Are you searching for the best oil for stir fry? I recommend refined avocado oil for its health benefits and high smoke point, but it is far from your only option.
Stir fry is a popular cooking technique across the world, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s quick, easy, and delivers delicious results.
Stir frying involves frying ingredients in a small amount of very hot oil while stirring or tossing them in a wok. This method gives a delightful crisp to meats and vegetables while preserving their nutritional content.
High temperatures are key to getting the perfect stir fry. Not all oils are suited for high heat cooking, so it’s important to choose the right one. In this article you’ll find the best oil for stir fry, along with which oils to avoid. I’ll also answer some frequently asked questions.
Ready to take your stir fry game to the next level? Read on to learn more.
How to Choose the Best Oil for Stir-Fry
There are several factors to consider when choosing the best oil for stir fry, but the two most important are the smoke point and flavor profile.
The first and most important consideration is the oil’s smoke point. The smoke point, also referred to as the burning point, refers to the temperature at which oil stops shimmering and begins to release smoke.
Stir frying requires high heat, so you want to choose a cooking oil with a high smoke point. Oils with a low smoke point can break down and become rancid. Oil that is heated past its smoke point will start to impart a bitter taste to food and release free radicals as it breaks down at the molecular level.
To create a high smoke point, manufacturers refine oils using processes like bleaching and filtering to remove heat-sensitive compounds. Refined oil has a higher smoke point and can withstand the temperatures necessary for stir fry without burning.
Oils with a neutral flavor profile are better suited for stir fry. Many oils have a distinct flavor that can overpower stir fry dishes. For example, sesame oil has a strong nutty taste that comes through in cooked dishes. Choosing an oil with a neutral taste allows the flavor of the food to shine.
Refined oils have a more neutral flavor when compared with unrefined oils. Some refined oils still have a mild nutty flavor. Refined peanut oil is an example.
In addition to the smoking point and flavor profile, you also have to consider the availability of cooking oil. Some oils might be difficult to find in your local grocery store. For instance, I have to travel a bit to find a store that carries avocado oil.
Additionally, some cooking oils can be expensive. Stir fry cooking does not require a large amount, so the oil should last you a while. Still, that’s little comfort when you’re shelling out good money for a small bottle of cooking oil. Vegetable oils and refined peanut oil are generally among the most affordable options.
Lastly, you can’t overlook the healthy considerations. Some oils contain a lot of unhealthy saturated fat and other problematic ingredients. I’ll cover the healthiest stir fry oils in a bit.
Best Oils for Stir Fry
Refined Avocado Oil
Smoke Point: 520°F/270°C
While most oils are pressed from seeds or nuts, avocado oil is pressed from the fruit of the plant. It’s high in healthy monounsaturated fats and fat-soluble vitamins. This oil is also plant-based for those who follow a vegan diet.
Refined avocado oil has an impressively high smoke point of 520°F (270°C), making it perfectly suited for high heat cooking. It does have a stronger flavor than some alternatives, but it still blends well with a wide range of seasonings and ingredients.
The one downside is that avocado oil is one of the priciest cooking oils around. Not only that, but some producers mix it with less expensive oil like soybean oil, sunflower oil, etc. to increase their profit margin. It’s crucial to purchase a well-trusted brand.
I use avocado oil for stir fry and other high temperature cooking methods, but I use olive oil, a more affordable option, for everyday cooking.
Smoke Point: 400°F/205°C
Canola oil, also called rapeseed oil, is an affordable and readily-available cooking oil. It has a relatively high smoke point at 400°F/205°C, making it suitable for stir fry and other high heat cooking methods. Canola oil is light and has a neutral flavor, so it won’t alter the taste of your stir-fries.
Additionally, canola oil is versatile and lower in unhealthy saturated fat. Canola oil is one of the most popular oils for stir fry in Chinese cooking. You can find canola oil in practically any grocery store for an affordable price.
Smoke Point: 450°F/230°C
Peanut oil is another great option for stir frying. It has a mild nutty flavor which can enhance the flavor of Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese stir fry dishes.
It can overpower subtle flavors, so you won’t want to use it for everyday cooking. It is well-suited for deep frying, however, since it does not absorb the flavor of other things cooked in the oil.
Refined peanut oil has a high smoke point of 450°F/232°C, so it can handle the high heat of stir frying. It can be made from raw or lightly roasted peanuts. I recommend going with the roasted variety if you can find it.
Peanut oil is another option that you may not see on every grocery store shelf. One of the best places to find peanut oil is your local restaurant supply store, where it’s often sold in bulk at wholesale prices. You can also find it at your local Asian market.
Smoke Point: 450°F/230°C
Corn oil is one of the most popular choices for stir fry in Chinese cooking. Corn oil is made from the germ of the corn kernel. It has a high smoke point of 450°F/232°C and a neutral flavor. Corn oil is ideal for frying, sautéing, baking, and stir frying since it can withstand high temperatures. It is also suited for salad dressings.
Corn oil is economical and readily available in most grocery stores. It should be stored in a cool, dark place to maintain freshness.
Light/Refined Olive Oil
Smoke Point: 465°F/240°C
Refined olive oil, also called light olive oil, is made from pure olive oil. It has a high smoking point of 465°F/240°C when compared to virgin or extra-virgin olive oil. It can withstand high temperatures without burning, making it suited for stir frying, sautéing, baking, and deep frying.
Light olive oil doesn’t have the strong flavor of virgin olive oil due to the refinement process. This neutral flavor is an advantage for stir fries since we don’t want to overwhelm the food. I wouldn’t use light olive oil for dressings or for drizzling. For that, you should use the extra-virgin variety.
Store light/refined olive cooking oil in a dark and cool place away from direct sunlight to keep it fresh for longer.
This is my personal favorite for everyday cooking. It’s versatile and more affordable than avocado oil, but it’s still one of the healthiest cooking oils.
Rice Bran Oil
Smoke Point: 490°F/255°C
Rice bran oil has a high smoke point of 490°F/255°C, so it’s suited for stir fry cooking. It has a mild flavor that won’t overpower the other ingredients. Rice bran oil can also be used for baking, since it won’t become bitter at a high temperature.
Rice bran oil is gaining popularity due to its health benefits, but it can be difficult to find at many grocery stores. You might have to order it or go to a specialty store to find it. The limited availability prevents rice bran oil from being my top choice for stir frying.
Smoke Point: 510°C/265°C
Safflower oil is pressed from the seeds of a sunflower relative. It has a similar look and flavor of canola oil, but it has a much higher smoke point at 510°F/265°C. It can be used for a variety of cooking techniques in addition to stir fry.
Safflower oil would be perfect for cooking stir fry recipes over an outdoor wok burner. Safflower oil can outperform canola oil, but it’s more expensive and harder to find in stores. If you enjoy the neutral taste of canola oil, safflower oil is a nice upgrade if you can find it.
Untraditional Stir Fry Oils
Grapeseed oil is a non-traditional stir fry oil that’s becoming more popular. Unsurprisingly, grapeseed oil is made from the seeds of grapes after the wine has been pressed. It has similar health benefits to olive oil but with a milder flavor. With a smoke point of 420°F/215°C, it’s suited for medium-heat cooking. Grapeseed oil wouldn’t be my first choice for stir fry, but it’s definitely one to consider.
Healthiest Stir-Fry Oils
Although there are several best oils for stir fry, there’s no question that some are healthier than others. If you’re looking for a stir fry oil that will be good for your health, there’s good news. You have some options.
Avocado oil has several evidence-based health benefits. Almost 70% of avocado oil consists of oleic acid, which is a healthy monounsaturated fatty acid. One study showed lower levels of triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol in post-meal blood samples when compared with a control group.
Additionally, avocado oil contains vitamin E and other fat-soluble vitamins. It’s a great source of antioxidants and enhances absorption of important nutrients. If you’re looking for the healthiest oil for stir fry, avocado oil is a top contender.
Olive oil is another oil for stir fry with proven health benefits. It’s rich in monounsaturated fats, specifically oleic acid. Olive oil also contains a large amount of antioxidants and even has anti-inflammatory properties.
It’s no wonder that olive oil is a key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet, which has been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. One caveat. Refined light olive oil, the type you would use for stir frying, won’t have quite the same nutritious punch as virgin olive oil. Even so, it’s one of the healthiest oils for stir fry.
Oils to Avoid for Stir-Frying
Not all oils are suited for stir fry cooking. If you’re looking for the best oil for your stir fry recipes, you should avoid the following:
Sesame oil is not a suitable cooking oil for stir fry. It has a medium smoke point of 410°F/210°C when refined and only 350°F/175°C when unrefined. It also has a strong nutty flavor (especially toasted sesame oil), making it better suited as a finishing oil. Drizzle it on the food after the heat is turned off for a hit of flavor.
Even though sesame oil is not suited for stir fry cooking, it’s frequently used for sautéing. It does have a strong flavor, so it’s best to use it in small quantities.
Refined Coconut Oil
Unrefined coconut oil has a low smoke point of 350°F/175°C. Refined coconut oil has a higher smoking point of 450°F/232°C, so it’s better for stir fry than the unrefined version.
Coconut oil has a distinct flavor that will infuse your food. This flavor won’t blend with any type of ingredient. Make sure your stir fry recipes pair well with the tropical flavor of coconut oil. Dishes like pineapple fried rice pair well with this oil.
If you choose to stir fry with coconut oil, use minimal amounts and keep the heat as low as you can. Coconut oil has some health benefits. It will solidify at room temperature, so it should be stored in a cool place.
Refined coconut oil can’t handle the high temperature necessary for stir frying, so it’s not one I would recommend.
Flaxseed oil has an extremely low smoking point of 225°F/105°C, making it unsuited for wok cooking. If you use flax seed oil in a stir fry recipe, it will burn at a high temperature. Flax seed oil does have some health benefits, so it’s a good choice for dressings, dips, and sauces.
Soybean oil is a type of vegetable oil. Many bottles in the grocery store labeled “vegetable oil” are, in fact, made of 100% soybean oil. This cooking oil has a relatively high smoke point of 450°F/232°C. It has a neutral flavor profile, so it makes for a good stir fry.
Although soybean oil hits two of the major requirements for a good stir fry oil, it does come with some health risks. There’s plenty of controversy over the harmful effects of soybean oil. According to one study, it’s been linked to obesity, diabetes, and neurological conditions in mice. It may also contain allergens and should be avoided by those with certain food sensitivities.
I consume soy products in small amounts, but I try to avoid them as much as possible. So I don’t personally use soybean oil for stir fry or for anything else in my kitchen. It doesn’t have a long shelf life, so it should be stored in a cool, dry place.
Butter may not be oil, but it is a popular cooking fat. However, it’s not suitable for stir frying. Butter has a low smoke point at just 350°F/175°C. Clarified butter has a higher smoke point of 450°F/232°C, but I would still recommend canola oil, olive oil, or avocado oil instead. Lard is also a poor choice for stir frying. All of these cooking fats have a stronger flavor profile that will infuse the ingredients.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Extra-Virgin Olive Oil OK for Stir-Fry?
Extra virgin olive oil has a relatively low smoke point which makes it a poor choice for stir frying. Light or refined olive oil has a higher smoke point, making it better than virgin or extra-virgin olive oil for stir fry.
Save your extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling, salad dressings, and low temperature cooking.
Do I Have To Use A Wok For Stir Fry?
Unfortunately, the answer is a little more complicated than a simple yes or no. Let me explain.
A wok is specifically designed to cook food rapidly as it moves through different heating zones. The concave shape and tall sides allow plenty of room to stir and toss food. Furthermore, the thin carbon steel construction of most woks allow them to get super hot in no time.
The end result? Food that is seared and hot, with a bright flavor and fresh crunch. If you want the most authentic taste and texture, a wok is a must-have.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t make delicious stir fried food in a skillet. If you’re cooking on an electric ceramic stove, for instance, it would be difficult to get the level of heat needed to produce authentic results anyhow, with or without a wok.
So what to do? If you opt to forego a wok, get a cast iron or stainless steel skillet that can handle high heat. Preheat your pan on high heat before adding your oil. Then, add your food. Be careful not to overload the pan as that will slow down the cooking process. Use a spatula to move food around the pan.
You may not be able to achieve the perfect wok hei with a skillet, but you’ll be able to produce a delicious stir fry dish and save yourself the storage space and expense of another cooking vessel.
If you’re in the market for a new wok, check out my carbon steel woks guide for your next stir fry.
Is Sesame Oil Good For Stir Fry?
Sesame oil has a very low smoke point (350°F/175°C), so it’s not recommended for high heat cooking like stir fry. Additionally, the strong flavor can overpower the flavor of the stir fry ingredients.
Instead, sesame oil is commonly used for seasoning or adding to stir-fry dishes at the end of the cooking process. Toasted sesame oil also has a strong nutty flavor that’s perfect as a finishing oil for Chinese dishes.
What Oil Do Chinese Use for Stir-Fry?
Soybean oil and canola oil are two of the most popular cooking oils used in Chinese households. Both oils have a high smoke point and a mild flavor, making them suited for stir frying. Other cooking oils, like peanut oil and avocado oil, have gained popularity in recent years.
Best Oil for Stir-Fry: Final Thoughts
Refined avocado oil is my top recommendation for stir fry, but it can be expensive and possibly more difficult to find. If you want something more affordable or easier to find, I would go with refined olive oil as an alternative.
Ready to start making stir fry? Try out this easy chicken stir fry recipe. This stir fry recipe calls for olive oil and a skillet, but you could easily sub another oil and use a wok.