Do you cook to the accompaniment of a smoke alarm announcing excess smoke in your kitchen?
Is generating smoke an unavoidable part of eating hot food?
Why does your cooking produce smoke?
7 Causes of Kitchen Smoke Production
A smoke-filled kitchen may or may not be the cook’s fault; reasons why your kitchen gets smoky during cooking include:
#1 Food Residues
Drips, spills, and cooking techniques leave food residues on your pans, oven racks, and cooking appliances.
Typically, the food that sticks has a high grease content, and when these get hot, they pass their smoke point and start to burn.
Ideally, all your equipment is sparkling clean, but in practice, most equipment and devices will build up food residues which is why you have a regular appointment with your oven for a deep clean.
#2 High Fat Food
Some foods have a higher fat content than others, which can generate smoke during cooking.
How much smoke depends on the cooking method.
Applying direct heat to a fatty food typically releases grease; you get smoke when the fat gets hotter than its smoke point.
#3 Using the Wrong Oil
There are many cooking oils, each with a different smoke point depending on its nature (fatty acid content), but the level of refinement can alter the smoke point.
If you are deep-frying, you need an oil with a high smoke point; if you use oil in a cold salad dressing, the smoke point is irrelevant.
Using an oil with a low smoke point in a high heat cooking operation will result in smoke and probably burnt food.
#4 Lack of Attention
If you boil an egg but don’t check on the water level and the water evaporates, the pan will start to burn.
When cooking a wet soup, stew, or sauce, the moisture content reduces, and the food sticks to the metal pan.
When the food sticks, it can burn, generating smoke.
Some thick milk-based sauces need constant stirring to prevent burning, and leaving food too long in the oven will result in burnt food.
When your food starts to burn, it produces smoke, and if left too long, it can combust, particularly if left under a grill.
Hot oil in a chip pan will smoke and then start a fire.
Cooking is a leading cause of home fires, and hot oil and grease account for almost half of these.
#5 Faulty Appliances
Hot cooking elements in your grill, deep fat fryer, and oven have a finite life and require replacement.
When your heating element starts to fail, it can produce smoke, which indicates it is time to switch off the appliance and call for a repair.
#6 Cleaning Residues and Coatings
Cleaning residues on oven racks and doors have a low smoke point and produce unpleasant, acrid smoke.
Manufacturers stress thorough rinsing to remove all product traces, but occasionally you may get distracted and not notice until smoke fills your kitchen when you use the appliance after cleaning.
A new device or utensil may have a factory coating.
Instructions will tell you to remove this coating before cooking because it will burn and produce smoke.
#7 Lack of Seasoning
Cast iron pans and woks (regardless of material) need seasoning before use.
Seasoning a pan creates a non-stick layer from the strategic burning of oil.
Seasoning a pan or wok generates smoke because the process involves heating the oil above the smoke point to create the non-stick coating that makes these pans the best in class for high-quality cooking.
If you don’t season your cast iron pan, food will stick and burn every time you use it.
Smoke Point of Oil and Fat
The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil starts to break down and produce smoke.
The smoke point of common cooking oils is:
|Types of Cooking Oils||Smoke Point|
|Ghee (Clarified Butter)||485°F|
|Extra Light Olive Oil||468°F|
|Refined Soybean Oil||460°F|
|Peanut (Groundnut) Oil||450°F|
|Refined Coconut Oil||450°F|
|Refined Almond Oil||420°F|
|Refined Canola Oil||400°F|
|Extra Virgin Olive Oil||375°F|
|Duck and Chicken Fat||375°F|
|Extra Virgin Coconut Oil||350°F|
|Unrefined Sesame Oil||350°F|
|Walnut Oil||300°F – 350°F|
Frying food generally generates a temperature exceeding 350 F, whereas sautéing is less.
Using an oil with a smoke point under the temperature of your cooking method will result in some smoke generation as the oil starts to burn.
Most food cultures specify the most appropriate high smoke point oil for hot frying – Indian dishes use Ghee, and the Chinese prefer groundnut oil for hot woks.
Although the flavor profiles differ, the performance under heat is essential to producing flavorful dishes with minimum smoke.
Oils class as:
- High smoke point above 400°F and are best for frying.
- Low Smoke point below 225°F and are best for cold uses.
When choosing your cooking fat or oil, consider the smoke point and the flavor.
Remember, burnt oil tastes terrible and doesn’t contribute to your health.
Matching your oil to your cooking method reduces smoke, improves flavor, and promotes excellent nutrition.
Cookware and Kitchen Smoke
Some cooking methods and cookware will generate more smoke than others.
Why Do Pans Get Smoky?
Using your pans for simmering, poaching, and boiling with plenty of water are activities with a low potential for smoke generation unless you leave the pan to go dry and burn.
Sauteing is high-temperature frying (for a short time) that softens vegetables and browns meat.
The process improves flavors and cooks spices before adding liquids to the pan.
The technique is to heat the fat and add the ingredients, keeping the ingredients moving. If the oil gets too hot, you can generate smoke.
Choose oil or fat with a high smoke point, or if you use butter, add some olive oil to prevent burning.
Sauteing is a controlled surface burn for flavor and has a reasonably high potential for generating smoke, especially if using garlic and spices.
Boiling and simmering stews, sauces, and soups is ideally smoke-free.
But food in contact with the hot metal of the pan may stick and burn. The burning is undesirable, generates smoke, and makes the pan challenging to clean.
Typically your pans generate smoke because the food is burning.
Why Do Cast Iron Pans Smoke?
Cast iron pans are a joy for gourmet chefs and other foodies, but you need to get the correct technique.
A cast-iron pan develops a non-stick coating through seasoning – the controlled burning of oil onto the cooking surface.
Food will stick and burn in an unseasoned pan.
To avoid a smoky kitchen while cooking, you must season your cast iron pan before first use and whenever you damage the seasoning through cooking acidic foods, scraping with metal utensils, or excessive cleaning.
Cast iron pans get super-hot, and if you use an oil with a low smoke point, you will get smoke while cooking.
Always use a high smoke point oil; if you need to use a low smoke point oil for flavor, keep cooling your pan to avoid excess heat.
If you cook a stack of pancakes and you keep pumping heat into the pan, the pan will get too hot and start to smoke.
One trick to cooling your pan to keep the oil in the non-smoking zone is to use a pad of wet tea towels next to the hob.
When the pan starts to smoke, remove from the heat and rest it on the wet cloths, a few seconds is enough to bring the heat down but not to chill the pan to where it isn’t cooking correctly.
Alternatively, switch off the heat under the pan and cook on retained heat for a few minutes. Cast iron retains the heat for some time after removing the heat source, and you can use this feature to save energy.
Cast iron pans can smoke because:
- Not seasoned properly, or seasoning breaks down.
- Cooking oil gets too hot.
- Food burns.
- Old food residue burns.
Why Do Grills Smoke So Much?
Typically, you grill high-fat food so that the fat runs out of the food into the grill pan.
Grilling food is a healthy cooking approach to reducing fat.
You can also use the grill to finish cooking thick omelets or frittatas, melt cheese, and toast bread.
Too long under the grill can result in burnt food, and the fat that runs out of the pork chop or sausage can get too hot and generate smoke.
You can stop the run-off fat from smoking by pouring away excess fat during cooking or adding water to the grill pan before grilling high-fat items.
Food residues stuck to the grill pan and rack from previous meals can burn and smoke while you next heat the grill.
You can keep the grill pan cleaner for longer by lining it with foil before use.
Cleaning the grill rack in hot soapy water immediately after use prevents food residue from sticking, but you can buy a specialist grill cleaner if you need a deep clean to remove burnt bits.
The most common reasons why grill pans smoke:
- Food residues from previous meals burning – time for a deep clean.
- Fat in grill pan getting too hot.
- Food left under the grill starts to burn – use a timer and check progress.
Why Do Griddle Pans Smoke So Much?
There are two types of griddle pan – flat and ridged.
Flat ones are ideal for drop scones, flat cakes, tortillas, chapattis, and other similar dishes from around the globe. Almost every food culture has an item that cooks on a flat cast iron plate.
The ridged griddle pan gives you that desirable parallel line burn pattern that adds visual appeal to many dishes.
Griddle pans use oil and high heat to produce a controlled surface burn on the food item as part of the cooking process.
It is usual for griddles to produce smoke; the trick is to keep the smoking under control.
Common causes of excess smoke include:
- Burnt food residues from past cooking.
- Cooking fat gets too hot.
Why Does the Oven Smoke?
Ovens can get smoky from burning food residues and roasting meat.
Roasting a joint of meat produces the browning that makes a roast dinner smell and taste great, but the process generates smoke.
Even casseroles can start to burn and smoke if left too long in the oven.
Ovens smoke when:
- They need a deep clean.
- The elements need replacing.
- Meat roasts to a rich brown.
- Food burns.
Why Does the Air Fryer Smoke?
Air fryers, despite the name, are a type of oven.
Air fryers mimic fried foods’ taste, texture, and aroma by cooking foods with minimal oil and hot air.
The air fryer is more versatile than a deep fat fryer because you can use it for baking and roasting.
Air fryers can smoke because:
- High-fat foods may splatter the heating elements.
- Food residues left behind from last time.
- Overcrowded basket or rack.
- Loose food particles like breadcrumbs may burn.
- The wrong type of oil for cooking temperature.
It is usual for the air fryer to produce steam while cooking your food; you can easily mistake the steam for smoke.
The best method of avoiding smoke in your air fryer is to use the right oil for the temperature and keep your device clean, especially the heating elements.
Some Foods Are Smokier Than Others
What you are cooking influences the amount of smoke you generate in your kitchen; although some cooking methods create more smoke, non-smoky foods will always produce less smoke regardless of the cooking method.
Why Does It Smoke So Much When You Cook Steak?
Searing steak involves fat or oil and a hot pan.
It doesn’t matter if you are cooking a whole steak or cubed steak for a stew; you need to brown the outside for maximum flavor.
You can reduce the amount of smoke you generate when cooking steak by:
- Oiling the steak and not the pan.
- Use an oil with a high smoke point.
- Turn down the heat or flash fry for rare.
- Always ventilate your kitchen when cooking steak.
Why Is There Smoke When Cooking Burgers?
Cooking a burger is not that different from cooking a steak – high heat and oil to brown the outside and then lower heat to finish cooking.
Burgers contain other ingredients (unless you make a 100% meat patty), and you can use a lid to reduce the splatter in your kitchen and steam the burgers.
The lid traps moisture inside the pan, and this method keeps the pan cooler, and the burger remains moist.
The other tips for reducing smoke while cooking your burgers include:
- Choose the right oil with a high smoke point.
- Turn down the heat – you don’t need to fry at the maximum temperature, beef browns at 280-330°F.
- Don’t overcrowd the pan – you need a half-inch between burgers to allow flipping.
- Refrigerate before cooking – will hold together better.
- Oil the burger, not the pan.
- Keep the fat content of the burger to under 20%.
- Use the right size pan and hob size – empty spaces will fill with oil that can overheat.
- Don’t poke the burger while cooking – you want to keep the fat inside without leakage.
- Instead of grilling or frying, bake in the oven after searing.
The trick to cooking burgers with minimum smoke is to keep the heat hot enough to cook but lower than any fat or oil smoke point.
Why Does Chicken Smoke So Much?
Although chicken is lean meat, the fat in the chicken skin can render, overheat, and generate smoke in your kitchen.
Removing the chicken skin before cooking is not a complete solution because most cooking methods need some fat, and the oil you substitute may have a lower smoke point than the chicken fat.
Adding a roasting tray with water to catch the chicken fat will reduce smoke in your oven when roasting a chicken.
But if you want crispy skin on your roast chicken, try putting parboiled potatoes in a roasting tray under the chicken; the rendered chicken fat is ideal for roast potatoes.
The smoke point of chicken fat is 375°F, higher than the ideal cooking temperature for chicken at 350°F.
The advice for smoke-free burgers works for frying chicken pieces, but instead of adding oil to the chicken, use the fat in the chicken skin.
If you start frying chicken pieces in a hot pan skin side down, the rendered fat will cook your chicken perfectly when you turn it over – don’t turn the heat too high, and you will avoid generating smoke.
If you want to cook breaded chicken pieces, you need to choose an oil with a high smoke-point and keep an eye on the crumb coating because if it burns, it will create a smoky atmosphere.
Does Cooking Bacon Have to Smoke?
When you cook bacon, the fat renders, and the smoke point of bacon fat is surprisingly low – 325°F.
If you grill bacon, you can line the grill pan with foil, but you can’t stop bacon fat from splattering and overheating.
Don’t add oil to the pan if you fry bacon because the fat will render – cook bacon slowly and at low to medium heat to avoid smoke.
If you like your bacon crispy, ventilate your kitchen because crispy bacon makes smoke.
Kitchen Smoke Alarms
There are two types of smoke alarms:
- Ionization – inexpensive and responds to smaller burning particles.
- Photoelectric – sensitive to smoke rather than combustion particles.
Ionization smoke alarms are likely to go off at “nuisance” levels of smoke in your kitchen, but fire safety experts recommend that you have both types in your kitchen.
A third of all home fires start in the kitchen, so you want early detection of fire from a safety viewpoint.
But what about your cooking?
Smoke happens, and depending on your cooking style, you may trigger your alarm every time you cook.
The hints for minimizing nuisance smoke alarm alerts include:
- Position the detector at least ten feet from your cooking appliances.
- Use a sensor with a hush button to desensitize fifteen to twenty minutes while frying.
To stop your smoke detector from sounding an alarm when cooking, you need to ventilate your kitchen by installing extractor fans over cooking areas and opening windows and doors to vent any cooking smoke.
Don’t be tempted to remove the batteries while cooking because you will never forgive yourself if you forget to replace them and tragedy strikes.
You can minimize smoke production by:
- Keeping your equipment clean.
- Cooking at a lower temperature appropriate to the food.
- Use oils with a high smoke point.
- Use lids and platter guards when appropriate.
Your food doesn’t have to smoke when cooking, although some processes and ingredients are more likely to produce smoke.
Improving your cleaning and cooking techniques means you don’t set off the kitchen smoke alarm.
If you treat not setting off the smoke alarm while cooking as a personal challenge to overcome, your culinary skills and health will improve.
Adapting your kitchen processes to minimize the potential for smoke improves your food’s flavor and nutritional benefits.
Consider the warning screech of the kitchen smoke alarm as a nudge to do better next time.