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Drizzle or Sizzle? How to Choose the Right Oil for Any Meal

A hand pouring cooking oil from a glass bottle into a skillet.
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

When it comes to cooking oils, it’s vital to know when to drizzle, and when to sizzle! From olive and vegetable to coconut and avocado oils—all have their ideal cooking temps. Ignoring these leads to burnt food (and kitchens). Here’s how you can avoid both of these disasters!

Cooking oils aren’t for universal use. Some are best for heat-free dishes, such as dressing a salad or finishing a soup. Others are for more heavy-duty kitchen tasks, like deep-frying chicken or quick-cooking steak. It’s incredibly helpful for your cooking adventures if you know which oil to use and when.

For example, if you use extra virgin olive oil to cook a steak in a hot skillet, the oil will quickly burn. Not only will you have to stumble around a smoky kitchen, but your steak will also taste bitter and burnt, even if it’s not overcooked.

You can avoid all that by learning which oil to use. Most fall into one of these three simple categories: oils you use without heat (drizzle), oils you use with a little heat (sizzle), and the high-temp fats you use for deep-frying.

Best for Dressing and Drizzling

When it comes to oils for dressing and drizzling, extra virgin olive oil is the first that comes to mind. However, it’s not the only oil with delicate flavors that taste best when kept cool. In general, any toasted nut- or seed-based oils fall into this category, as well.

Toasted sesame seed, walnut, pistachio, and hemp oils are all better out of the skillet. Their strong flavors are delicious for finishing soups or making salad dressings, but they quickly turn bitter under heat.

Once again, for quick reference, the following oils are best for drizzling:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • All toasted seed oils
  • Nut oils

Best for Sautés and Stir-Fries

When it comes to oils that sizzle, there’s a lot of variety. All of these cooking fats have one thing in common, though: a smoking point above 350 degrees Fahrenheit. However, keep in mind these fats aren’t suitable for deep-frying, during which temperatures travel above 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Oils in this category include light olive, coconut, grapeseed, and sunflower seed. For Asian-style stir-fries, sesame oil is often called for, but you want to avoid the toasted variety. It doesn’t do well under heat and is better left as a condiment.

Once again, the following oils are best for sizzling:

  • Coconut oil
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Sunflower seed oil
  • Sesame seed oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Canola oil

Best for Deep-Frying

Deep-frying calls for a cooking fat that can handle heat and has a smoke point of at least 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The nice thing about these oils is you can also use them for stir-fries and sautés, making them kitchen workhorses many cooks rely on.

Avocado oil gets a lot of attention because its smoke point is 500 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, making it ideal for frying. However, its neutral flavor, and the fact that it’s liquid at room temperature, also make it good for stir-fries and even salad dressings.

The traditional deep-frying oils—peanut and corn—are less versatile. But they also have a neutral flavor, and they’re cheaper than trendy avocado oil.

If you’re ready to deep-fry, you can use the following oils:

  • Avocado
  • Peanut
  • Corn
  • Palm

Now that you know which oils to use and when, you can start experimenting! If it’s a matter of taste, keep in mind the oil you use significantly affects the flavor of each dish, and fat carries flavor more than anything else. Just be sure to keep that extra virgin olive oil out of the fryer!

Lauren Sakiyama Lauren Sakiyama
Lauren Sakiyama is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry. She has managed restaurants, country clubs, and large-scale event operations, but her passion has always been about the food. Read Full Bio »
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