As the holidays approach, perhaps you’re hankering for a plate of crispy latkes just like Bubbe used to make. Maybe you’re craving deep-fried turkey this Thanksgiving. Or maybe it’s currently mid-April and you’ve stumbled onto this article because you’re in the mood for something fried and tasty.
No matter when or what you’re frying you probably have the same questions: exactly how much oil should you use? And what should you do with the oil afterward?
We talked to two culinary experts to get the scoop on home frying safely, and with minimal waste.
Not all oils are created equal when it comes to frying.
Olive oil and coconut oil are better suited for sautéing (where the food is cut into small pieces so it cooks quickly) rather than shallow or deep-frying because they have a low smoke point, meaning they’ll smoke and burn before they get hot enough to fry your food.
Darren Clay, a chef with University of British Columbia’s dining services and a former culinary school instructor, favors grape-seed oil for frying because it’s “neutral, fairly inexpensive, and has a high smoke point.”
Many people like the taste of peanut oil (which is more affordable and easier to find in most supermarkets), but commercial kitchens tend not to use it, because it’s a common allergen, he adds.
If you don’t have any concerns about peanut allergies, peanut oil could be the best choice for your home frying needs. Otherwise, grape-seed oil may be your best bet (although this option is pricier).
|Oil type||Smoke point|
|extra virgin olive oil||325–375ºF (163–190ºC)|
|schmaltz or lard||370–375ºF (188–190ºC)|
|grape-seed oil||390ºF (199ºC)|
|peanut oil||450ºF (232ºC)|
|safflower oil||510ºF (265ºC)|
How long it takes any given oil to reach its smoke point will vary based on the type of pan and stove you’re using, and how much of the oil you’re heating. Regardless, if the oil stops shimmering and starts smoking, that’s a sure sign that you need to lower your heat ASAP.
Never pour water on a grease fire!
If your oil ever passes the smoke point so far that it catches fire, do not pour water on it. Water and oil don’t mix, remember? Water will send your flaming oil splashing and sliding across the stove and counter. Here’s what to do:
- Cover the flames with a lid to extinguish oxygen.
- Turn off your heat source (especially if using a gas stove).
- If it’s a small fire, you can pour salt or baking soda on it to extinguish it.
That depends on whether you’re deep-frying, shallow frying, or pan frying. For deep-frying, use enough oil to completely submerge the turkey, donuts, or whatever else you’re frying.
If you’re using a deep fryer, it will typically have a fill line for the oil. “That’s a good indicator and it tells you when to stop,” says Nik Fields, a chef and owner of Chic Chef Co., a line of infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars.
For shallow frying, like with latkes, you want the oil to be halfway up the side of the food so you only need to flip it once. (Shallow frying differs from sautéing because it uses larger pieces of food like a fillet.)
Pan frying — when only one side of the food needs to take on color, like a piece of fish or chicken — requires very little oil. “A very thin layer [of oil] that stretches across the pan is sufficient,” says Clay, “as the viscosity of oil thins out when heated.” He advises home cooks to start with a little bit of oil. “You can always add more oil as opposed to using too much at the beginning,” he adds.
To get a satisfying crunch, Fields suggests spacing out the food. “Overcrowding the pan will lead to soggy fried food,” she cautions. “No one likes soggy fried chicken.”
When to stop pouring the oil
- Deep fry. For fully submerged frying, a proper deep fryer will have a fill line indicating how high the oil should be in the basin.
- Shallow fry. Use just enough oil to come halfway up the side of your food in the pan so you only need to flip once. Start with less oil than you think you need because the food will displace it slightly. Add more as needed.
- Pan fry. A tablespoon or 2 will do, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan in a very thin layer as the oil heats up.
Clay filters used cooking oil with a wire mesh sieve and stores it in a sealed jar in the fridge for reuse. Depending on what he’s used the cooking oil for and how neutral those flavors are, it can last for up to 3 months in the fridge. If you’re frying something breaded, however, the bread crumbs tend to break down the oil more quickly and can lower the potential reusability, he adds.
You likely don’t want to reuse oil from fried fish or other fragrant foods, Fields points out, because the next food you fry will take on that smell. “The only way that I would reuse the oil is if I fried something that doesn’t have a smell,” she says. “If you fried protein last time, stick to that same protein.”
Also, don’t leave a pot of oil uncovered overnight if you plan to reuse it. Oil can attract fruit flies or other particles you don’t want in your food. Yuck.
Whatever you do, don’t (we repeat: DO NOT) pour oil down the drain, as it can clog the pipes. “A bottle of $5 oil can cause a plumbing problem that costs $200,” Fields warns. She suggests cooling the oil, pouring it into a recyclable, resealable container (like an empty soda bottle or pickle jar), and throwing it in the trash.
Clay pours small amounts of used cooking oil into his compost, as allowed by the city of Vancouver, Canada. Other jurisdictions may not accept cooking oil in compost bins. For large quantities of cooking oil, some cities have grease and oil drop-off programs.
Say you bought a bottle of seasoned oil and you don’t use it up. Fields says it will keep for 6 months to a year if you reseal the bottle and store it in a cool, dry place.
“You could possibly use it for pizza dough or some type of bread because it’s already seasoned,” she says. “The oil would be baked into the dough to coat the pan from burning and to add extra flavor.” Also consider using leftover oil to create your own salad dressing or marinade.
Now you got all the facts, go forth with (the right kind) oil and recreate your favorite fried foods at home, then dispose of — or reuse! — the oil responsibly.
Susan Johnston Taylor is a freelance writer who’s contributed to the Boston Globe, Entrepreneur, and Fast Company, among other publications. Read more of her work.