The smoke point is the temperature at which oil or fat will burn and, you guessed it, smoke!
Why do I need to know smoke point?
Because different oils have different smoke points, each type of oil lends themselves better to different cooking methods. Knowing the smoke point of the fat you want to use will dictate the type of cooking method you can use with that fat.
For example, when it comes to deep frying you want an oil that can withstand being at 325-375°F for a sustained amount of time. Butter would burn and smoke before you could even deep fry anything in it. But Peanut oil would be a great choice.
When oils hit their smoke point, it is definitely unsafe but it also negatively affects the flavor. You can’t reverse the bitter taste of burnt fat or oil.
Smoke Points of Common Oils and Fats
Keep in mind that these are the smoke points. The point you do not want to reach with fats or oils. These ranges do not mean they can handle these temperatures, this is the point of no return.
A few things to note
As you can see in the chart butter in on the low end. Butter burns so easily. I am definitely guilty of burning butter on many occasions. To help with that, watch the temperature of your pan.
On the flip side there is Avocado oil. It has the highest smoke point which means you could use it for everything right? Technically yes. You can fry with it and sauté with it and everything in between, but it can be on the pricey side. Canola oil or vegetable oil is super cheap and works just as well. So it’s up to what you value.
Remember food allergies when using oil as well. Peanut oil is a favorite among many chefs and cooks but can be harmful to someone with a peanut allergy.
Also while some oils have a high smoke point their flavor is so strong you would not want to use it as your primary oil source like sesame oil or walnut oil. Super flavorful oils are best suited as a flavoring agent in small quantities.
What type of oil should I use for everyday cooking?
I love using a canola oil and extra virgin olive oil 50/50 blend. I fill an oil bottle with half of each and keep it by my stove for easy access. The canola oil increases the overall smoke point and the extra virgin olive oil adds flavor. I use this on veggies before roasting, drizzled in a pan for sautéing or searing, and even mixed in a salad dressing.
Depending on what you are cooking, you can add a lower smoke point fat or oil with a higher smoke point oil to get the best of both worlds, higher overall smoke point and flavor. For example when I am caramelizing onions I love using butter. So I add about half butter and half of my oil mixture to the pan for caramelizing.
You never want to get to the smoke point of oil, but stuff happens. I have definitely overheated my pan before adding oil and then as soon as I add my oil it immediately smokes.
Once past the smoke point oil can reach the flash point where the oil can literally just burst into flames. If this happens it is best to stay calm and to NEVER POUR WATER ON A GREASE FIRE! The best thing you can do is to cover it by putting a pot lid or cookie sheet on the fire and turn off the heat. If there is still a small fire, you can smother it by sprinkling baking soda or salt on it. Don’t be a hero though. Get you and your loved ones out safely if the fire is out of control and call 911 immediately.
Here is a great article with more information on what to do in the case of a grease fire. It never hurts to be prepared and know what to do before an emergency.
Knowledge is power. I truly believe in that. The more you know about the ingredients you are using and how they function in a method or technique the more freedom you will have when cooking. Knowing the smoke point of oil gives you the power of choice with what oil you want to use to cook with. Use smoke point knowledge along with personal taste preference and price point to help guide you to the right oil to use.
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