A lot of people take their cooking oils for granted. Many of us simply use what we always have or maybe what our parents did, without knowing why and what the other options are.
Well, there are a lot more fish in the sea than plain old vegetable oil. Each with its pros and cons, as well a time and place to use them.
After over a decade of cooking in professional kitchens, I’ve worked with just about every fat and oil available. A complete list would be long and probably not very useful for most home cooks.
So, I’ve put together a list of 13 types of oil that are useful for a wide range of applications and relatively easy to get your hands on and use.
A Note About Flavor And Temperature
Cooking oils are generally broken up into two camps, neutral or not. I’ll call non-neutral oils flavorful to keep things straight.
Neutral oils are usually more refined and don’t have much or any flavor of their own. Meaning you don’t have to worry too much about them meshing or clashing with the flavors you’re cooking with. Flavorful options have a pronounced flavor, so you’ll want to think about how that will effect your final dish.
Another important factor to think about when choosing an oil is the smoke point. This is the temperature at which the oil begins to rapidly break down, and you guessed it, smoke.
When an oil starts to smoke and burn it can quickly turn bitter and easily ruin an entire dish. So, knowing the smoke point of your oils is one of the keys to success (or failure).
|Type of Oil||Flavor|
|Clarified Butter & Ghee||Flavorful|
|Extra Virgin Olive Oil||Flavorful|
|Light Olive Oil||Neutral|
|Toasted Sesame Oil||Flavorful|
|Vegetable Shortening (Crisco)||Neutral|
|Duck & Chicken Fat (Schmaltz)||Flavorful|
|Rice Bran Oil||Neutral|
13 Cooking Oils Your Kitchen Needs
What better way to start than with butter, perhaps the king (or queen) of the fats. Butter is packed with flavor and is incredibly versatile. It’s the key to the most flavorful and flakey pastries, and it has the ability to easily emulsify into sauces, making them smooth and decadent.
Butter is full of milk solids. That’s part of what makes it taste so good but it also leads to a very low smoke point. That makes this fat best used at lower temperatures, in baked goods, or simply spread over good bread.
You can also take advantage of that low smoke point by caramelizing the milk solids to make the magical and nutty ingredient that is brown butter.
Clarified Butter & Ghee
If you want to use butter for high heat applications you can buy or make clarified butter or ghee. This is butter that has been cooked and the milk solids removed.
By removing the milk solids you lose some flavor as well as many of the baking benefits that whole butter has. But, you greatly increase the smoke point.
That makes these great options for pan-frying, cooking your morning eggs, or making the best hollandaise sauce. And, while you could deep fry with it, there are much better options for that, which cost a whole lot less.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is essential in just about every restaurant and home kitchen around. It’s one of the most flavorful oils on the list, and it seems to taste great on just about anything.
Extra virgin olive oil has a fairly low smoke point, but I still love using it as a base of pizza and pasta sauces. You lose some flavor in the cooking process, but it adds delicious olive undertones as long as you keep the temperature down.
But, where it really shines is when eaten raw. Good olive oil can enhance the taste and mouthfeel of savory and sweet dishes with a simple drizzle just before eating.
While Mediterranean countries are the most well-known producers, I was recently turned on to Argentinian extra virgin olive oil and I would definitely recommend giving it a try if you have the chance.
Light Olive Oil
Light olive oil is a more refined version of extra virgin olive oil. That means more solids have been removed so that it has a much higher smoke point. But, it also means that most of the flavor has been removed as well.
The high smoke point makes this a good all-purpose cooking oil. You may still get some olive undertones but not nearly as much flavor as the extra virgin option.
Toasted Sesame Oil
Toasted sesame oil is an essential ingredient in Chinese cuisine. It has a very strong roasted, nutty aroma that’s best used raw or at the end of the cooking process for it’s rich and savory flavor.
The fairly high smoke point means you can cook with it, but it can easily overpower other ingredients and can quickly turn bitter if overheated. You can also get untoasted varieties that are better suited for high-heat cooking. But that is an entirely different ingredient with much different uses.
It’s great to finish just about any Chinese stir-fry or simply drizzled over rice with a little soy sauce.
Coconut oil is an option that has a lot of flavor and can also handle a fair amount of heat. That makes it a good choice for sauteing and pan-frying, but you’ll want to be sure the flavor matches what your cooking.
Since you can get a fairly strong coconut flavor from the oil, I really like using it for Caribbean and southeast Asian dishes. Try using it as your base oil the next time you make a Thai curry, or simply fold a small spoonful into a batch of steamed rice for added flavor and aroma.
It’s also a great fat to use for baking applications, just remember that the coconut flavor can really shine through in baked goods.
Vegetable Shortening (Crisco)
Vegetable shortening is generally made from cottonseed, soybean, or corn oil. But, it’s gone through a process to make solid, making it easy to use in baking applications.
Vegetable shortening has gone out of fashion in some ways, but it can be a useful tool especially for vegetarian and vegan baking.
It doesn’t offer the same flavor as butter, but it can be used in a similar way to get tender and flakey baked goods without the use of any animal products.
Duck & Chicken Fat (Schmaltz)
Duck and chicken fat are some of the not-so-secret weapons in professional kitchens. They are delicious fats that can add incredible richness and flavor to a dish. Each one has a unique taste but they both work exceptionally well with roasted vegetables – potatoes in particular.
Both of these options can be quite expensive, and you may have to talk to your local butcher or go to a specialty grocery store to get them.
It’s not something I keep on hand at all times, but for special occasions and cold-weather holidays, it’s an ingredient that can take a meal to the next level.
Canola oil is one of the most common and easy to find options. Plus, it’s very inexpensive. I think this or vegetable oil is what many cooks turn to because it’s what they grew up with and it’s what lines the shelves of big-box grocery stores.
Canola is a solid all-purpose option because it has a high smoke point and very little flavor. But, for an even higher smoke point and a much cleaner taste, try the upcoming option on the list the next time you replace your oil.
Grapeseed oil may not be widely known or used in home kitchens but it’s one of the go-to all-purpose oils in many of the best restaurants for a couple of reasons. It has a high enough smoke point that it can be used for just about any cooking application, and it has a very clean, neutral taste.
This is my favorite option for medium and high-heat cooking applications, especially for things like fish that have a very mild flavor. It’s also a great choice for salad dressings and mayonnaise since it won’t impart any of its own flavors.
Grapeseed oil is becoming easier to find, though it can be slightly more expensive than your standard vegetable or canola oil. But, I have had excellent luck sourcing it from different international and Asian markets without the higher price.
While peanut oil is technically a neutral-flavored oil, it adds a certain nuttiness when used. That makes this another oil where you’ll want to think through the flavor profile of a dish before using it.
The high smoke point makes it a great choice for high heat cooking, and is my preferred oil when it comes to stir-frying in a wok. It tends to go well with Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine, and is an especially good way to tie things together when you’ll be finishing a dish with actual peanuts.
Peanut oil is also a great option for deep frying, although it can get expensive when you start using large amounts.
Rice Bran Oil
Rice bran oil is another one of those little-known household ingredients that get a lot of use in professional kitchens. Specifically when it comes to deep-frying. The very high smoke point, neutral flavor, and relatively low price make it a good option if you’ll be using a lot of it.
If you do a lot of deep-frying at home, this is a good option to go with, as it can also be used for just about any other cooking application that you may need.
Avocado oil is another neutral oil that still provides delicious avocado undertones. While there may be some potential health benefits to this fat, one of its most impressive stats is the incredibly high smoke point.
520°F is off the charts hot, making this one of the most versatile oils around. It can be used for sauteeing, baking, and deep-frying. Although, the high price would make deep frying quite expensive.
And, similar to olive oil, avocado oil is pressed from the pulp of the fruit rather than the seed. This adds a rich and pleasant taste that’s great when used raw.
So, Which Oils Do You Actually Need?
Don’t feel like you need to keep all of these oils on hand at all times. One high-smoke point, neutral oil, and a good extra virgin olive oil will take you far. Oh, and butter, always butter!
But, knowing what your options are will help you choose the right tool for the job, and take your cooking to the next level.
So, now that you’ve got your oils down, check out our guide to the other basic cooking ingredients that you should always have in your kitchen.