Why Does a Hot Pan Smoke While Cooking?

Cooking in the kitchen is always fun when you know how things work. Knowing which cookware to use, how much fat to work with, and how to monitor the temperature are little things that make any dish exceptional.

Most of the time spent in the kitchen will include handling different types of cooking oils. Knowing your fats is necessary as they are an essential ingredient for just about any dish.

They are the reason why your pans emit smoke while cooking. Read on to find out why and how your pans smoke while cooking.

Why Does a Hot Pan Smoke While Cooking?

Hot pans smoke while cooking because of a process called “Pyrolysis”. It is a process where organic material goes through thermo-chemical decomposition when heated at a high temperature. Pyrolysis happens in the absence of oxygen and results in both chemical and physical changes in the material.

When oils or fats reach their smoking point, chemical reactions take place that creates soot and free radicals on the cooking pan’s surface. The soot is primarily the “smoke” coming from the hot pan.

When the heating continues, long chains of polymers bond to the cookware material and produce what is known as a “seasoned” non-stick coating. The process of pyrolysis is responsible for seasoning a new cast-iron pan and for also “browning food” that people find desirable.

In short, the hot cooking oil goes through chemical changes upon contact with the cookware surface, resulting in smoke. It is advised not to cook in a smoking pan as the active free radicals from the oils promote carcinogenesis.

Inhaling this smoke from pyrolysised oil can also be unhealthy. When cooking, it’s important to wait for the seasoning process to complete. A fully seasoned pan is safe and healthy to use.

Now that we have answered the basic question, let’s understand what smoking points are.

Oils and fats play a fundamental role in producing smoke on a pan. Only when the cooking oil reaches its smoking point will it produce white smoke.

Understanding Smoke Points

A smoke point for any cooking oil is the temperature at which it breaks down to form free fatty acids. As this happens, the oil begins to produce smoke. Different cooking oils have varying smoke points. You can always use a kitchen thermometer to measure the temperature.

However, with prolonged heating, all cooking oils will smoke.

Maintaining such a high temperature to produce smoke can be unsafe. As the oil continues to burn, it will soon reach its flashpoint, which may result in flames.

Also read: Why Do Cooking Pans Catch Fire and how to prevent it?

Difference between Smoking Point and Flash Point

Most vegetable oils have a smoking point around 455 Degrees F or 230 Degrees C. When oil smokes, it produces a visible white stream of smoke.

A flashpoint, on the other hand, is when the oil is so hot that it can ignite when exposed to flames. For most vegetable oils, the flashpoint is 615 Degrees F or 325 Degrees C.

Understanding temperatures is crucial, especially when handling delicate proteins, spices, and vegetables. If you get them wrong, you can easily burn your dish.

Some dishes like curries or sauces need a gentle simmer, so it’s important to keep the pan on medium-low heat. This will prevent the oil from reaching its smoke point. Ideally, you should look for oils that have high smoke points as they are extremely versatile.

You can cook a wide range of dishes without burning or charring the food. Let’s have a look at some of the best cooking oils with high smoke points to cook your food.

Best Cooking Oils with High Smoke Points

Cooking oils with high smoke points can be used for deep-frying, sautéing, roasting, grilling, and baking.

They can tolerate high heat cooking without reaching their smoke point. However, it really depends on the brand of cooking oil you’re using.

The smoke point can slightly vary due to any impurities present and that fact that oil always breaks down gradually.

Avocado Oil

Avocado oil is extremely rich in oleic acid that improves heart health and cuts away bad cholesterol. It has a smoke point of 520 Degrees F or 271 Degrees C. Avocado oil is really up there when it comes to the most stable cooking oils.

You can even use this oil on copper cookware as it will protect the surface from burning or heating up too quickly. Avocado oil is a good pick for creating a non-stick coating on cast-iron cookware.

To reach the smoking point, you will simply have to bake the pan with a coating of the oil.

Perfect for deep-frying, sautéing, pan-frying, grilling, and baking, this oil is rich in heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fat (up to 70%). It is also great for stir-fry as it doesn’t have much flavor. If you don’t like strong-tasting nutty oils, then avocado is a good choice.

The oil also neutralizes free radicals inside the body and is super-easy to use. However, the only downside is that it’s slightly expensive than other cooking oils.

Canola Oil

Canola oil’s smoke point is 400 Degrees F or 204 Degrees C, which is pretty high for pan-frying, deep-frying, sautéing, and baking. It’s also a great source of monounsaturated fats that reduce bad cholesterol. Canola oil is also high alpha-linolenic acid, which delivers a chockfull of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.

You can also use this oil to coat your pans with the non-stick coating with baking.

Instead of using solid fats like butter or margarine, using canola oil is far healthier and easier. With canola oil, you can sauté vegetables, melt your meat, and simmer delicious curries without any guilt.

However, make sure not to expose the oil to high heat for too long. This can result in the production of unhealthy compounds that might leech into your food. For stove-top cooking with canola oil, stick to a flame range between low-medium to medium-high.

Almond Oil

Almond oil is extremely rich in vitamin E and has an even higher smoke point of 430 Degrees F or 221 Degrees C in its pure form. However, make sure to use the refined version. As with most nut oils, unrefined versions can’t be heated for a long time.

When refined, its smoking point is 495 Degrees F or 255 Degrees C. You can use refined almond oil to season your cast iron and give it a durable, non-stick finish. You can use the oil for roasting, frying, grilling, and baking your favorite foods.

It has a nutty taste and aroma, which can add a depth of flavor to your dish. The best part is that almond oil is rich in anti-oxidants, so it naturally fights free radicals.

Refined almond oil – with its high smoke point – can easily replace vegetable oils for deep-frying and baking.

Grapeseed Oil

Grapeseed oil is an excellent source of vitamin E with a smoke point of 400 Degrees F or 216 Degrees C. It’s particularly good for deep-frying as it’s a super-healthy and nutritious oil. You can pan-fry meat and even sear delicate proteins like fish.

Grapeseed oil also has very little saturated fat that makes it a guilt-free option for cooking.

Above all, it has a high, stable smoking point that adds a mild, nutty flavor to your food without burning it off. If you’re considering a heart-healthy oil for pan-frying, then this is it.

Light Olive Oil

Olive oil is extremely versatile and healthy cooking oil. However, instead of extra virgin olive oil, which has a lower smoke point, we admire “light olive oil”.

This one has a smoke point of 468 Degrees F or 242 Degrees C, which is perfect for high-heat cooking.

It is an all-purpose, heart-healthy oil with a neutral taste. Generally, you should use olive oil for low and medium-heat cooking.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a popular choice for health freaks. However, it has a slightly lower smoke point of 350 Degrees F or 232 Degrees C. It is high in saturated fats that may raise the bad cholesterol, but not as much as butter does. So if you’re looking for a good fat source, coconut oil is ideal.

It’s generally considered to be healthy for light frying, sautéing and baking as it has countless other benefits. Coconut oil improves HDL (good) cholesterol, kills harmful bacteria in the body, and increases fat burning.

It’s an excellent choice to fry your morning breakfast egg, sauté vegetables as a side dish, or even grill some chicken.

However, since it’s purely saturated fat, coconut oil shouldn’t be used exclusively for cooking. You can switch between canola and grapeseed with coconut to balance the cholesterol levels.

Tips to Prevent Your Pan from Producing Smoke

We already discussed earlier that cooking in a smoking pan is hazardous.

The process releases free radicals that can contaminate your food. Therefore, here are some precautions to follow when using cooking oils.

Always Choose an Oil with a High Smoke Point

Avoid oils with low smoke points like flax oil, extra virgin olive oil, walnut oil, and wheat-germ oil.

These are mostly unrefined oils, which should not be heated.

Rinse Your Pans Thoroughly After Use

This is a very important tip as most homeowners often neglect washing their pans.

Whether you’re using cast-iron, copper, or aluminum, always use a clean sponge and mild dish soap to scrub off the grease and oily residue.

If you don’t clean it, the grease will build up and harden on the pan’s surface.

As a result, when you heat up the pan with cooking oil the next time, the greasy residue will start burning and produce smoke.

Try to Cook in a Low-Medium to Medium-High Range

Any oil that’s exposed to high heat for a long time will reach its smoke point and produce smoke. Therefore, in order to eliminate the risk completely, limit the flame to medium-high. This will prevent your foods from burning.

Use Cast-Iron or Stainless Steel

Cast-iron and stainless steel are some of the most stable cookware options for high-heat cooking.

They are known for quick heat absorption and evenly distribute heat across the surface. Above all, these cookware materials are super-durable and easy to clean.

Always Use a Cooking Thermometer

Using a cooking thermometer will allow you to monitor the temperature. Whether you’re frying, grilling, or sautéing, the thermometer will prevent the food from reaching the smoke point of the cooking oil being used.

Using oils with high smoke points and health benefits is one of the best ways to cook your food. Not only will it add tons of nutrition to your dish, but it will also prolong the shelf life of your cookware!

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