Fats and oils are essential for cooking. They flavor and lubricate our food while also conducting heat during the cooking process. While in the past, many fats have received a bad reputation and been avoided, we now know that fast are actually fundamental and fantastic for cooking. However, because there are so many fats to choose from, many people end up cooking with the wrong fats or oils for their dish, or simply improperly using them. When cooking with fats and oils, it’s very important to know at what temperature that specific fat or oil begins to break down, also known as the “smoke point.”
Every fat has a smoke point, be it butter, lard, or oil. If you’ve ever seen your pan smoke, typically after it loses that shimmery look, that is a sign that your fat has reached its smoke point. Once this has happened fat begins to lose its healthy properties and can start to take on an unpleasant flavor. Many oils these days will tell you right on the bottle what the smoke point is. The higher the smoke point, the more ways you can cook with the oil, and the higher temperatures you can cook at. Oils with lower smoke points are great for dressings, drizzling, or cooking at lower temperatures.
Here is a list of very common fats and oils and their smoke points:
- Safflower oil – 510 degrees F
- Light/ refined olive oil – 490 degrees F
- Peanut oil – 450 degrees F
- Clarified butter (ghee) – 450 degrees F
- Sunflower oil – 440 degrees F
- Vegetable oil – 400-450 degrees F
- Canola oil – 400 degrees F
- Grapeseed oil – 390 degrees F
- Lard – 370 degrees F
- Avocado oil – 375-400 degrees F
- Chicken fat (schmaltz) – 375 degrees F
- Duck fat – 375 degrees F
- Vegetable shortening – 360 degrees F
- Sesame oil – 350 degrees F
- Butter – 350 degrees F
- Coconut oil – 350 degrees F
- Extra-virgin olive oil – 325-375 degrees F
For sautéing, use oil with a medium or lower smoke point, like extra virgin olive oil. When the oil in the pan begins to shimmer, add your food and cook away.
For searing, choose something with a high smoke point like peanut or vegetable oil. Heat it until it is just starting to smoke, then add your meat.
For stir-frying, choose an oil with a really high smoke point, like peanut or safflower oil. The idea it to get a thin layer of smoking-hot oil on the bottom of the wok before adding your ingredients.