How to Avoid Burning Extra Virgin Olive Oil When Cooking

Ever set off a smoke alarm when cooking? Plenty of us are guilty. Maybe it was popcorn in the microwave, pizza in the oven, or French toast in the frying pan. When you cook with extra virgin olive oil, you can avoid burning it by following some simple advice.

In short: Keep your eye on the frying pan for tell-tale wisps of smoke. They signal you’re close to burning the oil, but not quite at the so-called “smoke point” where the EVOO begins to break down.

“The reason you want to avoid burning the oil is that it will spoil the taste of the food, and some of the (EVOO’s) healthy properties may be destroyed,” Kathy McManus, director of the department of nutrition at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told us.

As we’ve noted, EVOO is very suitable for cooking. Its chemical structure and its healthful antioxidants protect the oil from heat during cooking.

According to experts, a high-quality EVOO has a smoke point of around 410 degrees Fahrenheit. That makes extra virgin olive oil fine for sautéing, roasting, frying and even deep frying.

“Extra virgin olive oil is really pretty resilient,” said Bill Briwa, a senior chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of America’s campus in California’s Napa Valley.

Chef Briwa was giving a cooking demonstration at a recent healthy eating and living conference we attended at the Napa campus.

He was preparing to sauté green beans in EVOO during a cooking demonstration while offering advice on how to avoid burning your oil.

“When you see the first few wisps of smoke that tells you the oil is the hottest it can get before you burn it,” explained Chef Briwa, as he heated the frying pan.

“You then have two choices. You can take the pan off the heat. Or you can add some food.”

In other words, adding a big batch of beans quickly reduced the temperature well below its smoke point.  “We just lowered the temperature of that frying pan by 50 degrees,” he noted.

Those barely noticeable wisps of smoke, by the way, tell you one more thing about your EVOO when you’re sautéing or frying. “It’s an excellent temperature for cooking,” Kathy McManus told us.

Bon appétit,

Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch