When I got a deep fryer for Christmas this past year, I was dying to get started frying anything and everything that I could find in my kitchen. But first, I needed to find something to create all that golden, crispy food with: the oil.

Every resource I asked had a different answer. Some said plain old vegetable oil, others canola, others palm oil. Some more creative people recommended pork or even duck fat. So which was it? Turns out there wasn't one answer. Each oil has its own merits depending on what it is being used for. So let's get started!

1. Canola and Vegetable Oils

tea, beer
Amanda Fung

Who knew these two oils were different? Not me. Canola oil comes from the rapeseed plant, a member of the same family as rutabaga, turnips, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, whereas vegetable oil can refer to any combination of triglycerides extracted from vegetables.

While canola and vegetable oils are neutral in flavor, have a high smoke point, and are relatively low in cholesterol and saturated fat, they are highly processed and high in trans fats, making them less healthy than other options. However, vegetable oil is affordable, at only about $1.59 per pound, making it a suitable choice for a restaurant with a high turnover of oil.

A student favorite, Shake Shack in Washington, D.C. uses soy oil (a type of vegetable oil) in their products, making them safe for those with peanut allergies.

2. Sunflower Oil

Amanda Fung

A type of vegetable oil, sunflower oil is also low in saturated fat (but higher than canola oil). It has a smoke point of 437º F, but like canola oil, it's highly processed and may contain high levels of trans fats. This oil is known for having a very neutral taste, and it is also cheap when bought in bulk, at about $1.58 per pound. Another good choice for restaurants and home cooks alike.

3. Olive Oil

wine, beer, alcohol, liquor
Amanda Fung

If you're looking for an option with noted health benefits and don't mind the investment, then olive oil is the choice for you. As a monounsaturated fat, olive oil has been shown to help lower cholesterol and be good for your heart. It also has high levels of antioxidants.

The downside? It's pretty expensive. Coming in at about $4.71 per pound, this is not the choice for a restaurant. In addition, reusing olive oil at high heats for a long period of time can transform the fats in olive oil into trans fats, which takes away the health component.

4. Animal Fats

meat, bacon, pork, beef
Kirby Barth

It's hard to beat bacon fat in flavor, but you probably wouldn't want to fry everything in it. Bacon-tinted fried Oreos? Not so appetizing. Animal fats are known for giving crispiness and flavor to foods fried in them, and their high saturated fat content gives them very high smoke points.

The downside to these fats (like lard, tallow, and ghee, among others) is that they are not nearly as healthy as other fats, and tend to have a stronger flavor. Because of this, they are great for special occasions, but could pose serious health problems if used on a regular basis.

Many restaurants, however, pride themselves on their use of animal fats for their menu items. Duckfat, an aptly named sandwich shop in Portland, ME, prepares all its French fries in duck fat, then, in the case of their poutine, tops them off with cheese curds and a duck gravy. 

5. Peanut Oil

vegetable, sweet, nut
Katherine Carroll

With a relatively low saturated fat percentage, this is one of the healthier oils on this list. However, this also means it has a relatively low smoke point (about 437º F), meaning foods cannot be fried at a high heat. Low-heat frying leads to more oil absorbance, making the foods more oily and possibly counteracting the benefits of using a mono or polyunsaturated fat.

A common misconception about peanut oil is that it is not safe to consume if you have a peanut allergy. When peanut oil is highly refined, as most are, the proteins that cause allergies are removed, making it safe for those allergic to peanuts to eat.

A benefit of peanut oil is its resistance to flavor absorption, so it's a good choice for people or establishments who need to fry a lot of different things in a single fryer, but don't want their funnel cakes to taste like the fish and chips fried earlier. Peanut oil comes in at $1.43 per pound, making it a very affordable option as well.

6. Avocado Oil 

avocado, vegetable, sweet, guacamole
Jessica Kelly

A newcomer to the frying scene, avocado oil falls into the category of healthier fats, with most of the fat content made up of monounsaturated fats. It also has a high vitamin E content, bringing it close to olive oil in its health benefits. 

With the highest smoke point of the oils at 480º F, avocado oil is great for cooking foods at very high temperatures, which results in less oil absorption and a healthier final product. Though the unrefined version retains a slight avocado flavor, the oil is a noted carrier of other flavors because its flavor is so mild.

The downside? It is incredibly expensive. At over $5 per pound (if you buy in bulk), this is by far the most expensive option on this list. Good for your health, but not for your wallet.

7. Palm Oil

popcorn, corn, sweet, cereal, kettle corn, butter, salt
Renee Chiu

Consisting mostly of saturated fats, palm oil won't be winning any health awards anytime soon. However, it is highly stable and makes a cheap substitute for butter or lard in pastries and other products. As with the other oils discussed though, the high level of saturated fats makes it more likely to contribute to cardiovascular disease and other health issues.

In terms of frying, palm oil is stabilized through the refining process and as a result of the high saturated fat content, so it has a very high smoke point at 455º F. However the health concerns and concerns about ethical production methods have left many chefs looking elsewhere for fry oil.

One prominent type of establishment that uses palm oil regularly is movie theaters, where palm oil that's been colored yellow is used for fast, cost-efficient pop corn. 

8. Coconut Oil

Claire Waggoner

Coconut oil can be used for so many things besides cooking, including moisturizing, conditioning, oil pulling, and more. It's high in saturated fats (the highest on this list) and solid at room temperature, unlike most vegetable oils. 

Compared to other oils high in saturated fats, coconut oil has a low smoke point of 350º F, making it a poor choice for high heat frying, which also happens to be the healthiest method. The advantages of coconut oil are its price ($1.53 per pound) and ability to be reused without holding on to flavors. Though coconut oil is currently portrayed as the solution to everything, its health risks outweigh the benefits when it comes to cooking. 

The Verdict

Though the flavor boost of animal fats and the trendiness of avocado or coconut oils may be tempting, for a stable, affordable oil that produces consistent results and has the lowest amount of saturated fat among the oils discussed here, good old canola oil is your best bet. Happy frying!