How can my cooking be less smoky?
December 7, 2013 6:24 AM   Subscribe

Whenever I cook, my apartment fills with smoke. How do I prevent this?

Meat, fish, veggies, pancakes... wok, pan, dutch oven...olive oil, butter, whatever. I know that a certain amount of smoke is inevitable when cooking, but are there any tricks I don't know about to reduce smoke?

I have the get-rid-of-the-smoke strategies down. Open windows, set up a fan. But I wonder if there's a way to prevent it to begin with.
posted by jtajta to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It might be a product of what kind of oil and level of heat you are using. Olive oil and butter both have pretty low smoke points. Do you use canola oil?
posted by edgeways at 6:27 AM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Smoke: you're cooking on too high temperatures. Watch your pans and regulate down as soon as whatever cooking fat you're using is hot enough.
(Vapors: you can't avoid them. Open two opposite windows it if's not too cold out.)
posted by Namlit at 6:27 AM on December 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

Choose recipes that don't involve frying things or spitting fat. Put a lid on everything you cook.
posted by kadia_a at 6:27 AM on December 7, 2013

Best answer: Don't burn stuff. It's really that simple, but hard to really tell you how to do it without knowing what you're doing.

If you're going full on heat, turn it down. Very few things actually need the stove going full blast.

Also, check out the smoke point of your fat.
posted by theichibun at 6:28 AM on December 7, 2013

Response by poster: Yeah, I think smoke points are something I need to get familiar with. Any rules of thumb? Thanks for all the quick answers!
posted by jtajta at 6:30 AM on December 7, 2013

take a peek here
posted by edgeways at 6:33 AM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you cleaned your range recently? Is the smoke coming from crap in your burners?

That sounds like an alarming amount of smoke. Like, dangerous.
posted by purpleclover at 6:35 AM on December 7, 2013

Response by poster: @purpleclover No it's not alarming or dangerous I don't think, just annoying/smell. And yes, I try to keep the range clean. I starting to think it's mostly about my misunderstanding of the fats I'm using and different heat levels needed for different types of cooking projects.
posted by jtajta at 6:37 AM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's a good summery of what kind of oil can be used for at heat, and here's a good of how high of heat to use for what kind dry cooking.

Forgive me if you've done this already, but you may also want to check under the top of the burners, every stove top (only traditional gas or electric burners, I haven't had one the fancy solid surface ones) I've ever owned has a hinge at the back and there was always a ton of grease and junk that had collected underneath. Which is something I only knew about because my mom once dropped a measuring spoon there when I was home once, so I saw her fish it out.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:53 AM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here is a way to test if the pan is too hot. Before you start, add just a small amount of the fat you want to use and see what happens. If it is smoking, remove the pan from heat source, hold under exhaust fan, turn down heat. After a minute or two you can try again.

By making sure the pan is correct temp for the fat you will prevent large amounts of smoke.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:58 AM on December 7, 2013

Rule of thumb: watch the surface of the cooking fat/oil.

Cooking oil starts moving around when heated; as soon as you see that happen, wiggle the pan around to coat its surface evenly with oil of the same heat. If unsure whether it's hot enough, add one small piece of whatever you want to cook, if it sizzles, it's ok; a faint hiss is too cold; a violent hiss'n'bubble too hot for most goods.
Now add all the cook-or-fry-food, stir, keep the heat on for about 20 seconds more (because the to-be-cooked goods lower the overall temperature in the pan), then lower the heat to just-under medium or low, (a little depending on the overall cooking technique and your pan; steaks and burgers need higher heat than a lot of other things).
Special remark about olive oil: extra virgin olive oil is much better suited for sautéing than many people claim, but only if it's not overheated - it becomes directly clear when that happens because of the distinct burnt smell and the visible gray-ish smoke that develops, in which case the healthiest way is to toss it and start anew with a little more care (no big deal, obviously).
Special remark about butter: heat slowly, let the milky foam subside which happens in two stages. Now you can cook, but only carefully and while you're there to watch; never run away to do other stuff when you're frying goods anyway. You can decide whether you want the butter slightly browned (which is done on just-below-medium heat at most, using time rather than heat to achieve the proper result) or just off-foam, which tastes fresher.
To fry bits of meat with less splatter, use half butter half vegetable oil.
Margarine: maybe just don't use margarine; this is stuff designed to be sold, for which reason the manufacturers pretend that it's good for human consumption. Short version of what one could say to that: some people disagree.

The only smoky exception in my kitchen: stir fry. For a good heap of chunky-cut veggies and tofu/meat/whatever, you really need high heat. Open the windows. Heat up oil of a suitable kind (peanut, canola, best: coconut oil) in the wok to really hot; slide in long-cooking goods (carrots, celery) first, then not-that long-cooking (bell pepper etc.), then onion and bamboo and so on, salt, spices, soy sauce, chopped garlic and/or ginger and at the end whatever sauce/vinegar/cornstarch mix you want to use. Only if fry turns to bubble during the last stage do you adjust the heat to medium; add tomatoes, fresh bean sprouts and cucumber wedges only at the very last: barely heat them through but do not cook them.
If you're stir-frying a mix of meats/shrimp/fish/tofu and veggies the best way to avoid messy results is to work in two stages: meat first; put stir-fried meat aside in a marinade of your choice (soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil, some chopped ginger and garlic, for instance), rinse scrub and carefully dry the wok, heat up more oil, start with the veggies, add meats only during the last phase. Now this may indeed smoke a little, but, yum.

posted by Namlit at 8:00 AM on December 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

Oh right, my previous comment assumes that you are heating the frying pan (or pot) together with the oil/fat. Most pans, even high-end cast iron, don't really like being heated solo (as I learned only recently)
posted by Namlit at 8:03 AM on December 7, 2013

You might want to try making some clarified butter to use for cooking. It stays good for quite some time in a tupperware in the fridge.
posted by elizardbits at 9:25 AM on December 7, 2013

I have had to deal with this much less since I started cooking most things in coconut oil or bacon grease.
posted by hishtafel at 10:58 AM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest using a well-seasoned and maintained cast iron pan, but the question has been addressed in this (ancient) AskMe post. Done correctly, a cast iron pan should need little to no oil to cook. I've also had luck reducing smoke by starting meat on the stovetop and then finishing it under the broiler, but I never perfected a smoke-free kitchen. In my old kitchen, ventless kitchen, I eventually I just shifted by cooking to slow-cooker recipes or thin, quickly-cooked cuts of meat.
posted by bibliowench at 11:25 AM on December 7, 2013

Your stove has a vent hood, right? (Mine doesn't.) If you have one, and its filter isn't clogged, you should probably get in the habit of using it when you're working with oils over high heat. People are right that you should get little if any smoke if you choose an appropriate oil for the heat you're cooking with, but if there is smoke then a vent hood will do a lot more good than opening a window and putting on a fan, since it's much closer to the source of the smoke and just has to encourage it to keep moving upward and into the vent, which it mostly wants to do anyway.
posted by Scientist at 12:01 PM on December 7, 2013

I'm going to assume your mention of a wok means you're doing stir-fries. Counter-intuitively, stir-frying gets less smoky if you add more oil, because then heat applied to the outside of the wok is more effectively passed to the food inside the wok. There should be a little puddle of oil at the bottom of the wok. If there's only enough oil to barely coat the surface of the wok, then whatever oil isn't in direct contact with a piece of food is just going to heat up and burn. You really need some oil flowing around to carry heat from the entire surface of the wok to the food pieces.
posted by d. z. wang at 12:15 PM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I switched to grape seed oil or canola for cooking/frying. I use good quality olive oil for dressings and "finishing" after the food is cooked.
posted by saradarlin at 8:51 AM on December 8, 2013

Nthing coconut oil and bacon grease. Rarely use olive oil these days and have very little smoke issues.
posted by Thistledown at 8:44 AM on December 10, 2013

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