Cast iron is the best cooking medium to deep fry food in. They are heavy, they add flavor, and they retain heat well. The key to success is to find a cast iron skillet or dutch oven deep enough for frying foods safely. Home cooks are often concerned with the frying process as it can be dangerous. However, following these 6 basic tips will ensure successful and delicious deep frying in cast iron every time.
1. Safety First
First, let’s talk about safety. Boiling cooking oil can be dangerous, so it’s good to know a few safety tips before you fry food. First, make sure the pot or skillet you are using is deep enough to contain the oil and the food. When you add the food, the oil will rise, so make sure to leave plenty of room so the oil doesn’t boil over.
Turn on the stove’s exhaust fan to eliminate any smoke. Keep the handle of the skillet turned in and keep small children out of the kitchen. It is also best to remain in the kitchen during the frying period. Keep a box of salt or baking soda near the stove in case of a boilover.
If you prefer, you can wear gloves while removing fried food from the oil. You can also purchase a screen to place over the top of the skillet or dutch oven to avoid splatter. Last, never cover the top of the pot with a lid.
2. Use The Right Equipment
For the best results in frying food, use the best equipment. No other cooking pan is better for frying food than cast iron. A cast iron skillet can be used for smaller batches, but a dutch oven is preferred because of its depth.
Cast iron has great heat retention. This is good for frying food because the heat will rise quickly and the temperature will not drop too much in between batches. The sturdiness of cast iron ensures that it can handle high temperatures. If the cast iron is well seasoned, it also adds great flavor to the fried products.
Another advantage of using a dutch oven is that there are no handles on the side. This prevents an accidental bump of a skillet handle, causing a disastrous (potentially dangerous) mess. Dutch ovens have a handle that connects to both sides which makes them safe and convenient for handling.
3. Food Preparation
Everyone knows that oil and water do not mix. To avoid adding moisture to the boiling oil and causing splatters and a potential boilover, pat dry your food with a paper towel before seasoning. This also ensures your food will be more flavorful as the seasoning or breading will stick better to the dry protein.
When you place the prepared food into the hot oil, do so gently. Add the food one piece at a time and do so right above the oil. Let the food slide into the oil. This technique prevents hot oil from splashing or boiling over.
4. Proper Temperature
Proper temperature is critical to frying food. If the temperature is too low, the food will turn out greasy and have a spongy texture. If the oil is too hot, the outside of the food will cook too fast and the inside will be undercooked. If you continue to cook the food so that the inside reaches the proper temperature, the outside will burn.
When the oil temperature is too low, the outside cannot cook in fast enough time to flash cook it. This turns the food into a soggy mess. Another disadvantage to frying food in lower temperatures is that the food does not float and causes the food to stick to the other food in the oil. If the food touches one another, the coating can come off and causes flavorless food.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, if the oil is too hot, the outside of the food will cook faster than the inside. Not only does the inside of the food not cook to the proper temperature, but the outside is also overcooked. This doesn’t mean that the cooking temperature needs to be an exact number. It’s simpler than that. Just keep the temperature between 425-450℉ and never allow the temperature to dip below 375℉.
The ideal temperature for frying food is 400℉-425℉. However, 375℉ will work as well. One way you can judge if the oil is at the correct temperature is to dip your finger in water and sprinkle a dab of water in the oil. If it sizzles immediately, the temperature of the oil is ready. If not, wait a few minutes and do it again.
The safer way to judge the correct temperature of the oil is by using a cooking thermometer. The more food you add to the oil, the more the temperature lowers. It is best to fry food in small batches and to make sure the oil is a few degrees hotter than the desired temperature for the first batch.
Wait a couple of minutes in between subsequent batches to allow the temperature to come back up. Also, in between batches, use a skimmer to remove any debris out of the oil. The less debris that is in the oil, the easier the oil temperature will rise to the appropriate temperature.
5. Choose The Right Oil
Cooking oil not only adds flavor to your food, but it is also a critical component in fried foods. Different oils have different smoke points. The smoke point of an oil is the temperature at which the oil starts to smoke. If you desire to fry food at 425℉ but your oil has a smoke point of 350℉, your food will taste burnt and your kitchen will be filled with smoke.
Vegetable, canola, and peanut oil are the best oils to fry food in. Vegetable oil and canola oil have a smoke point of 400℉-450℉. Peanut oil has a smoke point of 450℉. These higher smoke points make these oils the best to fry food in. Still, you should consider the flavor additives each one has.
Overall, canola oil is the best oil to fry food in because it has a neutral flavor and will not impart unwanted flavor to the fried food, and has the highest smoke point. Vegetable oil is also neutral but has a lower smoke point. Peanut oil has a nutty flavor note and adds a great flavor to everything from turkeys to french fries.
6. Don’t Overcrowd The Pan
Once you have the frying process started, it is essential that you do not overcrowd the pan. Overcrowding the pan reduces the oil temperature and can seriously affect the texture of the finished product. The beauty of frying food is the higher temperatures and the fat used. It is a fast cooking method designed to cook the outside of the food to a crisp texture while sealing in the flavor in the inside of the food.
My name is Jason Phillips and I cooked for many years, primarily aboard Merchant Marine vessels and in fast-paced commercial kitchens. My passion for culinary arts led me to attend a culinary arts academy in 2019 where the instructor piqued my interest in food and beverage writing.