Knowing the smoke point temperatures of cooking oils and fats is important. This informational guide lists when common oils begin to break down and degrade. Making the right selection will help optimize nutrition, taste, and safety in the kitchen.
Cooking oils are essential for deep frying and preventing food from sticking to pans. However, they all have limitations based on their composition. Do you know how to choose oil for different cooking applications and why? Using the smoke point is one of the most objective ways to make a selection, keeping function, health, and safety in mind.
For example, when cooking at high temperatures like stir-frying or deep frying, selecting an oil with a high smoke point is best to provide a comfortable buffer during the cooking process. You’ll also want to consider the duration, as a quick saute can use butter with a lower smoke point, but only because the time in the pan is not as long as pan-frying something like breaded chicken.
What does smoke point mean?
The smoke point temperature is when oil breaks down into free fatty acids and visibly produces smoke. This temperature, measured with a thermometer, varies between different oils, and all oils will smoke with prolonged heating. Maintaining this temperature can become unsafe and possibly start a fire if you reach the flashpoint of the oil.
Smoke point temperatures
|FAT / OIL||SMOKE POINT||APPLICATION|
|Butter||300-350°F (149-175°C)||Saute, quick pan-fry, baking, roasting|
|Extra-Virgin Olive Oil||325-410°F (163-210°C)||Saute, finishing oil, dressings, marinades, baking|
|Coconut Oil||350-385°F (175-196°C)||Saute, pan-fry, baking, roasting|
|Sesame Oil||350-410°F (175-210°C)||Saute, small amount for stir-frying|
|Vegetable Shortening||360-410°F (180-210°C)||Baking, saute|
|Lard||370°F (188°C)||Saute, pan-fry, baking, roasting, deep-frying|
|Grapeseed Oil||390°F (195°C)||Saute, pan-fry, baking, roasting, dressings|
|Canola Oil||400-450°F (204-230°C)||Searing, saute, pan-fry, stir-fry, baking, roasting, grilling, deep-frying|
|Vegetable Oil||400-450°F (204-230°C)||Searing, saute, pan-fry, stir-fry, baking, roasting, grilling, deep-frying|
|Margarine||410-430°F (210-221°C)||Saute, stir-fry, roasting|
|Corn Oil||410-450°F (210-230°C)||Searing, saute, pan-fry, baking, roasting, grilling, deep-frying|
|Light/Refined Olive Oil||425-465°F (218-241°C)||Saute, pan-fry, grilling, baking, roasting|
|Sunflower Oil||440°F (230°C)||Searing, saute, pan-fry, baking, roasting, grilling, deep-frying|
|Peanut Oil||440-450°F (227-230°C)||Searing, saute, pan-fry, stir-fry, baking, roasting, grilling, deep-frying|
|Clarified Butter||450°F (230°C)||Saute, pan-fry, baking, roasting|
|Soybean Oil||450-495°F (230-257°C)||Searing, saute, pan-fry, baking, roasting, grilling, deep-frying|
|Safflower||510°F (265°C)||Searing, saute, pan-fry, baking, roasting, grilling, deep-frying|
|Avocado Oil, Refined||520-570°F (271-299°C)||Saute, pan-fry, baking, roasting, grilling, dressings|
How composition affects smoke point
The structure of oils, especially free fatty acids, determines their suitability for high-temperature frying. By definition, fats are solid at room temperature, while oils remain liquid. Fats are made up of triglycerides, which are three fatty acids bonded to a glycerol molecule.
Most meat-based fats, such as butter, are high in saturated fats, while plant-based oils are high in unsaturated fats. The health benefits are better when cooking with plant-based oils. However, the taste of animal fats is more flavorful.
Smoke points change during cooking
When the oil is heated and in contact with, say, chicken on the stovetop, the smoke point, and recommended use duration reduce. The oil starts reacting with the other ingredients’ water to form more free fatty acids.
Unsaturated fatty acids also oxidize when heated. Fresher oil will have a higher smoke point and then lowers over time with continuous heating. The rate at how quickly oil breaks down into free fatty acids can be indicated by its smoke point.
Know the limit
Cooking oil at the smoke point can create undesirable flavors from the breakdown and release of a chemical called acrolein which gives burnt food its characteristic aroma and taste. In that case, you may want to consider high smoke point oil.
Selecting an oil
Typically vegetable-derived oil has a higher smoke point than animal-based fats. The exception is when cooking with olive oil, which is closer in smoke point to butter depending on the level of refinement and brand.
Another thing to consider is if you’re using refined versus unrefined oils. Refined oils remove impurities that contribute to smoking, which increases the smoke point.