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Old 10-09-2008, 03:16 AM   #1
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Safe Cooking Temp for Olive Oil & How to Tell Visually

Hello everyone,

I only recently found out that it's unsafe to use olive oil in high heat cooking since it starts to produce carcinogens past its smoke point and now I'm suddenly in all sorts of disarray and worry. I have a few questions regarding olive oil and high heat cooking:

1) According to the sites I've googled, you should not cook with olive oil at high heat. So is anything medium heat or lower safe or is only low heat safe? For example, is cooking a fillet of salmon with olive oil on a non-stick skillet with the gas stove knob at the halfway point safe?

2) Related to cooking safely with olive oil, how can you tell/approximate the temperature of the cookware you're using (so you can make sure you don't go past an oil's smoke point?) Most of my cooking is done on a skillet (for fish, vegetables, occasionally meat). Is there some kind of way of estimating the temperature?--ie, by looking at the movement of the oil on the skillet, similar to how you can approximate the temperature of water in a pot as it goes through a couple phases before full boil.

Thank you for any help!

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Old 10-09-2008, 09:41 AM   #2
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When you are pan searing a piece of fish or meat, heat the oil until it just begins to smoke (that tells you it's approaching its smoke point). Then add the meat. The meat will lower the temperature of the oil. You'll be OK. It's difficult to suggest a knob setting for the stove. They are all a little different. After adding the fish/meat etc, you can lower the heat a little. The key is to maintain an active sizzle. If it stops sizzling, the heat is too low.

The oil is too hot when it's generating a LOT of smoke.
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Old 10-09-2008, 10:58 AM   #3
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All oils produce carcinogens past their smoke point.

The smoke point of various olive oils difffers based on how refined it is, so charts don't always help. This is true for oils other than olive, too.

You will know the oil's smoke point because that's the point that it begins to give off tiny whisps of smoke.
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Old 10-09-2008, 06:24 PM   #4
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Andy and Jennyema, thanks a lot for your replies. All my questions resolved!
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Old 10-10-2008, 03:21 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy M. View Post
The oil is too hot when it's generating a LOT of smoke.
Would that mean a little bit of smoke is ok?

When I was cooking tonight, I noticed that while my piece of fish was on the skillet on medium heat there was actually small wisps of smoke rising from the undersides of the fish--though not from oil residing elsewhere in the pan.

Does that mean I was heating the pan beyond the oil's smoke point or is it merely smoke coming from the underside of the fish? (I've never paid this close attention to the oil-pan-contents interaction before, so perhaps small wisps of smoke is always generated from the pan when you place something on there, but I'm only just noticing this for the first time.)

I'm fairly new to cooking, so pardon if any of this sounds terribly inane or naive.

Thank you.

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Old 10-10-2008, 06:33 AM   #6
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Asking questions is how you learn.

Those little wisps of smoke are OK but may indicate the heat is too high. Try a little less heat nest time.

Also, extra virgin olive oil has the lowest smoke point of the olive oils. You could use a lower grade with a higher smoke point for saute. OR you could use a different oil, such as canola, that always has a higher smoke point.
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Old 10-10-2008, 06:46 AM   #7
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I'm wondering if the small wisps of smokes wasn't a little steam evaporating off the fish...
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Old 10-11-2008, 03:47 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy M. View Post
Asking questions is how you learn.

Those little wisps of smoke are OK but may indicate the heat is too high. Try a little less heat nest time.

Also, extra virgin olive oil has the lowest smoke point of the olive oils. You could use a lower grade with a higher smoke point for saute. OR you could use a different oil, such as canola, that always has a higher smoke point.
I forgot to mention that I was using canola oil for the fish.

Tonight, I paid close attention to my cooking again. I had some brussels sprouts doused in olive oil on the skillet (on medium heat) and again noticed small bits of smoke emerge from under the sprouts.

Is very small amounts of smoke normal when cooking foods at appropriate temperature on a skillet/pan/etc or should there be absolutely no smoke at all? And does even the slightest bit of smoke suggest carcinogen production?

Thank you again!
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Old 10-11-2008, 04:54 AM   #9
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This is another prime example of something thats good for you being screwed up by people who are afraid if everything! IF, there are any carcinogens in the olive oil after it gets past the smoke point, it prolly isnt anything to worry about, unless you light 5 gallons of it on fire and lock your self in an almost airtight room with all of the smoke on a daily basis. Good greif! Dont worry about it. Ya take chances every morning when you get out of bed, like slipping on a bananna peel that you drop making your morning smoothie and banging yer melon on the sink. Not very likely, but there is a slight chance. Did you know that the "health people" are now saying that grilling meat produces carcinogens also? What a crock! i swear, cant they just leave well nuff alone and let us enjoy the simple things in life? Use olive oil and be happy. Just my .02 worth.
disclaimer: all thoughts in the previous statement are those of a man who is sick of the "everything is bad for you" movement.
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Old 10-11-2008, 01:35 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LL View Post
I only recently found out that it's unsafe to use olive oil in high heat cooking since it starts to produce carcinogens past its smoke point and now I'm suddenly in all sorts of disarray and worry. I have a few questions regarding olive oil and high heat cooking:
If I listed everything in cooking that "they" say can/does/might produce carcinogens - you would probably never cook any way other than poaching, boiling or steaming.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LL View Post
1) According to the sites I've googled, you should not cook with olive oil at high heat. So is anything medium heat or lower safe or is only low heat safe? For example, is cooking a fillet of salmon with olive oil on a non-stick skillet with the gas stove knob at the halfway point safe?
Who says everything has to be cooked at high heat? In fact, most non-stick cookware tells you not to go above about medium heat anyway. But, the less oil you use the faster it will come up to temp - and beyond. Put your skillet on the stove, add a couple of tablespoons of oil (any oil) and it should be ready to go in just a minute or two. Oh, "they" also say you can't deep fry in olive oil ... someone really should tell the folks in the Mediterranean and Middle East that do it every day.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LL View Post
2) Related to cooking safely with olive oil, how can you tell/approximate the temperature of the cookware you're using (so you can make sure you don't go past an oil's smoke point?) Most of my cooking is done on a skillet (for fish, vegetables, occasionally meat). Is there some kind of way of estimating the temperature?--ie, by looking at the movement of the oil on the skillet, similar to how you can approximate the temperature of water in a pot as it goes through a couple phases before full boil.
Yep - same thing ... when you see the little currents in the oil moving it's ready to go. You'll probably see this referred to as "seeing the oil shimmer".

Quote:
Originally Posted by LL View Post
When I was cooking tonight, I noticed that while my piece of fish was on the skillet on medium heat there was actually small wisps of smoke rising from the undersides of the fish--though not from oil residing elsewhere in the pan.
Just like with your brussels sprouts - I'm 99% certain that was not smoke - it was steam. And, yes, steam is normal.

Hope this helps some.
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