Know Your Cooking Fats

When cooking your favorite foods, it’s important to know your ingredients. Not only is it important to select the freshest vegetables and protein, it is also important to choose wisely when it comes to what you cook with as well. What oils should I use to pan fry versus deep fry? Will the taste of the oil overpower what I’m cooking? What is the best oil to use for baking?

These are all great questions – and ones that we don’t always pay attention to. There is a lot of talk about what is healthy, what you need to limit in your diet, and what foods you should stay away from all together. However, when you’re looking for the best flavor and outcome of your food’s texture, there are certain oils that outperform others in terms of finished product regardless of any biased health concerns.

Let’s first take a look at the chart above! There are three types of fatty acids most commonly found in any fat or cooking oil: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. The more saturated a fat, the more solid it is at room temperature. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are the fats that we are suggested to consume more of. You may hear claims that these types of fats reduce cholesterol and the risk for coronary artery disease. However, if you look closely there is a lack of scientific proof showing a direct linkage between heart disease and saturated fat consumption. As The Experts In Animal Fats … we’ve done the research. We have reviewed books, studies, and articles. In our R&D kitchens and labs we have conducted product analyses, as well as fry tests and baking tests. Our research has shown us that the low-fat diet push has not made us healthier as a society – so we’re sticking to what we know and love best… animal fats!

Starting at the bottom of the chart and moving up… most of the higher saturated fats are going to have higher smoke points. This means that your oil can heat to upwards of 400-450°F without burning or smoking. When your oil starts to burn it breeds free radicals and things start happening chemically. At this point the oil will start to oxidize which will change the overall taste and color. Once this happens, you will need to change out your oil in order to ensure the best outcome for your food. You may notice this while pan frying at home too. If you’re not watching or walk away – or if the heat is too high – you will find that your oil is black and smoking. You will immediately notice a burnt, harsh smell. This gets infused into your food and can alter the flavor of what you’re cooking.

Now let’s talk about coconut oil. We have all heard how coconut oil has healing abilities and can help with dry skin and hair. There are endless uses for coconut oil that benefit your health. As a cooking oil, however, it’s the most saturated fat on the market. So why does it have this health halo around it and a massive price tag? We aren’t sure either. In the past few years the positive perceptions around coconut oil have been on the decline. However, we believe that in small amounts it can be an ideal fat to cook and bake with.

Moving up the chart you’ll see most of your animal fats and butter. This is the side of the chart where SCP lives! Bring on the animal fats. Let’s first look at tallow and butter. These are very similar on the health spectrum. We use butter for many things such as coating a frying pan, spreading on a piece of toast, adding a dollop to corn on the cob, and as an ingredient in our baking recipes. Butter has a distinct flavor – but it is not ideal for deep frying due to its 370°F smoke point. And from a nutrition standpoint, butter is not healthier than animal fats.

Tallow is our favorite oil to fry in due to its high smoke point of 400-450°F, and the flavor is unmatched. Food fried in tallow also absorbs less of the oil that it is cooked in. Therefore, you get a crisp product each time. Due to the higher smoke point, the fry life will be longer which is why tallow wins first prize for frying! Next let’s talk about baking. This is where lard comes in!

Lard is also great to fry in due to its high smoke point and delicious pork flavor. Chicken, seafood, and french fries all turn out better when they are fried in tallow or lard. Lard is also ideal in baking applications. Its chemical structure creates flaky layers and beautiful striations in your dough. Breads, pie crusts, and biscuits are all better with lard! Not only in texture and performance, but flavor as well.

Chicken and duck fat are great for flavoring foods as well. These animal fats are more difficult to get in large quantities, and we wouldn’t recommend frying a whole meal in either of these. But these are great options for sauteing or stir frying. Duck fat fries are also popular in the white tablecloth restaurant business. Full of flavor and an ideal crisp texture – vegetable oil fries just cannot compare to this unique menu item!

Moving further up the chart towards the liquid oils – this is (sadly) what you see most often in big food chains for frying applications. Soybean oil is the most common due to its higher smoke point and availability. Most restaurants use a blend of either soybean oil, high oleic soy, canola, or high oleic canola. We’ve tested them all against animal fats and there is no competition when it comes to taste, performance, and lasting crispiness.

Canola is another popular oil used in the restaurant industry due to its 390°F smoke point. This oil leaves food with a distinct taste. When conducting taste tests, this is our least favorite in terms of the flavor it leaves behind on the food. Recently, peanut oil has been working its way into larger chains as well. Peanut oil does perform well in frying applications. However, it is very expensive compared to other vegetable, seed, and animal fat shortenings.

See our recipe category pages for more great uses for animal fats. We know once you swap out your vegetable oils for tallow or lard, you’ll see a huge improvement in flavor and texture!