How Do You Know When Oil Is Ready for Frying?

Let’s face it, frying food is a basic skill that everyone who cooks should have. Why? Because fried food is tasty AF. I mean who doesn’t love fried chicken, french fries, onion rings, donuts, or any of the other delicious fried foods?! 

Now that we’ve established that you need to know how to fry food, let’s discuss the most important part: the oil.

Choosing the Right Oil

When it comes to oils, it seems that there are more choices than ever before. This is confusing when you’re trying to decide what will work best for your recipe.

If it were a popularity contest, vegetable oil would win because it has a higher smoke point and a mild flavor. Canola oil is a close second. Considered by some to be a “healthier” option because it has a lower saturated fat and higher monounsaturated fat content, it’s a great oil for frying temperatures around 450°F (which covers most of the frying you’ll do). Corn and sunflower are also good alternatives for that mid-temperature range while peanut oil is best for high temps because it has a really high smoke point.

As an aside, avocado, coconut, and olive oil are great for salad dressings and low temp sauteeing but are terrible options for frying because they have a low smoke point.

Oil Temperature Matters

Get the oil too hot and your tasty treat will burn on the outside before cooking on the inside. Add the food when the temperature is too low and the food will absorb the oil. So, if you’ve eaten fried food that tasted overly greasy, chances are it was fried at too low a temperature.

How to Know When the Oil Temperature is Right to Fry

For the most part, recipes will call for oil to be between 350°F to 370°F. That’s easy to figure out if you’re using a candy or oil thermometer. But what if you don’t have one handy? How do you know when the oil is hot enough to fry your favorite food? 


By far the easiest method to “handle” all you need is a wooden spoon or chopstick that you dip into the oil when you think the temperature is right. If the oil bubbles steadily, then it’s ready to fry. If the oil bubbles very very vigorously, then the oil is too hot and needs to cool off a touch. If no or very few bubbles pop up, then it’s not hot enough.


This method comes from The Joy of Cooking. According to the technique, you simply add a 1-inch square of bread into hot oil and start your stopwatch. It should take 60 seconds to brown when the oil is 365°F.


This method comes from Cooks Illustrated. It calls for a single kernel of popcorn to be dropped into the oil while you heat it over medium heat. The kernel should pop as soon as the oil hits 350°F and 360°F.

A Few Last Tips

  • If you use the bread or popcorn method, be sure to remove your bread or popcorn before frying anything else. 
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan. Each item you add brings the temperature down, which may lead to oily food. 
  • Maintaining the right temperature is the key to success so be sure to maintain consistent, medium heat under your pan and fry in small batches for optimal success.

Have your own tips or recipes to share? Post them here!