oil, but nothing can rival the sweet scent and creamy flavor of eggs cooked in butter. So for the best result, use equal parts cooking oil and butter.
What kind of cooking oil is best, you may ask?
Most recipes call for extra virgin olive oil, but I beg to differ because it has a remarkably low smoke point. At 375°F, extra virgin olive oil stops to glisten and shimmer and starts to break down and burn.
That probably sounds a bit too hot to most of you, but you can bring your pan past that temperature quickly and effortlessly while preheating it over medium-high heat for an omelet. Even if you don’t, most olive oils will impart a green color and bitter flavor to your eggs.
Use rice bran oil instead. Rice bran oil has a high smoke point and a subtly nutty flavor that blends extraordinarily well with that of melted butter. Seriously, these two are a match made in heaven.
Mind the Heat Dial (This Is How)
Cook scrambled eggs on medium-low/medium heat, and an omelet on medium/medium-high heat.
Since you’re scrambling the eggs into smaller pieces, there’s more surface area that comes into contact with your skillet. So cooking them at medium-high to high heat will over-brown them and dry them out.
An omelet is more like a pancake. You want your frying pan hot enough to cook the omelet and make it foldable. Still, you don’t want it so hot that it burns the eggs on one side—a mistake that home cooks like you and I often make when distracted by other chores or simply in a hurry.
Add Salt Near the End
Salting your eggs early on and before they’re cooked will cause the proteins in them to toughen. So the better time to season an omelet or scrambled eggs is seconds before they’re done cooking. Go for a flavorful and well-textured finishing salt, like Maldon Sea Salt Flakes.
Which Is Better?
The answer to this question depends on what you’d like to do.
If you’re in a hurry and you want to cook up a delicious and nutritious snack for yourself or your family, scrambled eggs are the better option. Compared to an omelet, they’re easier to make as less can go wrong with them.
If you’re in the mood for cooking like a French chef and would like to apply your culinary skills for a fine and neatly folded omelet, by all means go for it. Sauté mushrooms in advance and add them in a strip along the center, complemented by cubed ham and/or shredded cheese, for the most louche omelet you could make.