How to Choose the Right Oil for Frying and Sautéing

How do you know what oil to use for what dish? Knowing the smoke point of different oils will help to determine which is the best one to use.

Smoke point is the temperature when the oil starts to smoke and the fat starts to break down. It's also when you start to get that acrid smell. You want to make sure that you are cooking with the right oil for the right job, so your food doesn't have that burnt flavor and bad aroma.

Man pouring cooking oil into pan with onion on stove
Photo by BigStock.

Different oils have varying smoke points depending on what they're composed of and how refined/processed they are. More refined oils, like safflower oil or canola oil, have a longer shelf life and a higher smoke point, and less flavor (which is why they're often called neutral oils). These oils are best for frying or roasting.

Less refined oils, like extra virgin olive oil and extra virgin coconut oil, have a shorter shelf life and a lower smoke point, and they're full of flavor. These oils are best for sautéing

When frying or roasting food you should choose an oil with a high smoke point, above 375°F. Foods that just need a sauté in the pan can be cooked in oil with a lower smoke point.

Coconut Oil
Photo by Marty Baldwin.

Below is a list of oils with various different smoke points (rated from highest to lowest), and a breakdown of what each one is good for.

Best Oils for Frying

  • Refined Avocado Oil 520°F
  • Refined/Light Olive Oil 465°F
  • Peanut Oil 450°F
  • Sunflower Oil 450°F
  • Corn Oil 450°F
  • Canola Oil 400°F

Best Oils for Sautéing/ Baking

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil 375°F
  • Extra Virgin Coconut Oil 350°F
  • Sesame Oil 350°F
  • Butter 350 °F
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