What Oils to Use When

Hi friends! I’m still traveling (you can see what I’m up to on Instagram), but I wanted to pop in this morning with a post that I’ve been meaning to write for about a year now: breaking down what oils to use when. This is a topic I always found a little confusing, so researching and writing this post was helpful for me, too. :) I’ve organized the oils into categories based on what you’re going to do with them (salad dressings vs. stove top cooking vs. baking.), since I thought that was most helpful.

what oils to use when

The key with determining what oil to use when is looking at its smoke point, which is the temperature at which that oil starts to break down. You want to avoid this breakdown point, as when the fat breaks down, it will release free radicals (and can give the oil/dish an acrid flavor, too). In general, unrefined oils, like those in the salad/dipping category, have lower smoke points than refined oils, so you want to avoid using them in high heat situations.

Best Oils for Salad Dressings and Dipping

Oils are extracted from nuts and seeds through mechanical pressing. Cold-pressed/raw/”virgin” oil is bottled immediately after this process, and retains its minerals, enzymes, and other compounds. These compounds don’t hold up well to heat, and can make the oil more susceptible to rancidity, but they add nutrients and a richer flavor, so if you’re making a heat-free dish like a salad or a dipping sauce, you’ll want to use cold-pressed/raw/virgin oil.

best oils for salad dressing

Here are some examples of oils that are great in salad dressings and for dipping, along with their smoke points to illustrate why they fit into this category. I make simple salad dressings at home by mixing one of these oils + lemon juice + balsamic vinegar + dijon mustard. Delicious!

  • Flaxseed Oil (225°F)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (320°F)
  • Pumpkin Seed Oil (320°F)
  • Unrefined Walnut Oil (320°F)

Best Oils for Stir Frying or Sautéing

Refined oils have higher smoke points, which makes them better for sautéing and frying. To produce an oil with a higher smoke point, the oil is processed to remove some of those extraneous compounds, like minerals and enzymes. This gives the oil a longer shelf life, a more neutral flavor, and a higher smoke point. One example of this is Extra Light Olive Oil.

best oil for stir frying or sauteing

Here are some examples of oils that are good for stir frying, along with their smoke points. You’ll want to look for oils with at/above about a 400°F smoke point when cooking at high temperatures, like stir frying. You can get away with a slightly lower smoke point (about 350°F – like that of Coconut Oil) for sautéing, since the pan won’t get quite as hot as with stir frying.

  • Avocado Oil (520°F)
  • Extra Light Olive Oil (468°F) or Virgin Olive Oil (420°F). You’ll want to avoid stir frying with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, as its smoke point is only 320°F. (This was news to me – better go buy some Extra Light or Virgin Olive Oil!)
  • Vegetable oils like Canola Oil (400°F), or Soybean, Sunflower, or Safflower Oils (all 450°F)
  • Dark Sesame Oil (410°F) or Peanut Oil (450°F) – great for Asian dishes due to their flavor.
  • Grapeseed Oil (420°F)
  • Macadamia Nut Oil (413°F) – also tasty in salad dressings!

Best Oils for Baking

You can get away with a lower smoke point oil for baking, so the key here is flavor. You’ll want a neutral oil – something that’s not too overpowering (unless that’s the point, like in my Citrus Zest Cake made with blood orange olive oil)!

  • Canola Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Coconut Oil (350°F) – a good vegan alternative to butter, although not exactly a neutral flavor, so this one depends on the dish – you can’t usually taste coconut oil in baked goods, though, unless you use a ton of it)

What are your favorite oils? How and when do you use them?


  1. 1

    I have an unopened bottle of corn oil in my pantry. How would you use this? Can I use it for coating salmon in the oven?

    • 2

      Corn oil has a smoke point of 450, so it works for anything, really! You could definitely use it with the salmon. Enjoy!

  2. 3

    I love using sesame oil for stir-frying and coconut oil for baking!

  3. 4

    I LOVE sesame oil!!! I use it for sautéing spinach. I toss some ginger in there too. YUM!
    And recently I got a garlic infused olive oil that works great for spinach too.

  4. 5

    Thanks for this! My husband and I always get confused. Sending this to him now!

  5. 6

    One of my cooking goals for 2015 is to expand my oil repertoire, so this is perfect! I like to keep olive oil, vegetable oil (which in Canada is its own thing), canola oil, sunflower oil, and peanut oil. It gives me a pretty good range of flavours and smoke points, but there is more work to be done!

    I particularly like canola oil as a replacement for melted butter in baking where you can use either. So much easier to measure!

  6. 9

    Thanks for the info! When I first read the title I thought it had to do with essential oils, but Im so glad it was about cooking with oil! I always like a good reference of different smoke points so I know how I should be cooking my food. Hope you’re still enjoying your trip!

  7. 10

    I just bought avocado oil recently and it’s been great for higher heat cooking! I definitely recommend it. Can’t wait to hear about your trip!

  8. 11

    I use peanut oil when making a stir-fry because I have a sesame allergy. I love the flavor! I also add it to bean dips for a smooth texture. Thanks for sharing your list.

  9. 12
    Brenna Webster says

    I loved this, Anne!! Thanks so much for putting this together. I am also and RD and I learned all of this in food chemistry (thinking, of course, that I would never use this info), and I’m always sharing information like this with people. This is a great resource, I am bookmarking it for sure!!

  10. 13

    I never really gave this much though, I sure will now though. Thanks for the tips!

  11. 14

    I used olive oil and sesame oil for pan frying (depending on the flavour I want) and I use coconut oil for baking. But I had never really considered why one was better for different purposes – thanks for the info!

  12. 15

    Thank you for this post! I’m always wondering if I really need to use the oil that a recipe calls for or if I can substitute something else. This info will definitely help me figure that out. I’m also realizing that I’ve definitely been using the wrong oil for stir-frying. :/ Whoops!

  13. 16

    This post is really helpful! I learned all of this in my undergraduate nutrition classes, but I have forgotten a lot of it!

  14. 17

    I love this! It is such a great reminder. Thank you for sharing!!

  15. 18
    Roadrunner says

    Very instructive and technical, thanks! Very interesting…

  16. 19

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

  17. 20

    I have this saved for future use! So for roasting veg at 400, when every single recipe calls for veg to be tossed in “EVOO” and roasted I should really ignore that and use Extra Light OO? Or just OO! I had no idea!

  18. 22

    This is really helpful! Going to bookmark it for future reference. Thanks, I love it when you do these types of posts!

  19. 24

    What would you say is the difference between sauteing and stir-frying? I’d like to start using proper oils for cooking but I’m not sure I can differentiate the two?

  20. 26

    Hi Anne. If I have high HDL, which I’m trying to lower, should I avoid using coconut oil? I see it used so much these days in recipes but it has a lot of saturated fat which I’m trying to avoid. Why is it considered a healthy oil? Thanks for insight. I’m really confused about it.

  21. 30

    Which oil would you use for roasting veggies? I usually use EVOO and sometimes coconut oil. Thanks!


  1. […] up: sauté the onion (the regular one, not the green onion yet) in olive oil (virgin or extra light, remember?) for a few minutes until softened and browned. Then, you add in the kale and dried tart cherries, […]

  2. […] What Oils To Use When (e.g. high heat cooking vs. baking vs. salad dressing) […]

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