Cooking for Beginners: Frying Tips

Frying may not be the healthiest way to cook dinner, but it’s certainly one of the most popular, and for good reason. It’s one of the best ways to achieve crispy foods, while avoiding getting an overly dry center if you’re cooking a protein or thicker ingredient. Frying is also pretty easy for most people to handle — though safety is incredibly important since cooking, frying especially, is the leading cause of home fires and fire injuries in the United States. However, as long as you’re being safe, frying can be as simple as heating up the oil, dropping the ingredients in, and waiting for your delicious meal.

Unfortunately, sometimes it is possible to make mistakes when frying. You’ll know this to be true if you’ve ever been looking forward to eating a ton of fresh fries out of the fryer, only for them to be mushy or have a weird taste. Thankfully, most of the issues with frying are simple to correct!

Deep Frying vs. Shallow Frying vs. Pan Frying

Before we get into some basic frying tips, it’s important to know that all frying isn’t the same. There are three main types of frying and each is better for different types of cooking. You’re likely familiar with each, though you may not know it!

There are three main types of frying and each is better for different types of cooking: pan frying, shallow frying, and deep frying.

First is pan frying, something many of us do every day. Pan frying is when you’re using a small amount of oil or fat to lightly coat the surface of the pan. Second, shallow frying is done when the oil or fat cooks one side of the ingredient, with the fat covering no more than half. For this reason, shallow frying and pan frying can be used interchangeably, though pan frying generally uses much less frying fat than shallow frying. Lastly, deep frying, is what many of us think of when we talk about frying. This is when the ingredient is fully submerged in the frying oil.

The differences here matter because you’ll get different outcomes. Deep frying is good for sturdier ingredients, while something like a salmon filet should probably be pan or shallow fried. At the same time, battered foods should be deep fried because you’ll want to fry the entire outside at once, so it crisps and cooks at the same time (whereas the batter may fall off if pan fried). You’ll also have more oil absorption with deep frying, meaning it’ll likely be higher in calories and absorb more flavor from the oil. There are other differences between the types of frying, like needing to flip the ingredient with pan/shallow frying, but the flavor of the oil is key.

Choose Your Oil Wisely

This tip will seem familiar if you read our previous article on frying safety, but it’s a for a good reason. Knowing which oil to cook with impacts more than just the temperatures you can cook at. Not only can burning oil impact a bitter, nasty taste to whatever you’re cooking in it, a regular, non-burned oil that has a strong flavor of its own can influence the taste.

When choosing what oil you’re using for frying, make sure you’re taking both smoke points and flavor into account.

Most people will stick to neutral oils, like vegetable oil, for most of their frying needs since it doesn’t add much flavor on its own and can handle high heats. Some other popular oils for frying include peanut oil, sesame oil and even some animal fats like lard or beef tallow since they can have a strong flavor that adds to the food. When choosing what oil you’re using for frying, make sure you’re taking both smoke points and flavor into account.

Control the Temperature

When you add the ingredient, the temperature of the oil drops a bit. Keep this in mind when you’re frying to ensure that you’re getting the best results possible. It may also help to heat the oil a few degrees past where you initially want it so that when you add the ingredients the temperature stays within the desired range. It’s also helpful to have a high temperature thermometer to accurately gauge the heat.

It’s imperative that you never flick water into the oil to check the heat if you don’t have a thermometer.

Generally, you want to fry around temperatures of 350°F and 375°F, though it’s not uncommon to go as high as 400°F. It’s imperative that you never flick water into the oil to check the heat if you don’t have a thermometer. That’s a quick way to start a fire. Instead, gently place the long handle of a wooden spoon into the oil. If you see bubbles forming around the handle, it’s hot enough to fry in.

Don’t Crowd the Pan

There are a few reasons why it’s important to fry in batches and allow plenty of space for the foods you’re making. First, leaving space helps the food to cook evenly and allows you to maneuver the ingredients without making a mess. More importantly, as mentioned before, when you add ingredients to the pan, it lowers the temperature. If you add too many ingredients at once, the temperature will drop too low. While it may eventually get back up to where you want it, this can cause the ingredients to absorb more oil than you intend, making it greasy and not crispy.

If you overcrowd the pan can effectively boil your food instead of frying it.

Additionally, when you fry something, the liquid in the ingredient evaporates quickly, which are the bubbles you see when you’re frying. If you overcrowd the pan, that steam has nowhere to escape to, which creates a layer of steam that effectively boils your food instead of frying it.

Make Sure the Ingredients are Dry

The dryness of your ingredients isn’t just a safety issue — it also influences the outcome of your dish. One of the universal rules of cooking is that if you want something to be crispy, make sure it’s dry. A great example of this is the Maillard Reaction, as well as other browning methods that cause our food to get deliciously crispy.

As long as you follow the instructions on the package, you should be fine.

The only exceptions to this are when frying with batter and frozen foods. This is because liquid is an important ingredient in a batter mixture, whether that’s water, beer, or something else, and you can’t really dry frozen foods since the liquid is frozen to the ingredient. Don’t worry too much about frozen ingredients, though. As long as you follow the instructions on the package, you should be fine.

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Frying is a popular and fairly simple way to cook delicious, crispy food, especially if you’re not overly concerned with lite cooking. You don’t have to be afraid of frying, though. As long as you’re being safe and following these tips, your food should turn out great. Whatever type of frying you’re doing and whatever type of oil you’re using, remember to control the temperature, make sure the ingredients are dry, and leave plenty of space for the ingredients in the pan!