First, let’s talk about smoke point. Your cooking fat of choice largely depends on the temperature at which you’ll be cooking your meat. The smoke point of butter or your chosen oil matters because you don’t want burned oil or butter flavoring your food — or making your pan harder to clean afterwards.
Now, the facts:
- Butter has a smoke point of just over 300 degrees F.
- Canola oil has a smoke point of 400 degrees F.
- Olive oil, depending on quality, has a smoke point between 350 and 410 degrees F.
- Coconut oil has a smoke point of 450 degrees F.
- Avocado oil has a smoke point of 520 degrees F.
As you can see, between butter and oil, butter has a dramatically lower smoke point. Because of this, if you heat up a pan hot enough to sear your steak, putting a dollop of butter in first means it is likely to burn up.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t still get the delicious flavors of butter with your steak. Rather than using it as your cooking oil, considering using it as a finishing oil. After your steak’s final flip, place a pat of butter on the top and allow it to melt over and caramelize. Feeling ambitious? Consider making a garlic butter topping instead.
For other meats cooked at a lower temperature or for less time, butter can work much better. For instance, shrimp cooks so quickly that the butter likely won’t have time to burn. Or, if you’re pan-searing chicken in a moderately hot pan, butter can help with the browning.
Now, on to our next question: what type of oil should you use to cook steak?
Again, this varies depending on preference. Choices like coconut oil and avocado oil do tend to have a distinctive flavor that could affect the final taste of your meat, but they are each a great choice for high heat cooking. Olive oil and canola oil are more neutral flavors and tend to be more commonly used.
Confused about which olive oil to buy? We can help with that.
Unsure of how to take care of your cast iron skillet? We can also help with that.
And now that you have your butter vs. oil debate straight…