What’s a Smoke Point?
Smoke point is the temperature at which an oil will start to emit a bluish smoke, depending on its composition, including moisture content and free fatty acids. For the best performance of your cookware, oil needs to be heated to below that temperature. So it makes sense to choose an oil that won’t burn at optimum cooking temperatures.
Does 25 Degrees Matter?
When you look at this expert chart and notice that the difference in smoke point between olive and coconut oils is only 25°, you might ask, “what’s the big deal?”
Caramelization is the big deal – most vegetables and proteins taste better when seared or browned first to develop flavours and keep the inside nice and juicy.
That temperature difference can result in a perfectly browned chicken breast or a pale white one. So choose a good quality neutral oil like grapeseed, coconut or canola for frying, and save your good-for-you extra virgin olive oil for dressing the food after it’s cooked. Chef Ned Bell uses grapeseed oil for his Scallop recipe.
Here’s a handy chart of the smoke points of common fats; it’s the list I was handed when I was in culinary school, courtesy of the latest edition of the Culinary Institute of America bible, The Professional Chef, with some gaps filled in by my personal bible, Modernist Cuisine.
|Type of Fat||Smoke Point||Neutral?*|
|Rice Bran Oil||490°F/260°C||Yes|
|Light/Refined Olive Oil||465°F/240°C||Yes|
|Avocado Oil (Virgin)||375-400°F/190-205°C||No|
|Chicken Fat (Schmaltz)||375°F/190°C||No|
|Extra-Virgin Olive Oil||325-375°F/165-190°C||No|