When you’re investing extra money on a premium cut of meat, it makes sense to pay close attention to every detail to make your dinner the best it can be. One big factor when preparing steak on the stovetop is oil. There is a range of different options, and for beginners, it may not be obvious what oil to cook steak in.
Generally speaking, you want to cook your steak in oil with a relatively high smoke point. That means sticking with oils like canola, peanut, and vegetable oil. However, there are actually many different options worth trying, each with its own advantages.
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Why You Need Oil to Cook a Steak
Almost any time you’re cooking food in a pan, whether it's meat, vegetables, or grains, you’ll add at least a bit of oil or butter. While it's a common practice, the reason actually has more to do with flavor than just convenience.
The reason oil is such a big part of cooking has to do with heat distribution. When you look at your stovetop, you'll notice that your burner concentrates heat in a small area. If you try to cook in a pan without oil, what you’ll find is that your food will quickly burn where the fire is hottest and stay raw everywhere else.
Oil solves this problem by distributing the heat more evenly over the surface of the food. This ensures that all parts of your steak are cooked and reduces the chances of burning. As an added bonus, the bit of extra fat makes your food taste even better.
Understanding Smoke Point
Smoke point isn’t the only factor to take into consideration when choosing a cooking oil, but it’s probably the most important. Simply put, the "smoke point" is the temperature at which the proteins in the oil begin to degrade. This is important because if oils are heated past their smoke point, they will take on an unpleasant, bitter flavor.
When it comes to cooking steak, you want to stick with oils that have a smoke point above 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Vegetable oil and olive oil are two of the most common options, while grapeseed, peanut, sunflower, and avocado oils are also good bets.
The Best Oil for Cooking Steak
Take a look at some of the most common oils used for cooking steak below.
What we love about canola oil is that it sits at the perfect intersection of availability, affordability, and a high smoke point. You can find it in most grocery stores for an affordable price, and with a smoke point as high as 475 degrees Fahrenheit, you won’t have to worry much about overheating it.
Canola oil comes from the crushed seeds of the rapeseed plant. It's important to note, though, that many companies use chemical compounds to get the oil out of the plant. So if you’re looking for an all-natural option, you may want to try something else. But because it has a neutral flavor overall, canola oil allows the flavor of the steak to come through.
What exactly is the difference between canola oil and avocado oil? Find out here.
Peanut oil is an option that is often used for deep frying because of its high smoke point of 450 degrees Fahrenheit. This also makes it a good option for steak, especially if you want to get a nice sear over high heat. It may be a bit more expensive than more common kitchen oils like canola or vegetable oil, though it’s still relatively affordable.
One factor to keep in mind when cooking with peanut oil is the flavor. While it won’t be exactly overpowering, you may notice that it adds a familiar peanutty taste to whatever you cook in it. If this sounds like a bonus, it could be the perfect choice for you. If not, you might be better off trying another option.
Olive oil has a slightly lower smoke point than some other cooking oils, at just above 400 degrees Fahrenheit. While this is high enough for cooking steak, you’ll want to monitor it carefully to avoid overheating it. But if you use it right, it can add a subtle flavor to your meat that makes it taste deliciously refined.
The other reason we like olive oil is that it's commonly available, and there are many varieties to choose from. However, when cooking steak, you’re better off avoiding fancy cold-pressed olive oil, as the subtle flavor will be lost when it hits the pan.
If you really want to play it safe, there’s no better option than avocado oil. It has an impressive smoke point of 520 degrees Fahrenheit, which means you can crank the heat without worry. This is especially useful if you want to cook your steak very rare or blue, as these techniques require higher heat for a proper sear.
Avocado oil also has a neutral, balanced flavor that won’t get in the way of the natural taste of the meat. While it does cost a bit more compared to more common oils, the results will speak for themselves.
When all else fails, it often pays to stick with what you know. The benefit of vegetable oil is that you can find it inexpensively at virtually any grocery store or convenience store. It also has a neutral flavor that won’t distract from your cooking.
The main downside of vegetable oil is that it has a lower smoke point of 400 degrees Fahrenheit, so you’ll need to monitor your heat carefully. As long as you pay attention to the searing of the meat, you can make just as good of a steak with it as with any other oil.