How to Deep-Fry Food Without Making a Hot Mess

Biting into the perfect french fry is kind of a thrill. Golden brown, with a wonderfully crispy crust and a pillowy, tender center -- yet it's also surprisingly light, not greasy. Truth is, deep-frying food doesn't have to be a heavy, greasy mess. Not when it's done right. Here's how to do it right!

French Fries
Photo by Meredith.

Deep-frying is a simple technique that nevertheless requires some attention to detail.

1) Use a deep, wide pot like a stockpot (or a dedicated deep-fryer) and enough oil to submerge the food you'll be frying. But leave at least 4 inches between the top of the oil and the lip of the pot to avoid spillovers and reduce splatters. A wok with long sloping sides also works great for deep-frying.

2) Use a neutral-flavored oil with a high smoking point, like peanut, sunflower, safflower, or soybean oil. Vegetable shortening and lard also work well. Extra-virgin olive oil and butter have lower smoking points, which means they will scorch at a much lower temperature -- making whatever you are frying taste burned and bitter.

3) Heat the pot of oil over medium-high heat to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Be patient. Heating a large amount of oil can take a while.

  • Use a candy thermometer or large-dial thermometer that can hook onto the pot. Oils will begin to burn between 400 and 450 degrees F (200 and 225 degrees C) and will catch fire at around 500 degrees F (250 degrees C), so keep a close eye on the temperature.
  • Once the oil reaches 350 degrees F, reduce the heat to low. If you notice the temperature on the thermometer dropping, turn the heat up a small amount until the temperature has crawled back up to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  • No thermometer? Not a deal-breaker. Stick the end of a wooden spoon into the center of the hot oil. When the temperature reaches about 350 degrees F, you'll see tiny bubbles sizzling where hot oil meets wood. Other methods? Toss a pinch of flour into the oil. If it sizzles, you're good; if it browns up immediately, too hot.

One Hot Second for Science: Hot oil keeps food from getting greasy because the hot, hot oil quickly evaporates water off the surface of the food, which keeps the oil on the surface, where it can work its crispy, crust-forming magic.

4) Carefully place food into the oil using a slotted spoon or tongs. To avoid splashing hot oil everywhere, don't drop food into the oil (splash!).

5) Fry in small batches without crowding. Crowding will cause the oil's temperature to drop, and you'll end up with greasy, stuck-together food. If you're frying in batches, let the oil temperature return to 350 before adding another round.

6) Allow each piece some space. If your food clumps together, separate the pieces, and move them around in the hot oil -- you'll get crispier results and a more even fry if you keep the food in motion. Once the exterior of the food is golden brown, test to see if it has cooked all the way through. If it is golden brown on the outside but undercooked on the inside, reduce the oil's heat to about 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) and begin again.

7) Remove the food to paper towels when golden brown outside and perfectly cooked inside. Use a slotted metal spoon, spatula, or spider for this operation. Also, don't put the hot, oily food on ink-covered newspapers. Getting fried food onto the paper towels quickly pulls the excess fat off the food and leaves a crispy, crunchy treat that isn't greasy and weighty with oil.

8) Season it! While the food's fresh from the fryer and piping hot, salt it. If you're making doughnuts, it's time to roll them in sugar.

Fried chicken on drying rack
Photo by Meredith.

Deep-Frying Quick Tips

  • Cut food into pieces of similar size if possible. They'll fry to a finish at the same rate. Smaller pieces will cook faster and more uniformly.
  • Pat the food dry with paper towels before placing in the hot oil. Never add wet food to hot oil -- splatter! splatter! splatter!
  • Be Ready for the Worst Case Scenario: Grease Fire! Burning the tater tots is one thing; burning down the house another. Remember, don't throw water on a grease fire! Suffocate the flames with a damp towel, a metal lid (if the fire's in the pot), some baking soda, or a fire extinguisher.

Reuse the Oil

It takes a lot of oil to deep-fry. Luckily, you can reuse the oil -- several times at least. After each use, skim the food bits from the oil or pour the -- cooled -- cooking oil through a strainer to remove impurities that can lower the smoke point and create funky flavors. Store the oil in the fridge in a sealed container. And toss when it smells stinky or gets dark and foamy. But never dump it down the drain or in the toilet!

Do You Need a Deep-Fat Fryer to Deep-Fry Properly?

The short answer, no! You can make amazing deep-fried foods using the above method. However, a deep-fryer that's dedicated exclusively to that task will have a few key advantages:

  • Programmable temperature settings make it easier to control the oil temperature. It stays nice and steady -- no messing around with thermometers, no adjusting the flames on your stove-top.
  • With electric deep fryers, the heating element is contained within the fryer -- no open flames or super-hot pots.
  • Fry buckets are convenient for lifting out hot food.
  • Some fryers have oil-filtering and storage functions built in.
  • Clean-up can be a little easier with dedicated deep-fryers.
  • Outdoorsy? You can also find propane deep fryers and turkey deep fryers meant for outdoor frying.
Deep Fryer
Photo by Meredith.

Delicious Foods Fit to Be Deep Fried


"Simple to make and heavenly when served warm and fresh. Was very impressed at how well they cooked. Only requires 2-3 minutes in the deep fryer; I would recommend flipping them over halfway into the cook time." -- Jeff in Saskatoon

Photo by Meredith.

Vicki's Hush Puppies

"Better than any hush puppies in the restaurants! Very quick and easy to make. I used an ice cream scoop half filled with batter to drop them in the fryer. The scoop really made them perfectly round." -- ADWANA

Hush Puppies
Hush Puppies | Photo by Meredith.

St. Louis Toasted Ravioli

"Having grown up in St. Louis, it is a given that I like these! For an interesting twist, after they are fried, sprinkle with shredded (not grated) Parmesan cheese and toast under broiler for a few seconds. This makes them even toastier and the cheese melts better if shredded instead of grated." -- JerryA

Toasted Ravioli
Toasted Ravioli | Photo by Meredith.

Find more 5-star recipes for Deep-Fried Foods.

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