Follow the Mediterranean diet, and you’ll use olive oil for almost everything. Paleo and keto diets tend to use avocado oil and coconut oil, but your grandmother cooked with lard. It’s hard to say which oil is right for you, but we do know one thing for sure: You can’t use any old oil for deep-frying or pan-frying. The healthiest oil for frying is all about the fat’s ability to withstand high temperatures.
9 Steps to Successful Deep-Frying
9 Steps to Successful Deep-Frying
Click through the slideshow to learn the 9 steps to successful deep-frying.
1. Fire Extinguisher
OK, this may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how many home cooks don't have one in their kitchen. (Do you have one? We're willing to bet the answer to that is a mumbled "No.")
2. Frying Oil
Before anything goes for a swim in the golden pool, it's best to fill it with the proper stuff. Use a neutral-flavored oil with a high smoke point such as safflower, canola, or peanut oil. Avoid using olive oil.
3. Frying Thermometer
Oils have smoke points and flash points. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to break down and emit vapors, and the flash point is the point at which it will spontaneously ignite. Do not exceed this.
4. Deep Pot
Since oil expands as food is added and fried, using a heavy-bottomed deep pot (preferably not nonstick) is probably a good idea. Fill up the pot only one-third to one-half of the way up to play it safe.
5. Paper Towels
Have everything in place and ready to go. Chances are you'll want to drain the oil from whatever's being fried, so set up some paper towels on a plate or on a baking sheet to soak up the oil right after food leaves the fryer.
6. Wire Skimmer
Slotted spoons work great for small amounts of food being fried, but when there's a bigger batch of food involved, a wire skimmer is invaluable — it just makes life easier.
If using a batter, don't dip the food into the batter until just before it hits the oil. Otherwise, it'll turn soggy. Resist the urge to have everything battered up in advance.
8. Don't Overcrowd
Put too much food in the fryer and the oil temperature will drop. When the oil temperature drops, it takes longer to fry the food and consequently, it absorbs more oil and turns greasy.
9. Season Immediately
Don't forget to season the food! The best time to do it is just after it leaves the fryer, since it will absorb the salt, pepper, and other seasonings more readily.
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Consider the oil’s smoke point
In our breakdown of the different types of cooking oil, we explained something called the smoke point: The temperature at which oil starts to burn and smoke. Every type of fat—from butter to coconut oil and everything in between—has a specific target temperature. Heat the oil past this point, and it will do more than set off your smoke detector and taste rancid.
You see, when oil is heated past its smoke point, the fats start to break down. This process creates smoke, as well as an off smell and taste. What’s really happening, though, is the oil is releasing harmful compounds, including carcinogenic, cancer-causing free radicals. That means an oil’s smoke point ultimately affects how healthful the cooking oil is for your body. One thing you should never do though: reuse cooking oil.
What is the healthiest oil for deep-frying?
If you’re after deep frying, you’ll need to heat the oil to somewhere between 350 and 400° F. These temperatures are necessary to create a crust on your food as soon as it hits the fryer. This seals the outsides, preventing the insides from absorbing too much oil. Since the oil gets so hot, you’ll need something with a smoke point of at least 400° F.
Heart-healthy oils like safflower oil and rice bran oil are perfect because they can withstand frying temperatures of almost 500° F. You can also look to peanut oil and sunflower oil if you’re frying at 450° F, or canola oil and vegetable oil to keep temperatures around 400° F.
What is the healthiest oil for pan-frying?
Pan-frying won’t get your food quite as crispy as deep-frying, but it uses significantly less oil. It also requires lower temperatures, making it ideal for fats with smoke points at 350° F or lower. We generally try to reach for monounsaturated fats when pan-frying. These healthy fats are liquid at room temperature (as compared to saturated fat like lard, butter and coconut oil that are solid at the same temperatures). Our favorite healthy fats for pan-frying are avocado oil, canola oil, and olive oil. Coconut oil is another popular choice for pan-frying, but its health benefits are controversial because of the oil’s high levels of saturated fat.
Keep in mind that some olive oils are categorized as extra virgin olive oil. These oils are cold-pressed and raw to help them retain their nutrients, but that process also keeps their smoke point low. When choosing olive oil for cooking, always look for light or refined olive oils. Now, just make sure you’re not also making any of these cooking mistakes that ruin your food.
To get that homemade feel you don’t always have to make everything 100% from scratch. In Magnolia Table, Joanna relies on refrigerated crescent roll dough for a few tasty recipes, like her quick orange-walnut sweet rolls and her classic chicken potpie. This cuts the prep time down significantly, and the results can taste just as good as something made all by hand.
Save time with rotisserie chicken
While everyone loves a perfectly roasted chicken for dinner—and then the leftovers used in tasty dinners all week—it can be hard to find the time to roast one on a busy evening. That’s why Joanna grabs a grocery store rotisserie chicken to use in a handful of recipes, like her cozy chicken potpie.
Turn tricky dishes into casseroles
Have a favorite dish that you always order at a restaurant but is just too tricky to make at home? Joanna says turn those into a casserole! She explains in her book that Chip loves eggs Benedict, but making individual servings at home can be a real hassle. So to get that same flavor with less work, Joanna turned it into an easy-to-make, easy-to-serve casserole. Genius!
Use store-bought crust
Pie crust serves as the foundation for so many of our favorite dishes—pie (obviously!), quiches and tarts—but making your own crust from scratch is sometimes too time-consuming. According to Joanna, don’t worry about it! She writes in Magnolia table that she subs store-bought crust for homemade all the time, especially when she’s whipping up a tasty quiche.
Refrigerated biscuits are your friend
We all know that Joanna is a true Southern gal with an authentic recipe for buttermilk biscuits (you can check out how to make them right here), but we also know she’s a busy woman! That’s why when it comes to chicken and dumplings, Joanna says that you can easily substitute packaged biscuits for her biscuit and dumpling recipe.
Focus on the main dish and take shortcuts on the sides
In Magnolia Table, Joanna explains how enchiladas are a family favorite in her house. The cheese-filled chicken enchiladas are the star of the show and the side dishes—beans and rice—are just supporting players. So when time is tight, focus on the main, and used packaged rice as a quick substitute. Joanna prefers Knorr brand Mexican rice mix.
Transform your condiments
We love our sandwiches layered with flavored aiolis, but we never think to make those fancy types of mayonnaise at home. After all, mayonnaise from scratch can be a real chore. But to get that same effect, Joanna takes her favorite mayonnaise (she says she prefers Hellman’s) and stirs in a handful of herbs and spices. For her version, add chopped chives, garlic, dill, parsley, paprika and a bit of lemon juice. Feel free to add your favorite flavors to dress up your sandwiches.
No matter how carefully you plan or how carefully you read a recipe, sometimes dishes can just go wrong. If something goes wrong and your dinner flops, take this advice from Chip and Joanna from Magnolia Table, “there’s always pizza.”