Tips on How to Avoid Burning Extra Virgin Olive Oil While Frying

We’ve set off the kitchen smoke alarm many times. It might be homemade pizza in the oven, French toast in the frying pan, etc. Which raises a topic worth revisiting: When frying with extra virgin olive oil, how do you avoid burning the oil? We hear a lot about this topic. Our advice:  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 oil begins to break down. You’ve got two options at that point: Remove the pan from the heat, or put in some food to lower the temperature.

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

A high-quality extra virgin olive oil is quite resistant to heat. The smoke point at which a good oil begins to break down is about 410 degrees Fahrenheit, making it suitable for sautéing, roasting, frying and even deep frying (think French fries or fish tacos).

Italian food science professors from the University of Bologna – in a 2010 article entitled “The scientific truth on cooking with extra virgin olive oil” – concluded that “using extra virgin olive oils to cook is an excellent choice, both for the taste and for health” – provided you use a “high-quality, fresh” extra virgin olive oil.

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

Briwa was giving a cooking demonstration at a conference we attended a couple of years ago at the CIA’s Napa campus. He was preparing to sauté green beans in extra virgin olive oil while doling out 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 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,” Briwa said after adding the beans.

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

Bon appétit,

Your friends at California Olive Ranch