Here’s something most cookbooks won’t tell you:
Not all cooking oils are made equal. And learning how to choose the right oil for each cooking method one of the most important skills you need to learn as a home cook.
Some oils at the grocery store, like avocado oil and rice bran oil, are very resilient to high heat, which is why they’re ideal for searing steak and pork chops; or shallow-frying Wiener schnitzel, battered chicken, and breaded fish.
Others, like grapeseed oil, butter, duck fat, and beef tallow, break down at fairly-high temperatures, which makes them more suitable for medium-heat cooking methods, like sautéing mushrooms and asparagus; deep frying all kinds of foods; or roasting large meats and poultry in your oven.
A select few, like extra virgin olive oil, are so tender, that you’re better off cooking with them mostly over medium heat; drizzling them over pasta and pizza; adding them to rustic bread and pizza doughs; and using them as a base in salad dressings.
In this post, I’m going to show you the best uses and smoke points of the most common types of cooking oils and fats in the supermarket—and how to pick the right oil for each cooking method.
But, before I get there, some of you are probably asking… Why is this so important in the first place?
What Does “Smoke Point” Mean?
Vegetable oils and animal fats contain minerals, enzymes, and aroma compounds that burn easily when heated above a certain temperature. That temperature is different for every oil or fat and it’s known as the “smoke point.”
The smoke point of cooking oils and fats is the temperature at which they stop to glisten and shimmer, and start to disintegrate and smoke. When an oil or fat is heated past its smoke point, it gives off bluish smoke and produces harmful compounds that give it an acrid smell and an off taste.
You shouldn’t overheat cooking oils for three reasons.
First, burnt oil contains carcinogenic compounds. Second, its aroma is so intense and its taste so foul, it will ruin your dish and you’ll most probably end up throwing it in the trash. Third, the smoke builds up on the walls in your kitchen and the burns can be really hard to clean off of your frying pan.
Prevent this from happening in your daily cooking by (1) choosing the right type of cooking oil or fat for the cooking method of each recipe, and (2) controlling the heat on your stove or oven.
What’s the smoke point of the oil in your kitchen cabinet or pantry?
I created this chart to help you find out.
What does that tell you?
The vegetable oils with the highest smoke points therefore and most suitable for high-heat cooking are avocado oil (480-520°F), rice bran oil (490°F), and mustard oil (490°F).
The best vegetable oils for medium-high heat cooking are canola oil, corn oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil, sesame seed oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, palm oil, and peanut oil.
Since animal and dairy fats like beef tallow, butter, duck fat, and Schmaltz have the tendency to burn easily, you should only cook with them over medium heat.
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