Smoking points and healthy vs. unhealthy oils
Every oil will eventually be damaged if heated above a certain temperature. Each oil has its own smoke point, the temperature at which the oil begins to be damaged by heat. The word smoke point is a bit deceiving, as you may not see a billow of smoke appear when an oil hits exceeds its smoke point temperature, but the oil will be damaged and begin to form harmful compounds, such as trans fats and other harmful compounds. If you keep heating it, eventually you will see smoke, but by then it was way too late.
I recommend that you have on hand 1-2 oils that you can use for higher heat cooking, such as avocado oil, pecan oil, or ghee. These fats tolerate medium high to high heat cooking. You should also have at least a couple oils that you can use for low heat cooking and for salad dressings, such as extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, and a nut oil of your choice.
The charts below spell out cooking heats and appropriate oils, as well as smoke points and maximum cooking temperatures. The bottom line: Use the right oil, but use it at the right temperature! That’s just plain smart cooking!
Refined cooking oils do tolerate higher heat cooking, yet they have often been harshly treated with heat and chemicals, and they lack the healthy nutrients of unprocessed oils. So, although they are listed in the tables below, I do not recommend that you use these damaged oils. You should always choose unprocessed, unrefined oils instead.
Cooking Heats (°F) Appropriate Cooking Oils
High Heat 450-550° Avocado, Grapeseed, Pecan, Ghee (clarified butter), Extra-light olive
Medium-High Heat 375-449° Virgin olive oil, Almond, Hazelnut, Macadamia nut
Medium Heat 324-374° Extra virgin olive oil, Lard, Butter, Coconut
Medium Low Heat 250-324° Unrefined sesame seed oil, Unrefined walnut oil
Low Heat 225-249° Pistachio oil
Oils Smoke Points (F) Maximum Cooking Temp
Almond oil 430° Medium-high
Avocado oil 520° High
Avocado oil, (virgin) 400° Medium
Butter 350° Medium
Butter, (clarified) 485° High
Coconut oil, (refined)* 400° Medium
Coconut oil, (unrefined) 350° Medium-low
Grapeseed oil 485° High
Hazelnut oil 430° Medium-high
Lard 380° Medium
Macadamia nut oil 400° Medium
Olive oil, Virgin 420° Medium-high
Olive oil, Extra Virgin 400° Medium
Olive oil, Extra light* 470° High
Pecan oil 470° High
Pistachio oil 250° Low
Sesame oil, (unrefined) 350° Medium-low
Walnut oil, (refined)* 400° Medium
Walnut oil, (unrefined) 320° Medium-low
*Avoid refined, processed oils