Are deviled eggs the world's most polarizing snack? Chef Art Smith dishes on this love-it-or-hate-it menu item

·8-min read
Deviled eggs can be divisive. Whether you love or hate the high-protein snack, Chef Art Smith says deviled eggs have a rich and interesting history. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Deviled eggs can be divisive. Whether you love or hate the high-protein snack, Chef Art Smith says deviled eggs have a rich and interesting history. (Photo: Getty Creative)

It's the week after Easter and chances are you still have hard-boiled eggs in the fridge. An easy delicious option? Deviled eggs. That is, unless you hate them.

In the last 12 months, variations on deviled eggs were the most-searched-for recipe on the internet. A quick online search for "deviled egg recipe" yields more than 24 million results.

Chef and Florida native Art Smith is a Southern food expert and owner of Chef Art Smith's Homecomin' at Walt Disney World's Disney Springs, in addition to four other restaurants around the country. Smith tells Yahoo Life that deviled eggs "have been on [his] table longer than [he] can remember."

At Homecomin', a restaurant dedicated to his family's recipes, Smith's take on the dish is called "Church Lady Deviled Eggs." They're such a big hit that they've remained the most popular appetizer on the menu since the restaurant opened in 2016.

Where did deviled eggs come from?

Smith says deviled eggs are a Southern cuisine staple. "Potlucks and church socials are an important part of culture in the South," he explains. "The deviled egg is, for the most part, the ultimate portable dish and an inexpensive and filling dish for entertaining."

According to the North Carolina Egg Association, the dish is said to have originated in ancient Rome. Smith says he's heard about Roman ties to the classic hard-boiled egg dish, too. "Ancient Romans were the first I know of to boil eggs in water and season them with full-flavored sauces," he says. "People think deviled eggs are very ordinary, but the reality is that they have a very gourmet and lofty history."

Smith says in ancient Roman times, boiled egg dishes were often served at the beginning of fancy banquets. Roman imperialism led to the dish becoming popular throughout the rest of Europe. In the 14th century, the Spanish pounded the yolks with cilantro, pepper, coriander and onion, plus oil and salt, then stuffed the mixture back into the hollowed-out egg white. By the 19th century, the New World was loving deviled eggs, too. Some of the earliest U.S. cookbooks share recipes for the savory egg snack.

The evolution of deviled eggs

Originally introduced as a culinary term in the late 1700s, the term "deviled" isn't just used for eggs. Deviled crab, salmon, ham and chicken all refer to dishes that are heavily spiced with paprika, pepper or mustard powder, or are very spicy.

Many cookbooks in puritanical early America, though, stuck with labels like "stuffed eggs, "dressed eggs" or "salad eggs" to avoid association with Satan, who is typically not invited to or welcome at church socials. And the association with the prince of darkness has stuck: Famous reality television family the Duggars, who are devout Christians, call the dish "Yellow Pocket Angel Eggs" in their family.

Deviled eggs got an upgrade when the 1896 Boston Cooking School Cookbook suggested mayonnaise as a binder for the egg yolks. Mayo remains a prime ingredient in the dish today. And, as home entertaining grew in popularity during the mid-20th century, the popularity of deviled eggs as a fun, easy, cost-efficient finger food rose with it.

Because deviled eggs became popular as a party appetizer in the ’70s, companies began making caddies to allow for the safe transport of deviled eggs from place-to-place. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Because deviled eggs became popular as a party appetizer in the ’70s, companies began making caddies to allow for the safe transport of deviled eggs from place-to-place. (Photo: Getty Creative)

In the ’70s, Tupperware introduced the "Deviled Egg Taker," a dual-tray compartment with egg-shaped hollows to ensure the safety of the eggs, plus a cover and handle for easy transport. The trays could be easily placed on a party buffet table without upsetting the beautiful, star-shaped piping of the whipped yolk and garnish on top.

The deviled egg fell out of fashion for several decades, but it's back big time as a menu staple at gastropubs and a party-table fave — at least in the U.S.

Natascha Mirosch, a food writer and host of the podcast Extra Virgin: Food and Travel for the Epicurious, is based in Australia, where she says deviled eggs are known only as "vintage food."

"Here, they're considered very retro and most people under 40 would never have eaten one," says Mirosch. "They're something you'd see only served at a retro-themed party or served tongue-in-cheek in some kind of molecular reinvention by chefs."

While the classic recipe prevails, filling options are endless

While wildly popular, deviled eggs are still pretty polarizing. Smith says that's because of the challenge of perfectly hard-boiling and peeling the egg so the white remains intact.

"Luckily," he says, "grocery stores have taken the fear away from rubbery yolks and pockmarked whites by selling pre-boiled eggs that you can just slice, pop out the yolks and fill with your choice of flavor combinations."

Sunny Applegate, who lives in Orlando, Fla. and raises chickens in her backyard, swears by using only fresh eggs for her deviled eggs. "While they're harder to peel, eating a deviled egg made from fresh eggs laid that day is a singular experience," she says.

Smith says choosing filling choices can also turn some people off. "Sweet or savory? Hot or mild? Pickle or no pickle? These are the questions that people ask," he says, "and because deviled eggs are so versatile, adding unusual ingredients and flavors is sometimes risky."

The options for filling deviled eggs are endless: lemon zest and dill, smoked paprika and crunchy sea salt flakes, kimchi and seaweed salad and crispy crumbled bacon with chives are just some of the popular ways to serve them. Sarah Freeman cites a restaurant in her hometown of Charlotte, N.C., called Seoul Food Meat Co., with serving one of her favorite varieties of deviled eggs. On the Seoul Food menu? A Korean deviled egg that uses an egg pickled in soy sauce as the base for its filling. Still, the classic recipe — yolks mixed with mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper, then sprinkled with paprika — is Freeman's go-to pick to serve at her family's Yom Kippur break-the-fast meal.

The keto and low-carb diet revolution has also done wonders for the deviled egg's reputation. Smith started his own journey to drop pounds and embrace health and wellness in the mid-2010s, losing 120 pounds to control his diabetes and high blood pressure. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith dropped another 70 pounds. He credits deviled eggs as being an excellent, low-carb way to fuel your body with "protein, iron, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and disease-fighting nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin."

"The egg is a power player in menu planning," he says.

To keep deviled eggs healthy enough to play a part in your weight-loss plan, simply replace the mayonnaise in your recipe with protein- and probiotic-filled Greek yogurt, which also adds a savory tang to the filling.

Smith likes straight-forward classic flavors for his deviled eggs. "I lean toward goat cheese, the freshest herbs and the smokiness of bacon," he says. "My mother always added homemade pickle relish, but less is more when it comes to relishes. I also love them with pickled onions."

How to peel the perfect hard-boiled egg

The first step to a perfect hard-boiled egg is the way you boil the water. Placing eggs in cold water and heating them to a boil will yield eggs that are harder to peel, as the membranes will stick to the shell while the water heats. That's how you get pockmarked egg whites.

Instead, once the water comes to a boil, use a spoon to slowly lower each egg into the water and place the eggs on the bottom of the pot. Be gentle.

Placing eggs into boiling water with a slotted spoon is a good way to make hard-boiled eggs easier to peel. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Placing eggs into boiling water with a slotted spoon is a good way to make hard-boiled eggs easier to peel. (Photo: Getty Creative)

When the eggs are in the water, set a timer for between 11 and 13 minutes. Eleven-minute egg yolks will be jammier, heartier and thicker, while 13-minute egg yolks will be fluffier and more mousse-like.

When the timer goes off, drain the eggs and place them immediately into a bowl filled with ice water. This is called "shocking" the eggs, which stops the cooking and prevents overcooking.

Do. Not. Peel. Right. Away.

Let the eggs cool in the water for 15 minutes or more. You can also place them in the refrigerator for as long as a week. (If you peel them before putting them in the refrigerator, they'll last five days.)

To peel the eggs, run cold water in the sink. Gently tap the hard-boiled egg on the counter to create cracks along the hemisphere of the egg. Then, under the cold water, peel away the shell, which should lift off easily.

Rinse each egg under the water to remove any remaining shell fragments and dry them before slicing each one open and taking out the yolk.

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