Sometimes all you want after a long day is a quick, meaty dinner. The easiest, most enticing option is a pan-seared steak seared in a cast iron skillet with a glug of cooking oil.
Choosing the best beef cut isn’t the only thing that goes into getting a mouth-watering steak. The oil you use can make or break that beautiful crust you want to form around the juicy flesh. And picking the right oil for steak can be tricky since you need a high-smoke point option with a neutral flavor.
How do you find an oil that’s both healthy, flavor-neutral, and performs well with steak? Let’s look at some top options.
What’s the Best Oil for Cooking Steak?
Did you know that different oils burn at different temperatures? The best oil for cooking steak should have a high smoke point – so it won’t burn before it reaches the right temperature to cook your steak. Oils with smoke points of 400°F-500°F/204°C-260°C are ideal for searing steak. Refined avocado oil, extra light olive oil, refined peanut oil, canola oil, and ghee are the best oils for cooking steak.
The worst oils to cook steak with would be anything with a low smoke point – like extra virgin olive oil, unrefined coconut or safflower oil, or unfortunately, plain butter.
What To Look For in Cooking Oil For Steak
Smoke point refers to the temperature at which the oil starts to smoke before breaking down, catching fire, or coming to a boil. An oil’s smoke point is the most important factor in choosing your cooking oil for steak, as it can affect the flavor and quality of your meal and – more importantly – impact your health.
Pan-searing a steak requires heating your oil to very high temperatures (400°F-500°F/204°C-260°C). If the oil has a low smoke point, you either won’t be able to cook your steak to the desired doneness, or you’ll burn the oil.
And heating oil beyond its smoke point has significant health risks.
When you heat oil, several chemical reactions occur, including oxidation and hydrolysis. Hydrolysis is the chemical reaction where water molecules react with oil and release fatty acids, making your oil foam like soap. Oxidation, on the other hand, breaks down healthy chemicals and releases free radicals, which have been linked to cancer.
Typically refined oils have higher smoke points than pressed or virgin oils. Here’s a list of the most common oils and their smoke points.
|Refined Olive Oil||465°F/240°C|
|Refined Coconut Oil||400°F/204°C|
|Unrefined Avocado Oil||350-400°F/176-204°C|
|Generic Vegetable Oil||400°F/204°C|
Refined plant-based oil usually has a neutral flavor. Extra virgin or cold-pressed oils usually taste like the plant they came from.
Going with a flavorful oil for searing steak can be a personal choice. If you don’t mind adding an extra layer of flavors to your steak, you can use coconut or sesame oil to give your steak a rich taste profile.
However, if you prefer the beefy taste by itself, stick with refined oils since the refining process removes the odors and dark colors from the unrefined oil.
And what about animal fats, such as lard and butter? Many people decide to go against the plant-based trend and accentuate their steak’s beefy flavors with animal grease. This can give you a buttery flavor that adds to the steak’s richness. Just know that the smoke point tends to be lower on animal fats with a high saturated fat content.
Until recently, most doctors recommended staying far away from animal fats and oils that included saturated fat. But there’s been a lot of recent controversy regarding the health risks of saturated fats. Many studies have found correlations between saturated fats and cardiovascular diseases, but the findings aren’t universal.
Coconut oil and grapeseed oil are controversial products thanks to their high omega-6 content and polyunsaturated fats. So, although they’re a great option for searing steak, they’re not the healthiest if you’re looking to balance your omega-6 fatty acids with omega-3.
The question of “Which oil is healthiest to use in cooking” is a hard one to answer.
You may prioritize oils that are organic or non-GMO. According to the FDA, GMO foods are healthy and safe. However, other people hold the strong belief that they should only consume natural foods, and avoid canola oil since most canola is genetically modified.
There’s no one right answer, but lots to consider as you choose the best oil for your family.
Refined vs. Unrefined
Also known as virgin or cold-pressed oil, unrefined oil has more nutritional value than refined oils when consumed raw. Healthy components such as antioxidants and polyphenols, as well as minerals and enzymes, remain intact in unrefined oils.
However, these minerals and enzymes break down when heated. Unrefined oil generally has a lower smoke point and shelf life since these impurities increase the chances of oxidation. The lower smoke point means that unrefined oil is generally not suitable for frying and is better for salad dressing.
On the other hand, refined oil goes through heat or chemical processing to remove some of its ingredients, such as free fatty acids. Removing these impurities increases the oil’s burn point, making it suitable for frying and searing.
Best Oils For Steak
With so many factors to weigh, there’s no simple answer to “What’s the best oil for frying steak.” Once you’ve figured out what your health priorities are and what flavor and performance you desire in your cooking oil, you need to consider the cost. Avocado oil and ghee tend to be more expensive, while others on this list – like canola oil – are affordable.
Here’s the list of oils I recommend for cooking steak.
1. Refined Avocado Oil
Thanks to its myriad benefits, avocado oil is my go-to when I want to pan-sear steaks.
Refined avocado oil has one of the highest smoke points among plant-based oils (520°F/260°C), making it perfect for high-heat cooking, including pan searing, stir-frying, and deep frying.
Even unrefined avocado oil has a high enough smoke point for some high-heat cooking purposes (350-400°F/176-400°C)!
The flavor is neutral and only has slight hints of avocado in refined oil. It has the creamy, buttery texture of avocado, which gives you a nice sear with a uniform crust.
It’s also one of the healthiest oils out there, rich in antioxidants, unsaturated fats, and omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids. These ingredients give avocado oil anti-inflammatory, heart-friendly, and cholesterol-reducing benefits.
My favorite avocado oil for steak is this AmazonFresh Avocado Oil. It lives up to my expectations as I cook my steak on extremely high heat. It’s also non-GMO and contains zero trans fat. It doesn’t need refrigeration, so you can keep it in your pantry.
This oil goes perfectly well with a Denver steak. Be sure to check out my article on how to cook a juicy Denver steak and give it a try!
2. Refined Olive Oil
When it comes to flavor and texture AND affordability, it’s hard to beat olive oil in the steak department! It may have a lower smoke point than avocado oil (465°F/240°C), but it’s still stable enough for searing steak.
Remember that extra virgin olive oil isn’t a good candidate for searing steak – despite its health benefits when raw. It has a low smoke point (350°F/175°C), which is much lower than the minimum temperature for searing steak. That’s why you should always look for light, refined olive oil to prevent burning and ruining your steak’s flavor.
My favorite is this Bertolli Extra Light Olive Oil, which has a very high smoke point (468°F/240°C), making it suitable for searing steak and other high-heat cooking.
What’s more, it has a neutral taste thanks to the refining process that tries to retain the nutritional value as much as possible.
I use this oil for about everything and it won’t overpower your steak with harsh flavors. It has such a mild flavor you could use it in your homemade mayo without noticing any weird tastes.
3. Refined Peanut Oil
You probably think of Asian cuisine when you hear peanut oil, but it’s a great alternative to avocado and olive oil that brings some variety into your diet.
Refined peanut oil is odorless, colorless, and perfect for searing steak thanks to its high smoke point (450°F/232°C). But it’s loaded with omega-6 fatty acids, which have inflammatory effects. So, you may want to limit your consumption unless you eat copious amounts of omega-3-rich fish!
Since you don’t need a lot of oil to sear a steak, this Lou Ana Peanut Oil is a great choice. It’s non-GMO, odorless, flavorless, and has a high smoke point. It has a slightly nutty flavor but doesn’t clash with the flavor of your beef. You can also use it in a salad dressing or for deep frying.
4. Canola Oil
With a smoke point of 400-475°F (200-246°C), canola oil is a popular variety for high-heat cooking. It’s a great source of vitamins E and K, as well as omega 3.
It also has a low saturated fat content and a reasonable omega 6/omega 3 ratio.
Like other oils with high smoke points, canola oil is refined, which can remove some of its nutritional benefits. Plus, the refining process introduces chemicals, such as hexane. However, this is the trade-off we may need to make to avoid burning the oil at low temperatures.
I recommend this 365 by Whole Foods Market Canola Oil available on Amazon due to its high smoke point. One of the biggest concerns about canola oil is that most products come from GMO plants. However, this one is organic, it’s not genetically modified! (Yes, you can have non-GMO canola!) It comes in a spray can, allowing you to limit your consumption.
If you love the rich milky flavor of butter with your steak, you may have to resort to basting after the steak is done. Butter is not a good option for searing steak directly. Butter has such a low smoke point (300°F/150°C) that it burns before reaching the minimum temperature for cooking steak.
However, you’re not out of luck. Ghee, or clarified butter, can give you all the buttery goodness without giving you burning.
To make ghee, butter is melted and strained to remove solid particles that burn at low temperatures. The result is refined, clear golden butterfat that has a very high smoke point. It’s nearly free of casein and lactose, so many people who have dairy intolerances can enjoy ghee without discomfort.
If you want to give ghee a try, this Spring Sunrise Ghee is a great place to start. This organic clarified butter comes from grass-fed cows and is gluten-free. With a smoke point of 485°F/251°C, it’s ideal for searing steak while giving it a pleasant, buttery flavor.
Here’s an interesting video showing how ghee is made:
The overwhelming variety of oils available for searing steak can be confusing, but hopefully, this article can help you choose the best product. Within oils that have a high smoke point, you can choose from products with a range of flavors and nutritional profiles.
What oils do you like to use to sear your steak? Have you ever tried ghee? Let us know in the comments.