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I was recently at my locals farmers market and someone was handing out samples (cooked) of what they were selling. The guy cooking said to never use olive oil and use grapeseed oil instead because olive oil burns too easily (lower smoking point). I've done a brief search into past posts, but nothing quite answers my question.

So I was thinking, for an amateur/home cook, is it just best to always cook with the oil that has the highest smoking point? (I believe those are safflower oil and sunflower oil). I am considering doing this to avoid wasting any more time scrubbing pots and pans (the brown residue that's impossible to scrub off) -- I don't like to use teflon pans, so everything is on stainless steel. However, I'm unaware of what the changes are in the end product.

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3 Answers 3

The smoke point of the oil is only one factor. It is advantageous in some types of cooking (particularly searing and deep frying) to have a very high smoke point.

Cost is another factor; the high smoke point oils are often more refined (getting rid of the elements that smoke) and are therefore more expensive.

They also don't contribute flavor the same way something like (unrefined) olive oil will do.

Most importantly, however, they will not really save you any effort on cleanup. You still need to wash your pans. They may be somewhat less likely to polymerize on into a hard film during routine cooking, but that should not happen in any case.

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This is all true, although I would have added that there's not necessarily any reason to automatically choose whatever has the highest smoke point; as long as it's appropriate for the temperature you're actually going to be cooking at, any oil's fine. –  Aaronut Jan 28 at 2:38
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The short answer is: no it isn't necessarily best to just cook with highest smoking point.

Oil Volatility: Some oils are more volatile than others even before they smoke (e.g. flaxseed oil hates being heated). The health effects of different types of oil are outside of this site's scope, though very important.

Smoke Points Within Each type of Oil: There are also some clutter to cut through in the talk. For example, while the farmer market guy is promoting grapeseed oil (considered a great all around oil), the part about olive oil is not entirely true. While Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a lower Smoking Point, Virgin Olive Oil and Light Olive Oil have considerably higher smoke points.

Smoke Point Chart: Have a look at this Smoke Point chart for more information.

Home Chefs cook at lower temperatures: Most Home Cooks don't get their pans/oils hot enough before they add food. Pots and pans with food in them rarely get hot enough to reach smoke point.

Cleaning the Stainless Steel Pot: As soon as you are finished cooking, remove the cooked food and gently add a little bit of wine or hot water in the pot/pan (deglaze) to cover the bottom (be careful of steam, hot pot, etc). The boiling hot wine/water will eat up most of the 'would be' stuck foodstuffs with the help of a spatula. You can do a final scrub when liquid has cooled down.

If you are looking for a good general oil that is not too expensive, consider buying Virgin Olive Oil (not extra virgin). It works on salads all the way up to some frying.

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When choosing an oil for cooking, it is best and important to choose an oil that does NOT contain GMO crop source such as: "Corn oil", "Canola oil", or "Soybean oil" products.

For a high smoke point oil, use 'peanut oil". It is the number one choice of chefs in many restaurants to fry foods such as chicken or even wok Chinese food.

However for the tastiest result, use "Virgin olive oil" or "light olive oil". It should be easy to prevent burn if you are keeping the heat on medium to low. Also oil tends to splatter a lot more on a stainless steel pans, so you may want to buy one of those mesh frying screens. It is really cheap(about $15.00 at bedbathbeyond)and it comes in 3 sizes.

Finally, clean your pans while they are still hot by pouring water over the burnt bits to deglaze and scrub. if you can't clean them right a way, just pour some water into them later, and bring it to boil and then clean.

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+1 for mentioning the taste. My limited experience tells me everything tastes better with olive oil (okay, maybe not everything) –  SáT Jan 30 at 9:40
    
-1: Avoiding GMO does not serve a culinary purpose. And virgin olive oil has a really low smoke point - if you want to use olive oil for a high smoke point purpose, you need pure/refined olive oil. –  Jefromi Feb 16 at 5:33
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