The Secret To Picking The Best Oil For Your Next Stir Fry

Stir-frying is all about hot and fast cooking. I’ve worked the wok station in several professional kitchens and it’s truly a fast and furious way of cooking. With dishes going from wok to plate in a matter of only minutes.

And since not all cooking oils are created equal, knowing which one to reach for can make or break your entire meal. 

1. Grapeseed Oil

grapeseed oil in a jug next to a bowl of grapeseeds

People love grapes as a fruit, a juice, and definitely as wine, but they also make one of the best cooking oils around. Largely a by-product of the wine industry, large quantities of grapeseeds are pressed to make grapeseed oil.

Grapeseed oil is not only one of the best oils for stir fry but one of the best all-purpose cooking oils in general. I was introduced to the stuff working in high-end restaurants and it quickly became my go-to at home as well.

What makes it so great is that it has a high smoke point, virtually no flavor, and a very light and clean texture. All things that make it perfect for high-heat stir fry cooking.

Shop Like A Pro: Grapeseed oil can be expensive and not always readily available at your neighborhood grocery store. Try taking a trip to a restaurant supply store where you’ll likely be able to find it in larger quantities for less money.

2. Peanut Oil

peanut oil in a jug next to a small bowl of peanut on a wooden table

Peanut oil can be made from raw or lightly roasted peanuts. But, if you’ll be using it for stir fry, definitely go with a roasted variety. It will add a subtle flavor that pairs perfectly and even enhances the flavor of Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese stir-fries.

Since roasted peanut oil has a stronger flavor than many of the other options on the list, it may not be quite as versatile in the kitchen. But it’s definitely worth it to keep a bottle on hand if you want to up your stir fry game.

Peanut oil is another option that you may not see on every grocery store shelf. Instead, visit your local Asian market where it should be easy to find. Plus, where better to get the rest of your stir fry ingredients?

3. Rice Bran Oil

rice bran

Rice bran oil is made by pressing the outer layer of brown rice grains. This may not be a common household cooking oil but it’s widely used as an all-purpose oil in the restaurant industry and is one of the best stir fry oils around.

Rice bran oil has a very high smoke point and can handle temperatures all the way up to 490 F. The high smoke point and very neutral flavor make it perfectly suited for stir fry cooking. 

Just like with grapeseed oil, your best bet for finding reasonably priced rice bran oil will be to pay a visit to your local restaurant supply store.

4. Canola Oil

canola oil

Canola oil is made from the rapeseed plant and is one of the most common and easy to find oils there is.

This is another neutral-flavored oil so you don’t have to worry about it changing the taste of your stir-fries. And while it has a relatively high smoke point of 400 F, that’s still the lowest on this list.

But, the fact that it’s inexpensive, versatile, and incredibly easy to find makes it a great option that you won’t need to go out of your way to get your hands on. 

5. Safflower Oil

safflower oil in a glass jug

Safflower oil is pressed from the seeds of a sunflower relative. I like to think of it as an upgraded version of canola oil. It has a similar look and flavor (not that there’s much flavor to speak of), but it has a much higher smoke point, all the way up to 510 F.

With such a high smoke point, this would be a great choice if you are cooking over a powerful outdoor wok burner. And while safflower oil can outperform canola oil, it’s a little more expensive and not quite as easy to find. 

6. Avocado Oil

avocado oil in a glass next to an half open avocado

While most oils are pressed from seeds or nuts, avocado oil is actually pressed from the fruit of the plant. That does mean it has a slightly stronger flavor than many of the alternatives, but nothing that would overpower most stir fry dishes.

Avocado oil is an excellent all-purpose oil to keep around. And with a smoke point higher than just about any other oil (520 F!), it’s perfectly suited for all of your stir fry needs. The one downside is that avocado oil is one of the most expensive high-heat oils around, so it may not be the best choice for everyday cooking.

Oils To Avoid When Stir-Frying

Stir fry cooking is all about fast, high-heat cooking, and that means you want an oil that won’t easily burn. 

All of the options above can handle heat of at least 400 F, which should get you through almost any cooking session.

Cooking oils with lower smoke points are the ones you want to avoid when cooking a stir fry. When fats reach or exceed their smoke point, they quickly break down and begin to burn. That leads to a bitter, off-taste and can easily ruin a dish.

Low smoke point oils are usually much more flavorful and are best suited in raw applications. Here are some common oils that should not be used for stir fry.

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Butter
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Toasted sesame oil*

Toasted sesame oil gets an asterisk because I like to think of it as a companion oil to any of the best stir fry oils above. It’s not great to cook with, but it is an essential finishing oil for many stir-fries and other Chinese dishes. Definitely worth keeping a bottle around.

For more ingredient substitutes and culinary principles take advantage of our wealth of knowledge in the Kitchen Ambition Cooking School.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Use Olive Oil For Stir Fry?

Extra virgin olive oil has a fairly low smoke point which makes it a poor choice for stir fry. You can however use light olive oil, which is a more refined product that has a very high smoke point.

Do I Have To Use A Wok For Stir Fry?

No, while woks are basically built for stir fry, you can still get great results with a saute pan. The two main things you’re looking for in a stir fry pan is a large cooking surface and high heat tolerance.

Is Sesame Oil Good For Stir Fry?

Sesame oil is not a good oil for cooking a stir fry, but it is the best finishing oil for stir fry. When heated too high, sesame oil can become bitter, which is why it should be used at the very end of the cooking process.

About the author

William is a classically trained chef, who spent years cooking in top NYC restaurants before bringing his talents home to Colorado. Now a stay-at-home dad, William has brought his passion for professional cooking home, where he continues to cook and bake for his wife and daughter.