Plunging food into hot fat might seem impractical or merely indulgent, but it’s actually a highly efficient way to cook. The entire surface is directly exposed to the heat source, so food cooks through quickly and uniformly. Plus, the oil itself is an exceptional cooking agent: It can get really hot (upwards of 400 degrees) without smoking, allowing food to burn off moisture, concentrate, and develop unmatched crispness. And it encourages browning and adds a richness that enhances the flavor.
- • What’s the Best Oil for Deep Frying at Home?
- • How to Set Up a Deep Frying Station
- • Deep Frying in a Wok
- • How to Preheat the Oil
- • How to Deep Fry
- • Why Double Fry?
- • How to Clean and Reuse Frying Oil
- • How Many Times Can You Reuse Frying Oil?
- • The Best Way to Store Used Deep-Frying Oil
- • How to Dispose of Deep-Fry Oil Easily and Mess-Free
All of that behind-the-scenes magic adds up to the tremendous flavor and texture that makes fried food taste so good. And the best way to enjoy it is to do the frying yourself; that way, you’re guaranteed to be eating it when it’s hot and crisp. DIY fried food is also a surefire way to wow guests, who will swoon when presented with still-warm doughnuts; audibly crunchy kettle chips; lacy-crisp calamari; or craggy, gochujang-glossed chicken wings.
Here’s the news you don’t hear enough: Frying is fun! Frying is easy! All you need is an organized setup and the right tools—most of which you probably already have. And as long as you recycle the oil, which is doable in most applications, frying isn’t wasteful or even expensive. Want to know more? Dig into this comprehensive guide to learn how to deep fry at home.
What’s the Best Oil for Deep Frying at Home?
Most foods are fried between 325 and 400 degrees, so it’s important to use oil with a relatively high smoking point: the temperature at which wisps of smoke appear when fat is heated, signaling that it is breaking down. Otherwise, the food will develop burnt, bitter, or off-flavors. Many refined vegetable oils work well because they contain relatively free fatty acids (the lower the volume, the higher the smoking point). The following are all good options.
- Vegetable blend
- Rice bran
Avoid canola and soybean
Though popular for deep-frying because they’re relatively inexpensive, widely available, and have high smoking points, we avoid these oils because high heat alters their flavor compounds and causes them to taste fishy and metallic, respectively.
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How Starch Coatings Behave Differently
The most common choices for dredging foods or mixing into deep-fry batters are wheat flours such as all-purpose or pure starches such as corn or potato. Both can lead to great results, but they behave differently.
- Pros: Contains proteins that can undergo Maillard browning
- Cons: Forms gluten that can make coatings tough and chewy
- Best for: Quick-cooking proteins such as shrimp and squid that need to brown before the meat toughens
- Pros: Fries up exceptionally light and crisp—and can maintain that crispness for hours
- Cons: Browns minimally
- Best for: Vegetables and longer-cooking proteins such as chicken that won’t overcook before the exterior browns
How to Set Up a Deep Frying Station
Like most cooking tasks, deep frying is simple as long as you are organized. Setting up your station with prepped food and the right tools at the ready is the first step to success.
- Tongs: Let you add the food to the hot oil in a precise way
- Prepped Food: Is ready and easy to grab when spread out evenly
- Remote-Probe Thermometer: Displays the oil temperature on a digital screen and lets you know when it's hot enough to start frying
- Dutch Oven: Minimizes splatter with tall sides; provides a broad cooking surface that allows you to cook food in fewer batches
- Cooling Rack: Lets air circulate below the fried food, preventing the bottom from getting steamy/soggy
- Spider Skimmer/Slotted Spoon: Helps you quickly remove batches of food from the oil
- Paper Towels: Wick oil from fried food
- Baking Sheet: Provides space to drain fried food in a single layer
Deep Frying in a Wok
For certain applications, a wok makes an excellent deep-fry vessel. Here’s when to use it and when to avoid it.
- Efficient Design: Its sloped sides and relatively shallow depth make woks highly responsive to the flame and accessible for retrieving the food.
- Requires Less Oil: When cooking lightweight foods that float to the surface such as fry breads, french fries, and fritters, the vessel’s roomy diameter allows you to fry just as much food as you would in a large Dutch oven but with 30 percent less oil.
- No Dense, Wet Foods: Heavier foods such as chicken will sink and cluster in the vessel’s narrow bottom.
- No Sweets: Doughnuts and other sweet items can pick up savory flavors from the wok’s seasoning.
- Stability: A flat-bottom wok won’t be as stable as a Dutch oven, so don’t overfill the vessel with oil and be very attentive while deep frying. If your wok doesn't sit evenly or tends to wobble on your burner, try stabilizing it on a wok ring.
How to Preheat the Oil
Preheating over moderately high heat is fine if you’re frying dense, wet foods such as chicken or seafood, which will absorb a lot of the oil’s heat as soon as they’re added to the pot. But low-mass items such as doughnuts or potato chips won’t absorb enough energy to prevent the oil from overheating, so in those cases it’s important to preheat the oil over a relatively low flame.
- For low-mass foods (i.e., doughnuts, potato chips), set the dial to moderately low heat.
- For dense, wet foods (i.e., chicken parts, seafood), set the dial to moderately high heat.
How to Deep Fry
These fundamental steps will help ensure success in any application.
- Shake Off Excess Coatings. Too much dredge or batter can muddy the frying oil unnecessarily, and the former can lead to dry patches on the crust. Before frying, gently shake off any surplus coatings, and let batters drip back into the bowl.
- Briefly Rest Dredged Foods. Letting starch-coated foods rest for about 10 minutes before frying gives the coating time to hydrate so that it doesn’t leave a dusty residue on the crust’s surface.
- Don’t Crowd the Pot. Batch-cooking is a must when you’re deep-frying large volumes of food. Adding too much to the pot at once will cause the oil temperature to plunge and not recover quickly enough to crisp the food before it cooks through. It can also lead to sticking if the individual pieces don’t have enough space to float without bumping into one another.
- Stir Sticky Items. In addition to shaking off excess coatings and not crowding the pot, stirring the contents can help prevent them from fusing to one another.
- Adjust Heat to Maintain Target Temperature. Oil temperature fluctuates as food cooks and when fresh food is added, so it’s important to monitor it closely; a remote-probe thermometer makes this easy. Most recipes recommend a 5- to 10-degree range.
- Remove Debris Between Batches. Use a slotted spoon or a spider skimmer to fish out bits of food or coatings that collect in the pot during cooking, lest they burn and imbue the oil with an acrid, bitter flavor.
- Let Oil Temperature Recover Between Batches. Don’t add more food to the pot between batches before the oil temperature has rebounded; otherwise, the food will cook up greasy and soggy instead of crisping.
- Drain Well. As soon as the food is cooked, transfer it to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet lined with a triple layer of paper towels.
- Salt Immediately. Salt sticks better to hot foods (the moisture from emitted steam helps salt cling to the surface), so be sure to sprinkle it on the food just after placing it on the paper towels.
- Hold First Batch(es) In the Oven. When deep frying multiple batches, keep cooked food hot and crisp by transferring food (still on the paper towel–lined wire rack set in a baking sheet) to a 200-degree oven.
Why Double Fry?
Many foods will crisp and brown beautifully after just a single stint in hot oil. But dense foods such as raw potatoes, or those with loads of moisture bound up in collagen, such as skin-on chicken, often benefit from double-frying: a multi-step process where food is fried, removed from the oil and briefly rested, and then fried again. Here’s a breakdown of the method.
First fry: Typically done at a relatively moderate oil temperature, this expels some of the food’s moisture and gelatinizes starch at the surface (or in a batter) so that it forms a thick outer layer—the foundation of the crust.
Rest: The parcooked food is removed from the oil and allowed to rest briefly so that it cools down; that way, it won’t overcook during the second fry. Meanwhile, the oil is reheated to a higher temperature.
Second fry: The food is added back to the pot to expel much of its remaining surface moisture, producing a dry, supremely crunchy crust.
How to Clean and Reuse Frying Oil
Unless the oil smoked or was used to fry fish, it's fine to strain and reuse it. Here are two ways to do it.
Pros: Relatively quick; leaves oil tasting clean
Cons: Requires some hands-on effort; oil might look cloudy (but will clear up when reheated)
Method: For every cup of frying oil, whisk together ¼ cup water and 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Add mixture to warm or cooled oil. Heat oil gently over low heat, stirring constantly with heatproof spatula, until starch mixture begins to solidify, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove oil from heat and strain through fine-mesh strainer (or use slotted spoon to fish out gelled mixture). Don't worry if oil appears cloudy; it will clear up once reheated.
Pro: Simple, hands-off method
Cons: Oil can take hours to filter through; doesn’t always rid oil of “cooked” flavor
Method: Pour oil through fine-mesh strainer lined with coffee filter. Discard solids.
How Many Times Can You Reuse Frying Oil?
The answer depends on what you’re frying: Battered or breaded foods such as chicken will degrade oil faster than cleaner-frying items such as potato chips—but the oil from both can be reused at least three times, and in some cases many more. Here’s proof, based on our test results from an oil-degradation kit.
Fried-chicken oil (left) looked and smelled progressively darker and stronger in the pot and appeared greener in the vial after each of the first four reuses. The chicken itself tasted fine until the 5th reuse, at which point it tasted greasy.
Potato-chip oil (right) remained pale and clean-smelling and barely changed color in the test vials, producing identical chips through eight batches. We stopped testing at that point, but we assume that it can potentially be used far longer, especially if you’re replenishing it with some fresh oil.
The Best Way to Store Used Deep-Frying Oil
Short-term (a few weeks): Cool, dark cupboard
The goal is to minimize the oil’s exposure to air and light, both of which hasten oil’s rate of oxidative rancidification and the creation of off-flavors and odors.
Long-term (beyond 1 month): Freezer
Very cold temperatures are most effective at slowing oxidation and the production of peroxides, which are the source of rancid oil’s unpleasant taste and smell.
How to Dispose of Deep-Fry Oil Easily and Mess-Free
Forget the mess of transferring spent cooking oil into a disposable container. A Japanese product called Waste Cooking Oil Powder uses oleogelation to bind up the liquid into a solid disk that is easy to remove from the pot and dispose of directly in the trash.
Method: Stir a sachet (about 18 grams, or ⅔ ounce) into 2½ cups of warm frying oil. As they cool, the contents will interact with the liquid oil, much like gelatin in water, into a matrix of crystalline fat that looks like a firm, gelled puck. Learn more.