Few cooking methods are quite as alluring as deep frying: When it's done correctly, it produces foods with a crisp, deeply golden exterior and a moist, steaming interior. It's one of the riskier cooking methods, so deep-frying is not a project for younger kids and even teens should be under close supervision when they're using the appliance. Still, if you pay attention to safety and good deep-frying technique, it's perfectly safe and produces foods that are surprisingly light.
Types of Oil
Choose an oil with a high smoke point, the temperature at which the oil starts to break down and burn. Oils that reach this point develop an unpleasant flavor, and over-heating can cause potentially carcinogenic compounds to form in the oil. Peanut, corn, grape-seed and safflower oils have high smoke points. Avocado oil and cottonseed oil aren't as widely available, but also have high smoke points. Canola oil has a moderately high smoke point and is both inexpensive and widely available, making it another good choice.
Monitor Your Temperature
Invest in a fat thermometer that hangs on the side of the deep fryer, if it doesn't have its own thermostat. Most deep-fried foods cook at temperatures between 350 F and 375 F, and occasionally go as high as 400 F. If the temperature is too low, the food will absorb excess oil and may overcook before it's properly browned. If it's too high, the outside of the food will cook before the inside. Use temperatures at the lower end of the range for larger pieces of meat, like fried chicken. Smaller sizes cook through at higher temperatures. Don't fill the deep fryer with oil beyond the manufacturer's recommended depth. The oil bubbles up when you add food, so too much oil may splash out of the fryer. The food you cook will lower the temperature of the oil when you drop it into the pot, so work in small batches to keep the oil's temperature within a few degrees of your desired temperature.
If you're preparing a dish like French fries, try to cut all of the potatoes pieces the same size. Keep them covered in cold water until you're ready to cook so they don't begin to brown, but make sure to dry them thoroughly before you put them in the hot oil so the oil doesn't spatter. Excess moisture also speeds the breakdown of your oil, creating "off" flavors and lowering its smoke point. Start by dropping one fry in the hot oil to make sure it's the right temperature. If the oil sizzles around the potato, it's ready. Cold batter adheres better to vegetables and seafood in tempura cooking. Season foods immediately with salt and pepper or a seasoning mix when they come out of the oil.
Make sure you place the deep fryer out of reach of your children, and that the cord isn't where it can be snagged. Wear an oven mitt when you place food in the deep fryer to prevent burns caused by splatters, and don't allow any possibility that water will drop into the hot oil. If your fryer didn't come with a lid, keep a cookie sheet or pizza pan nearby in case the oil ignites. Remember to turn the fryer off immediately in that case, or to unplug it. Used cooking oil can be strained and refrigerated to use again later a time or two, but check it carefully for discoloration and off-odors. Every time it's heated it breaks down slightly and its smoke point lowers, so it's a good idea to add at least a bit of fresh oil every time. If you'd rather just not bother, let the oil cool and put it in a container with a tight-fitting lid to be disposed of or recycled.
Meg Jernigan has been writing for more than 30 years. She specializes in travel, cooking and interior decorating. Her offline credits include copy editing full-length books and creating marketing copy for nonprofit organizations. Jernigan attended George Washington University, majoring in speech and drama.