How to choose cooking oils

Choosing general purpose, everyday cooking oils can be daunting. There are several questions that need to be answered in order to choose the right one for you.

How do you cook? Not your ability but your technique. If you sauté often then you will need to buy an oil that can handle heat. Not all oil is meant to be used at high heat, they start to burn and smoke.

Some oils are better suited to be used as flavor, drizzled onto food, tossed with pasta, or mixed for a dressing.

Then there are the health concerns. You should choose an oil based on how healthy it is for you. Yes that should be a thought if you are using oil everyday when cooking. There are about 120 calories per tablespoon, of oil on average.

Buy at
Tomato with Spaghetti, Pa...

Oil is a fat and they can be split into good and bad categories. Something I’m sure you’ve heard often…you will want to eliminate bad fats and increase good fats. Typically good fats are monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Bad fats are saturated fats, and trans fats.

There is a bit of debate about whether saturated fats can be considered completely bad. If you have high cholesterol problems or heart issues then it is a good idea to minimize your saturated fat consumption. There are many oils out there on the market. For our discussion we will focus on common cooking oils, their benefits and drawbacks. Not all cooking oil is created equal nor can it be used equally.

Olive oil is a healthy cooking oil; it is high in monounsaturated fat (which is good for you) and has antioxidants (again…good for you).

While olive oil is a “good for you oil” not all olive oils are good to cook with using heat, because of low smoke points. Extra virgin olive oil is better suited for putting on food for flavor unless you will be cooking with a lower heat. It has a low smoke point which means it will start to burn at high temperatures.
Knowing the smoke point of the oil is important when choosing cooking oils. If you need to cook at higher temperature, for sautéing or frying, then you will need oil with a higher smoke point.

Buy at
Wesson Oil Made from Vege...

Quick tips

• Cook with an oil with a minimum of 420°F smoke point, see chart below. This will be good for most cooking techniques (except deep frying)

• Chose an oil based on flavor profile. Olive oil will taste different than sesame oil. Olive oil is like wine, they will all vary by brand, so try other types and find what you like.

Know how the oil tastes so you know if it will work with what you are cooking.

• Cold food preparation i.e. dressing, vinaigrette, you can use oil with a lower smoke point. Again chose based on flavor…ask yourself will the oil complement the food,the ingredients in the recipe.

Olive pairs with a vary wide range of foods. Don't assume it won't go with something, try the combination to find out. Olive oil is a great oil with sweets, especially chocolates.

Chef likes olive oil because of its balance between versatility, flavor and health properties. It has a medium smoke point, except for extra virgin, which has a low smoke point

• Extra virgin olive oil for baking …he likes the stronger oil for baking. (He actually makes olive oil pancakes.) and uses it in his chocolate cakes and pound cakes. • Virgin olive oil for sautéing

• Extra virgin olive oil for vinaigrette

Here is a reference chart looking at oils and their smoke points. Keep in mind these are average smoke points, they can vary slightly.

olive oil

Oil Smoke point

Almond Oil 420°F 216°C

Avocado oil 520°F 271°C

Butter 350°F 177°C

Canola refined 470°F 240°C

Corn unrefined 350°F 177°C

Corn refined 450°F 232°C

Grape Seed 420°F 216°C

Olive Oil Virgin 420°F 216°C

Olive Oil Extra Virgin 375°F 191°C

Olive Oil Extra Light 468°F 242°C

Safflower oil unrefined 225°F 107°C

Safflower semi refined 450°F 232°C

Safflower refined 510°F 266°C

Sunflower unrefined 225°F 107°C

Sunflower semi refined 450°F 232°C

Vegetable shortening 360°F 182°C

Sign up for the Cookery Do

The Cooking Block's monthly newsletter. Get info on what's new on the site as well as extra tips from Chef.

Enter your E-mail Address
Enter your First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Cookery do.

Return from Cooking Oils to The Cooking Block Home

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.

Grilling Tips

Popular Topics

Our Blog
Meal Preparation
Cooking Trout
How to Cook Shrimp
Tips for Cooking Roast Beef

Things We Like

The Flavor Bible

The Flavor Bible

Culinary fine art by Shannon Grissom

Shannon Grissom art

Shannon Grissom Art

Free Menu with Grocery List

Sign up for the Cookery do, our monthly newsletter, and you'll get dinner plans. Once you sign up we'll send you recipes and a grocery list for two entrees and one side dish.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Enter your E-mail Address
Enter your First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Cookery do.