5 Ways to Save on Cooking Oil
It’s nothing new—inflation is crazy right now, and one of the major places our pocketbooks are getting hit the hardest is the grocery store. The combination of issues stemming from the War in Ukraine and the ongoing problems with supply chain insecurity in the United States are causing all sorts of ingredients to skyrocket in price—something experts are calling, “a perfect storm.”
One of the areas seeing price hikes these days is the cooking oil industry. Prices should hopefully stabilize again soon now that countries like India and Indonesia, which produce some of the largest quantities of cooking oil in the world, decided against export bans. Lawmakers in Washington also recently proposed The American Food Supply Chain Resiliency Act, an effort to streamline operations and hopefully stop rampant inflation and shortages.
But what can you be doing to operate more independently as markets continue to fluctuate and potentially save some money on cooking oil? We’ve got a few ideas. (And we’d love to hear some more from you!)
1. Render and Save Animal Fats
You already create a variety of oils in your kitchen when you cook—whether you’re frying bacon or roasting a chicken—they just need to be harnessed properly! Spending the extra time to render down a large fat cap on your steak or the layer of fat on top of a duck breast will not only make your current meal taste better but will create the base flavorings you can use for a future dish.
For instance, once you’re done cooking bacon—after you remove it from the pan, but before it has a chance to solidify—strain the oil into a small bowl to remove the burnt bits and solids, and then transfer it to a little jar with a lid instead of tossing it. (And never, ever pour it down the drain!) The rendered oil can sit on the counter for around a week and will keep up to one month in the refrigerator.
Sure, there are a handful of kitchen “gadgets” ranging in price that you could buy to help with this process. However, it’s pretty simple and you might already have what you need. To get going, all you need is a small bowl, a fine-mesh strainer, cheesecloth or a coffee filter (a high-quality paper towel will work in a pinch!), and a small jar with an air-tight lid, like a canning jar or glass Tupperware container. You can also use a funnel if you’re anxious about making a mess.
The best way to render animal fats, like roasting a chicken or braising a large cut of beef in the oven, is to use a roasting pan with a bottom rack. Cooking those larger cuts “low and slow” is also the most effective way to preserve the quality of the fat so that it can be reused. You can clean and store the rendered fat in the same way as described above.
2. Reuse Fry Oil
Frying in your home kitchen typically requires an entire bottle of vegetable oil. That’s a whole lot if you’re spending $4-6 per quart. But did you know fry oil can be reused 2-3 times? Just make sure to keep an eye on the temperature with an instant-read or candy thermometer (to avoid burning the oil). Just strain after each use and make sure to label the oil with the date as well as a note about whatever you fried in it—as oil takes on the flavor of whatever it’s used to cook. (Ex. Chicken Fry Oil 5/23/22). Also, do yourself a favor and don’t save any oil used to fry fish!
Once it’s been used, properly filtered vegetable oil can be stored in the pantry and reused for up to a month. Since the quality (and quantity) will decrease each time, this should only be done a few times before eventually disposing of it properly. You can also reduce the amount of oil used for a cooking project by shallow-frying instead of deep-frying in certain instances.
3. Use the Right Oil for the Right Thing
Experienced cooks know: Certain types of oil are best left to their specific purpose. Save your expensive or flavored oils for finishing dishes and making salad dressings rather than sautéing meat and vegetables. (If it’s olive oil, it will likely burn, anyway!) Instead of using two or three tablespoons of vegetable oil to start a soup or stew, grab some of the bacon fat or chicken schmaltz you’ve saved in the fridge—it will work perfectly well and add a greater depth of flavor to your dinner than a neutral oil like canola.
4. Invest in an Air Fryer
In the case of this particular shortage, scarcity can teach us a lesson in resourcefulness as well as healthy eating. Specifically by avoiding oil altogether! Grab that air fryer someone else bought you for your birthday out of the bottom cabinet and start using it! If you’ve been looking for a reason to invest in one, now could be a good time. That is, if you don’t want to keep spending more and more and more on cooking oils. It will likely pay for itself over time—hopefully reducing both your weekly grocery bill and your waistline at the same time.
5. Transform Used Cooking Oil into Biofuel
Eventually, used oil needs to be disposed of properly. At home, that’s usually just pouring it back into the bottle and throwing it away—but if you use larger amounts of oil in your line of work, or have access to it, consider learning more about how that oil can be repurposed into biofuel, an eco-friendly alternative to gasoline that can be used to power cars and farm equipment!