10 Cooking Oil Tips

In the run up to Super Bowl Sunday, there was lots of media coverage about what Americans would eat while partying during the game.  All that food-talk made me wonder how much oil was used in making all the chicken wings that could have circled the world twice – except that they were eaten before they could be turned into enormous rings of wings.  

I have nothing against delicious chicken wings or anything else you can make pan fried, sautéed, baked, or roasted in oil.  To the contrary, I love well-prepared food made with oil.  So, I collected these hints on cooking with vegetable and nut-based oils.  

oils for cooking, olive oil, canola oil, sesame oil, safflower oil, cooking spray

10 Tips on Using Oil for Cooking

  • Types of oil – Oils can be processed from any of a number of different vegetables or nuts, or some combination.  Common types include canola, coconut, corn, grapeseed, olive, peanut, safflower, sesame, soybean, sunflower, and walnut.   
  • Taste - Oils have different tastes.  Some taste as you would expect; e.g. walnut oil has a nutty flavor.  While I would describe the taste of olive oil simply as distinctive, connoisseurs distinguish among various brands as they would good wines.  Sesame oil, frequently used in small quantities in Asian cooking, has a heavy and pungent taste.  Canola oil is bland, allowing the flavors of food cooked in it to come through.
  • Uses – When cooking, keep oil below its smoking point.  Here’s a handy chart for the smoking points of various oils.  Although type is not the sole factor in determining the actual smoking point; (it also depends, in part, on the age of quality of the oil), at least the chart will give you a general idea of which oils are good for specific types of cooking.
  • Labels – Oil labeled as “vegetable” can include any type or a blend.  Read the fine print for the specific composition of a particular brand.  I just checked Wesson, Mazola and Giant vegetable oils.  Those 3 are soybean oil according to their ingredient labels.
  • Cooking spray – If you want to save calories by using less oil and don’t mind using an aerosol spray (for environmental or other reasons), cooking spray is a good alternative for oiling a baking or frying pan.
  • Storage - Store oil in a refrigerator or in a cool, dark location as both light and heat damage oil.  Oil may turn cloudy in the refrigerator, but that will not affect quality and the cloudiness will disappear after a short time at room temperature.  If you wonder whether oil is still good, smell it – if you’ve ever smelled rancid oil, you know what I’m talking about. 
  • Nutrition & Health – Conventional medical wisdom recommends limiting your intake of saturated fats.  Vegetable oils typically contain some saturated fat, but the amount varies by type of oil.  Many healthy eating resources suggest that olive, safflower, sunflower, corn and peanut oil are healthier oil options and that total intake of oil should be moderate. 
  • Safety – Cooking with oil is serious business - please be careful.  
    • When heating oil, bring it up to the appropriate temperature slowly – don’t turn the burner on full blast at the beginning. 
    • Avoid splattering hot oil by adding food gently – don’t dump it into the pan.  In particular, make sure the food is dry, as water droplets introduced into the hot oil can cause splatters that “jump.”  If food is damp, I blot it with a paper towel before putting it in the hot oil.  
    • Never leave a pot or pan with oil heating on a stovetop unattended.  Don’t take a call or respond to a text while you’ve got oil heating on the stove.  
    • If oil or food cooking in oil starts to burn, don’t throw water on it!  Turn the burner or oven off and use a tight fitting lid to cover or, if there isn’t a lot of liquid, douse with baking soda.  Use good judgment about whether you have to evacuate and call 911.  
  • Disposing of used cooking oil – Don’t throw it down the drain or directly in your trash, and don’t put hot oil in a plastic jar or paper cup!  I dispose of my used cooking oil in an aluminum can.  I keep a clean and empty can in the freezer, typically from canned beans or tomatoes.  After I’ve used cooking oil, I let it cool down in the pan, then pour it into an empty can and put the can back in the freezer.  Whenever the can gets reasonably full, I put it in a closed plastic bag and throw it out. 
  • Recycling cooking oil –Counties from Howard in Maryland to Kauai in Hawaii have vegetable oil recycling programs.  Recycled cooking oil has been used to power airplanes, buses, and lawnmowers.  There are even guides to recycling your own cooking oil into biofuel, though hopefully you don’t use nearly enough cooking oil to make that worthwhile.

If you're looking for recipes that use oil without drowning the meat or vegetables, try these:

chicken cutlets 

sautéed chicken with vegetables and herbs

roasted asparagus

latkes (potato pancakes)

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