Defining Smoke Point + Why it Matters

I used to think I couldn’t cook. My one dish act in high school was quesadillas. Every other cheesy one I made seemed to burn up in a smokey mess on the stove. At the time I shrugged it off as having no culinary skills and didn’t think twice about the smoke signals I was sending out the kitchen window.

Oil can be a delicate little liquid. They can be ruined by heat, air, or light through the process of oxidation. Once oils or fats have oxidized their flavor changes for the worst, and the healthy fat bandwagon that all the nutritionists are on is shot to hell. This post is dedicated to one component of oxidization: heat.

Each oil has a smoke point. This smoke point is reached when the volatile compounds in the oil such as free fatty acids begin to degrade and the oil oxidizes. Aka: your oil got too hot. At this temperature the nutritional content of the oil is greatly decreased and the flavor of the oil changes.

As a general rule unrefined oils have a lower smoke point than refined oils. These unrefined oils are usually more flavorful and are better for drizzling on salads  – not for sautéing. On the flip side refined oils are neutral in flavor and have higher smoke points.

[bctt tweet=”Guide for Cooking Oils: when will your oil go up in smoke?” username=”Alexandra_Eats”]

The Sauté 

A good sauté doesn’t require a searing hot pan. For low heat frying feel free to use olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, or butter.


You’re using a smoking hot oil to cover your food to allow for a crisp exterior while keeping the flavor of the food intact. When using this high heat go for  safflower which has a smoke point of up to 510°F.

Bake It

If you are making treats in the heat range of 350-425 degrees fahrenheit the following oils are a good choice: clarified butter (450°F), virgin avocado oil (400°F), grapeseed oil (390°F), sesame oil (350°F), butter (350°F), and coconut oil (350°F).

The Topper

Many unrefined oils have compounds such as enzymes and minerals that can easily be ruined with heat. Use these oils to drizzle over steamed vegetables or add it to a salad dressing. These unrefined oils have a low smoke point at should not be heated: flaxseed oil, walnut oil, and hemp oil.


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