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I've always been taught that when frying anything at all, it's of the utmost importance keep the oil below its smoke point. Once the oil starts smoking, I've heard, it's game over-- the oil is denatured and everything in it will have its flavor ruined. And, from limited experience pan frying and deep frying things (I'm still working on the basics), I've seen that this is true. Once the temperature climbs too high, the oil starts to stink and the food ends up tasting like rancid oil.

But, when I watch stir-fry video tutorials, there's almost always smoke. Not just a little bit, either-- it looks like they're thoroughly burning their oil. For example, here's Chef Hiroyuki Terada making chicken fried rice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzbRwICWODk (he adds the oil to his wok at 3:45). I have no doubt that Hiro knows how to make a delicious stir-fry, but would it be better if he didn't let the oil smoke? Is the high temperature more important than the integrity of the oil? Or, am I completely missing something, and the oil isn't being denatured at all?

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    This amount of smoke may be water vapor coming from the food being cooked, but I haven't watched the whole video to check whether the oil was smoking in itself. – giorgiosironi Sep 30 '18 at 14:59
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    @giorgiosironi if you skip to 3:45, you can see that the oil smokes immediately when he puts it in the wok, before anything else is added – jepugs Sep 30 '18 at 15:01
  • That is not smoking to me. – paparazzo Sep 30 '18 at 15:05
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Yes, there's smoke coming off the oil, but it's not heavy, black smoke.

If you're frying things, when I see that, it's a sign to either get the pan off the heat, or to get food into the pan to cool it down.

When you're stir-frying, you want very high heat, so you're often working right at the smoke point. Whereas, for sautéing, I always learned to put the food in when it shimmers, but before it starts to smoke.

So, should you let the oil smoke? Generally, no, but it's okay if you use it as an indicator for when to put in food if you're quick about it.

update: To answer the culinary questions in your comment :

  • The oil does denature, but it's not all denaturing at once, just like when you boil water, it doesn't all evaporate at once. Or if you burn an item, the whole thing doesn't instantly turn to ash. It's not a boolean (yes/no) answer, it's a question of the degree to which it's denatured. Letting it smoke so you know when to put in the food isn't the same as if you let it sit there an smoke for 5 minutes because you don't have your food ready.
  • Moist food will cool off the oil because the water will turn to steam, resulting in evaporative cooling. This process ends up sucking energy (heat) out of the oil in the process. Flipping the food repeatedly (as you would with a sauté and some people do with a stirfry) can also cool down the pan, as you have more heat transfering to the air (more surface exposed while it's being flipped), and you typically lift the pan off the burner so there isn't as much new heat entering the system.
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    And it's probably worth noting -- the initial vapor coming off is from the oil. There's a good chance that once the food goes in, much of it's steam. – Joe Sep 30 '18 at 19:33
  • Two answers which say opposite things... how am I supposed to evaluate which one is correct? Either the oil is denatured, or it's not. If it's not, that must mean that the wok is above the boiling point of the oil. Otherwise where would all that smoke come from? Boiling points are always higher than smoke points. Does this mean that even above the alleged smoke point, you still have some time before the oil is denatured? And you buy more time by adding food? Or, is the wok below 500 degrees? – jepugs Oct 1 '18 at 1:20
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    @jepugs : Usually what happens is that people will vote up the answer that they think's correct. But that doesn't always work, as I've seen plenty of answers that sound good, but are actually wrong. There's also the problem that once someone accepts an answer, it gets pinned to the top, and people are likely to vote on it without looking at the others. I guess I can mention that I have a history of good answers, but we've also had outstanding first answers from people (there's one that was by a health inspector that stands out in my memory) – Joe Oct 1 '18 at 3:04
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    Because of your updated answer, I decided to try it out myself. You're right: In spite of a little bit of bad-smelling smoke at the beginning, the food doesn't take on the flavor of the denatured oil. By keeping things moving and adding my ingredients quickly, I was able to maintain a good flavor even though I was definitely cooking above the smoke point for my soybean oil. This is the first time I've managed a stir-fry that tasted at all like what I expect at a restaurant (obviously not quite the same because my stove isn't as hot, but good nonetheless). – jepugs Oct 1 '18 at 19:45
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The concept here is Hot wok cold oil First you need to reduce the heat off the wok before add oil. Then, add 'heap' of oil and pour out what you dont need. If you add little, the oil will burnt.

if he would to drain all the oil from the wok, the oil will be all black because it has all burnt. If you cook with burnt oil everything else will stick to the wok, like the eggs that he added. And a very high chance you burnt what you cook.

You need oil with high smoke point. In this case I don't know what he use. But I recommend canola and vegetables oil.

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