Milks have percentages; meats have grades; eggs have sizes.
Knowing a bit about what those all mean can make you both a better shopper and a better cook.
Cooking dinner shouldn't be complicated
But to understand why that is, we first need to look at egg classifications. In the United States, six egg size standards exist:
Peewee: about 1 1/4 ounces per egg, 15 ounces per dozen
Small: about 1 1/2 ounces per egg, 18 ounces per dozen
Medium: about 1 3/4 ounces per egg, 21 ounces per dozen
Large: about 2 ounces per egg, 24 ounces per dozen
Extra large: about 2 1/4 ounces per egg, 27 ounces per dozen
Jumbo: about 2 1/2 ounces per egg, 30 ounces per dozen
Peewee eggs are the smallest you can find—if you can find them—and they come from extremely young hens. Peewee eggs are quite rare, and consumer demand for these petite eggs is low. These are typically sent to production companies for egg products, not packaged and sold at supermarkets.
Small eggs are also from young hens, and they likely lay these within the first few months of being mature enough to produce eggs. Small eggs are also typically too small for consumers, so you won’t likely find them on store shelves.
Medium eggs are the smallest size you can expect to find at grocery stores.
Large eggs are standard in recipes because they’re the most common size. Fully mature, healthy hens lay eggs this size, which is why large eggs are so plentiful.
Extra large eggs are a skosh bigger than large and perhaps less common because they’re practically a large.
Jumbo eggs, lastly, are the largest chicken eggs you’ll find. They’re rare, too, but not as rare as peewee. You can actually buy jumbo eggs in some stores.
In the U.S., egg cartons are labeled by the total net weight of the eggs all together, not the weight of the individual eggs.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture writes, “Size tells you the minimum required net weight per dozen eggs. It does not refer to the dimensions of an egg or how big it looks.”
That means—and you may have seen this—some eggs can look like different sizes in the same carton. And you’d be right: It is possible you’d have a medium egg and an extra-large egg, but the overall weight total for the eggs could be in the “large” category.
This is perhaps why extra-large eggs aren’t as plentiful on store shelves. Because they’re only slightly larger than a large egg, the egg producers can balance the larger egg with one that’s lighter. The final weight would still work out.
When proper egg sizes matter
If you’re making a fried egg for brekkie or scrambling up a couple of oeufs for a light lunch, the size won’t matter at all.
But there are two cases where you want to make sure you’re using the egg that was called for in the recipe. (If a recipe doesn’t call for a specific egg size, use large.)
The first case is baked goods. Breads, cookies, pancakes, and brownies rely on the precise ratio of eggs and other ingredients to get the best product. Too much or too little egg can have a significant impact on the final texture and taste.
The second case for precise egg sizes is egg-centric dishes. Quiche, custard, Hollandaise sauce, mayonnaise, meringue—they also rely on a specific ratio or amount of egg (or egg whites) to other ingredients, and the wrong size could make the dish flop.
How to substitute egg sizes
If you find yourself with the ingredients for chocolate cake but eggs that are too big (jumbo instead of large), your dessert isn’t doomed. You just need to measure egg liquids instead of using whole eggs. Commit these amounts to memory:
Medium egg = 3 tablespoons
Large egg = 3 1/4 tablespoons
Extra-large egg = 4 tablespoons
Jumbo = 4 1/4 tablespoons
Substitute total eggs in a recipe for the total amount of egg liquids with these measurements. This way, you can get the egg amount you need, even if the egg size isn’t right.
To measure liquid eggs, break up yolks and whisk with whites until thoroughly incorporated. Measure in a liquid measuring cup or jigger.
As an example, if your recipe calls for three large eggs, you’ll need 9 3/4 tablespoons, or 9 tbsp plus 2 1/4 teaspoons. If you do have jumbo eggs, you can even use two eggs (8 1/2 tablespoons), and then measure out the remaining 1 1/4 tablespoons from a third egg.
If you’ve had issues with stiff cookies or spongy cakes, it may be that your egg sizes were throwing off your final dish. Pay closer attention got your egg sizes next time, and the result may be better.
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