Many of us are doing a lot more cooking this time of year and much of that will be done with cooking oils.  We need to consider the smoke point of our oil. So, what's a smoke point any way?

That is the temperature at which an oil starts to burn.  Different oils reach their smoke point, also known as a flash point, at different temperatures. We want to avoid reaching the smoke point for several reasons.

First of all, it will give our food a bitter, burnt flavor. Plus, once the oil starts burning and smoking, we lose beneficial nutrients. Heated past its smoke point, fat starts to break down, releasing free radicals and that can be a carcinogen. As a fat degrades, it's also getting closer to its flash point, producing ignitable gases that you probably don't want hovering over an open flame.

That is why it is good to know the smoke point of the oil we use. For instance, avocado oil has a higher smoke point than olive oil, so it could be a better choice for cooking. Olive oil might be better on a salad.

How we store oil is also important. Light, heat, water, and air are the sworn enemies of cooking oils.  Most flavorful oils that don't get used rapidly, like avocado, hazelnut, sesame, and walnut oils, should be refrigerated. No matter the oil's smoke point, do not store it over the stove or near heat, which can lead to rapid rancidity. Store oil in a tightly sealed cool, dark place. If your oil is in a see-through bottle, consider wrapping it in foil to extend its shelf life.

Here are the smoke points and recommended uses of some of the most popular oils.

  • 1

    Extra Virgin Olive Oil

    Extra Virgin olive oil is best used at a medium to high heat for sautéing and frying. It can also be used in salad dressings.

    Smoke point: 410 degrees F

  • 2

    Sunflower Oil

    Best on high heat for deep-frying, sautéing, baking, grilling, and more. Sunflower oil has a very mild taste and is versatile.

    Smoke point: 440 degrees

  • 3

    Canola Oil

    Best used in pan-frying and baking. Canola oil is very good for you containing loads of nutrients that other oils don't have.

    Smoke point: 400 degrees

  • 4

    Peanut Oil

    Great on high heat and commonly used in deep-frying and searing.

    Smoke point: 450 degrees

  • 5

    Butter

    No oil in the house? You might just grab that stick of butter. Not so fast...butter has a low smoke point and should only be used on low to medium heat or for baking.

    Smoke point: 350 degrees