“What is the best oil to cook with?” —Omar, Appleton
All cooking oils have different characteristics that contribute to the finished product. While the flavor of the cooking oil is certainly an important factor, what is probably more important is the amount of heat they will tolerate during the cooking process known as their “smoke point.” Smoke point is the temperature where an oil when heated will begin to smoke and “flash point” is the temperature where an oil when heated will burst into flames. Oils with the lowest smoke points include butter, extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil and most nut oils like hazelnut and walnut. These are better suited for flavoring dishes at the end of the cooking process. Oils with moderate smoke points include beef tallow, pork lard, chicken fat, duck fat, and vegetable oils including corn, sunflower and canola oils. While animal fats will impart distinct flavor profiles to the food, vegetable oils provide a neutral flavor and are therefore a good universal cooking oil for most fried applications. Oils with the highest smoke points include safflower, soybean, palm, coconut, and peanut oils, which are well suited to high-temperature cooking applications like stir fry and other sautéed dishes.