I use a variety of oils and fats when I'm cooking because when used optimally, they're more nutritious, flavorful, as well as safe. There are so many different kinds and it can be confusing to know what to use when, so I put together this quick concise guide to hopefully simplify the decision-making process.
Smoke Points for Cooking Oils Explained
Each type of fat and oil has a smoke point. The smoke point is considered the temperature at which oil becomes rancid once reached. For some fats, this happens right around when it begins to smoke. For others, it may take longer. Once the fat begins to break down, it's said to create free radicals and a chemical called acrolein.
The key thing to note about smoke points is that it's the internal temperature of the oil, not the external temperature i.e. the flame or oven. The longer something is cooked, the higher the internal temperature can rise, hence why some fats (like butter) are good for quick sautés.
In short, the higher the fat's smoke point, the more variety of cooking methods it's safe to use it for. So I like to reach for fats based on two factors:
Here are my favorite cooking oils and what I use each for.
Ghee has been a staple in Indian cuisine for thousands of years. It's butter that has had the milk and water solids removed. What's left is a lovely flavor more intense than butter. Ghee was created to keep butter from spoiling during warm weather which makes it perfect to leave on the counter or in a cupboard so it's always soft and ready for toast and baking dishes. I leave mine in our cupboard right up until we empty the jar.
Ghee is my personal favorite fat because the smoke point for ghee is one of the highest among healthy fats, at 450°F/230°C. Plus I love the flavor.
Butter (as well as ghee and other animal protein in general) are known for being more bioavailable than any plant-based products. Meaning that it's easier for your body to digest and assimilate the nutrients because the tissues are less complex. Specifically, butter helps your body absorb vitamins A, E, D and K.
I love to use grass-fed butter whether I'm baking desserts, or sautéeing anything quickly like eggs, and when roasting meat or seafood. Also, I find that butter is simply the most versatile of all the cooking fats flavorwise.
The smoke point for butter is 350°F/175°C.
Virgin Coconut Oil
Virgin coconut oil is cold-pressed which leaves many vitamins and minerals intact as well as a very distinct coconut flavor. I find the flavor lends itself well to desserts and smoothies. I use it for cookies, raw pies and cheesecakes, sweet smoothies like this Chocolate Peanut Butter Cold Brew, and things like my Emergency Fudge. (Emergency Fudge recipe currently in my highlights on Instagram).
I'm not a fan of virgin coconut oil in any of my savory dishes as I find the coconut taste to be overpowering. If I had to choose between virgin or refined coconut oil, I'd choose refined. Good thing I don't have to make a choice!
The smoke point for virgin coconut oil is only 350 degrees. Yes, you can fry and sauté with virgin coconut oil but it's not as high as many think.
Refined Coconut Oil
I've observed many people talk about how virgin coconut oil is so much healthier than refined and while they're not wrong, I'd argue they're not right either. Both are healthy oils and both have a strong standing in my kitchen.
Yes, refined coconut oil is more processed having been filtered and dried; however, many of the nutrients are still intact after this process. The reason I love it is because of its neutral flavor It has virtually zero coconut aroma or taste which means it's perfect for just about any dish you don't want to have that sweet coconut kick. For me is pretty much anything savory!
Another reason I love it is because refined coconut oil has a high smoke point of 400 degrees which makes it a safe choice for high-heat cooking.
Red Palm Oil
Not to be confused with palm oil, red palm oil's health benefits come from its beautiful red hue as it's high in the antioxidants beta-carotene and lycopene. Surprisingly, it even contains more antioxidants than tomatoes or carrots.
I use red palm oil for savory dishes, particularly spicy and ethnic ones. The flavor is bold yet not obtrusive. Some brands are more intense than others but I don't find the brand I use to be overpowering at all.
This red palm oil I use has a smoke point of 400 degrees which means it's pretty safe for high-heat cooking too. But still, I use this the least of all the fats on this list.
Avocado oil takes the cake with a super high smoke point of 520 degrees! This is the main reason I use it when it comes to frying and sautéeing nearly anything. On top of that, the flavor is neutral enough to go with anything.
If I had to choose just one cooking oil, this would be it. The Thrive Market brand is our favorite.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
By now, most of us know that olive oil has a whole list of health benefits. I especially love it for its skin and hair benefits. I even use it in some of my homemade beauty products (which admittedly I don't have as much time to make anymore). And when I'm traveling, I often end up using it as a makeup remover and cleanser.
Extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of 405 degrees. This brand is our go-to.