There are so many great conversations on the Hotline—it's hard to choose a favorite. Here, we bring you a heated debate on the best frying oil, plus a community-approved winner.
Frying is a delicate task. But it also produces some of our favorite foods like fried dough, french fries, pizza fritte, arancini, and fried chicken cutlets. You don’t actually need to own a deep-fryer in order to successfully fry; a heavy-bottomed bottom like a Dutch oven will do the trick, plus a spider or small metal mesh strainer for carefully removing the fried goods, and oil. When you finally find the courage to plunge your food into hot oil, you only get one shot, and have to watch it like a hawk. We want to equip ourselves with the best frying medium to ensure food comes out as delicately crunchy and not as blackened crisps.
That being said, there is a significant amount of debate over which frying oil is the best: grapeseed, peanut, or canola. And what about the usual suspects of good ol' olive oil or butter if you are shallow frying something, such as breaded pork?
The Best Oil for Frying
The main characteristic an oil must possess to achieve a successful fry is a high smoke point. Any neutral-tasting oil such as canola oil, sunflower oil, or grapeseed oil will have a high smoke point (this means that these types of oil can be heated at very high temperatures without smoking). Other types of oils such as avocado oil have a medium smoke point, which doesn’t make them ideal for deep-frying. Stay away from extra-virgin olive oil altogether; it has a smoke point of about 350℉—while it’s great for sautéeing and pan-searing, it is not the best oil for deep-frying, Plus, it’s the most expensive option, and would require a *lot* of oil to deep-fry fried dough.
“The amount of food you add into a pot of oil will affect its temperature. The more, bigger, colder, and denser the food you add, the farther its temperature will drop,” writes Samin Nosrat in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking. “If the oil takes too long to climb back to 365℉, the food will overcook before it has a chance to brown properly.”
Bear in mind the more you use a frying oil, the lower the smoking point becomes. I’m sure you’ve fried latkes or coconut shrimp before and notices that by the third or fourth batch, the oil has gotten extremely hot, darkened in color, and is contaminated with leftover crispy bits of panko breadcrumbs or potato shreds. This means that the next time you add any food to the pan, it will likely be over-brown and taste slightly bitter.
Shallow-Fry vs. Deep-Frying
Any delicate foods like fritters and patties are likely to call for shallow frying, whereas fried dough and mozzarella sticks are always deep-fried, and a recipe for chicken cutlets could go either way. So what’s the difference between shallow frying and deep-frying? “Choose to shallow-fry delicate foods that could be broken apart by the bubbling tumult of deep-frying, such as crab or fish cakes, little chard fritters, or breaded green tomatoes. Deep-frying is a better choice for chips of all kinds, battered foods, and more substantial foods that need total immersion to cook evenly, such as soft-shell crabs,” writes Nosrat.
What Our Community Says
We've talked about deep frying without fear, and conducted an pretty exhaustive review of oils, but one night this week Food52 community member fhb was in a bind and needed help choosing the best oil to fry cutlets.
- Common consensus landed on peanut oil due to its neutral taste and high smoking point, which is up toward the top, at 400°F.
- Pierino voted for grapeseed and canola—not without a challenge by ChefOno, who noted that grapeseed oil possesses potentially unhealthy omega-6 fatty acids, and that canola oil stinks like an old fish when heated (Ew!).
- Kristen W. threw a curveball and suggested rice bran oil, which is extracted from the outer brown layer of rice and has a very high smoke point of 450°F.
- For those of you still overwhelmed by the oil debate, Greenstuff contributed a helpful oil comparison chart with more oils than you ever knew existed.
As for olive oil or butter, well, both have excellent flavor but a pretty low smoke point, which rules them out as candidates for deep-frying. Olive oil tends to work best for dressings, drizzling over finished dishes, or low-heat cooking. Butter, on the other hand, is great for baking, low-heat stovetop cooking, and spreading over warm muffins, toast, and the like; you can also mix it with other oils to somewhat side-step its low smoke point.
Once you pick your go-to frying oil, it's time to start cooking—here are some of our favorite crispy, crunchy fried recipes. And in case you were wondering, fhb reported back, and peanut oil was clearly the best oil for frying (even after testing against butter).
A Few of Our Favorite Fried Recipes
The crust on this dreamy, juicy fried chicken is everything you could hope for: perfectly thick, satisfyingly crisp, and perfectly seasoned.
This chicken-fried steak is pretty close to the classic, save for a few tasty riffs, like swapping in panko breading (over flour and eggs) for a quicker, easier fry.
These gently smashed, fried potatoes smothered in miso mayo and bright green onions are just as wonderful as the name implies, and then some.
Sticky-sweet deep-fried cookies are a staple in Italian-American households around Christmastime. “When placed into a saucepan filled with hot oil, the citrusy dough puffs up into rustic golden balls that have crunchy exteriors but warm, soft interiors. Once fried, the small, bite-sized cookies are drenched in a sweet honey glaze and decorated with colorful sprinkles or nonpareils,” writes recipe developer Angela Brown.
If arancini balls are on a menu, you can count on staff writer Kelly Vaughan to ask for at least two orders. Tucked in a crispy shell of panko breadcrumbs is a creamy, cheesy ball of risotto.
Everyone, and we mean everyone, loves burrata. The key to preventing the creamy center from spilling out is freezing the breaded burrata before deep-frying it.
What is your preferred frying oil? Tell us in the comments!