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All too often poorly written recipes have home cooks burning their cooking fat in the pan before cooking even begins. Every time a recipe asks you to pre-heat the pan with the oil already in it, they are setting you up for failure.
All cooking fats have a maximum temperature they can reach before they become too hot, smoke, and eventually catch fire. This is called a smoke point. While a little smoke is not the end of the world (simply turn off the heat until the pan cools down), burnt or smoking oil can develop an acrid (bitter) flavor which will transfer over to your final dish.
Highly refined oils typically have a higher smoke point than unrefined cooking fats because the refining process removes any impurities and free fatty acids that might cause the oil to smoke. So you’ll notice cooking fats with more flavor (butter, tallow, extra virgin olive oil) all have a relatively low smoke point! Meanwhile, canola, vegetable, and avocado oil have some of the highest smoke points around!
How you plan to cook your food should determine which cooking fat you choose or when to use them! We keep several cooking fats in the house so we never have to go without:
- Butter – because EVERYTHING is better with butter
- Extra Virgin Olive OIl – We like this California Olive Ranch. It comes in glass bottles so they don’t get greasy, its affordable, and has great flavor as a finishing oil!
- Sunflower Oil – I love this Colorado Proud Sunflower Oil. High in Omega-3’s and Vitamin E. We use this for high temp cooking and skin care!
Low Smoke Point Cooking Fats
Cooking methods like poaching, baking and sweating do not require a cooking fat that can handle high temperatures.
These cooking fats tend to have more flavor due to the difference in refinement and that will transfer over to your final dish.
- Unrefined Coconut
- Duck Fat
High Smoke Point Cooking Fats
Cooking methods like grilling, searing, sautéing, and frying all require a cooking fat that can handle high temperatures without turning bitter and acrid.
These oils have a neutral flavor profile and will not alter your final dish flavor at all.
- Clarified Butter
How to Put Out a Grease Fire
Grease fires can burn your house down. This video from PBS Fire Rescue is a great resource.
What cooking fats do you keep in your kitchen?
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