Increasingly, the health implications of using certain oils rather than others is a source of debate and concern, with some opting to substitute their more traditional cooking oils for trendy replacements. Problems occur when cooks at home try to use alternative oils in their home recipes to find that these oils don't react as predictably as the oils they've been using for years. Doing research on how various oils react to heat can be the difference between successfully integrating a new cooking oil into a routine and feeling like you've wasted your money on a bottle of an oil you never want to use again.

Smoking Points of Cooking Fats And Oils

It's best to fry foods with an oil that has a high smoking point. The majority of foods fry between 350-450°F, so using an oil that smokes above 400°F would be a good choice. Butters and oils with lower smoking points, like olive oil, work well with lower temperature cooking like sautéing.

From Highest To Lowest

Avocado Oil: 570°F (271°C)
Ghee: 485°F (252°C)
Extra Light Olive Oil: 468°F (242°C)
Refined Soybean Oil: 460°F (238°C)
Refined Coconut Oil: 450°F (232°C)
Peanut Oil: 450°F (232°C)
Corn Oil: 440°F (227°C)
Refined Canola Oil: 400°F (204°C)
Virgin Olive Oil: 391°F (199°C)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: 375°F (191°C)
Lard: 370°F (188°C)
Vegetable Shortening: 360°F (182°C)
Unrefined Sesame Oil: 350°F (177°C)
Extra Virgin Coconut Oil: 350°F (177°C)
Butter: 200-250°F (120-150°C)
Flaxseed Oil: 225°F (107°C)

variety of cooking oils in bottles
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Smoking Point Vs. Boiling Point

When choosing a cooking oil for any recipe, there are a few things to consider. The biggest factors tend to be how that particular oil will affect flavor, the nutritional value of the oil, and whether the smoking point will allow you to cook your food in the style of choice.

If you use a cooking liquid frequently, you become aware of its properties and get accustomized to working with it. Most people know what water looks like when it's boiling, but oils can be a little more complicated. After a cooking oil passes its boiling point, it will start smoking which is a sign it's too hot and needs to be turned off.

The smoking point is the temperature at which the fat in the cooking oil breaks down and produces smoke (and typically, an unappealing smell). An oil's smoking point varies depending on the level of refinement, its origin, and chemical components. For example, coconut oil's high smoking point makes it perfect for stir-frying, whereas almond oil has a subtle flavor that can be canceled out by introducing too much heat, making it ideal for cooler dishes. Generally, the smoking point will be a higher temperature if the free fatty acid content is lower and the oil refinement is higher. This is because refining an oil removes the impurities that make oils smoke.

A good visual tip is that the lighter the oil, the higher the smoking point. In general, plant-based oils tend to have higher smoking points than animal-based fats, such as butter or lard. (The heating process itself creates more free fatty acid, which is why it's unadvised to use the same oil for deep frying more than twice.)

adding oil to frying pan
ben bryant/Shutterstock

Boiling Oil Safety Tips

  • Build up the heat of the oil slowly instead of turning it up on high right away.
  • Never leave oil boiling unattended. If oil starts to smoke, it means the temperature is too high for it and the heat needs to go off immediately or a grease fire could result.
  • Never throw water on a grease fire! Water and oil do not mix, and when you add water to grease, the water sinks beneath the oil and begins to evaporate, spraying flaming, oily water everywhere. Grease fires can be put out with salt or baking soda, or by covering it with a metal lid or container to cut off the oxygen to the fire. For this reason, it's advised that when you cook with oil, you have salt, baking soda, or a lid next to you in case a fire breaks out.
  • Place the food you're cooking in your pot or pan slowly instead of dropping it in suddenly, to avoid hot oil spraying out and burning skin.
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