Shallow Fry Vs Deep Fry – What’s The Difference?

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If you regularly make food, you might have heard of shallow frying and deep frying. It’s been more and more popular as of late, and it’s something we get asked about a lot!

Many people assume this method applies to one technique, but they are actually very different.

Not only do they have different uses for different types of food, but they also produce very different flavors and textures.

So, what’s the difference between shallow frying and deep frying? The main difference between the two techniques is the amount of oil you use. For deep frying, you need enough frying oil to submerge the entire item in oil. For shallow frying on the other hand you only need to submerge parts of the food item.

In today’s packed article, we will have a look at the many differences between shallow frying and deep frying including the different techniques, equipment needed, oils used, and even the types of foods used.

What Is The Point Of Frying Foods?

Honestly, it’s just yummy! There is nothing as good as a crunchy chicken wing, crispy onions, or even deep-fried mozzarella sticks!

The list goes on and on, but it is basically a way of adding a different flavor and texture to food while cooking it.

Think about cooking potatoes, an extremely versatile vegetable. There are a hundred ways to cook a potato, each producing extremely different flavors and textures.

You can steam or boil them, sauté them or roast them, and of course, fry them.

By steaming and boiling potatoes, you are essentially only softening them. These methods help retain the color and natural flavor of the potatoes, but also help retain their nutrients.

The inside as well as skin (if still on) softens and can then be mashed to create an entirely different texture as well.

Then you can roast them. There are different ways to roast potatoes, but most often you want a soft inside and crispy or crunchy skin. Roasting food helps retain moisture while only “drying out” the skin.

Frying on the other hand is an extreme version of roasting.

It uses very high heat (higher than any oven) and makes that outside layer extremely crispy and crunchy. It also cooks the food much faster compared to many other methods.

How Frying Works

Regardless of the amount of oil you use, all frying techniques scientifically work the same.

The frying oil is heated to very high heat. When the food is placed inside the oil, the moisture forms steam and evaporates. This dries out the food item, especially the skin.

This is why frying foods create bubbles—because oil and water (the moisture inside the food) react like that when heated.

Frying will crisp up any item, regardless of the ingredients used, the size of the item, and of course the shape. If it can fit inside the frying container it can be fried!

Shallow Frying

Shallow frying food is a technique very similar to deep frying food, however, you use a lot less frying oil. A good frame of reference is that half of the food item should be covered in oil, although many people only aim for a third.

The food item will also touch the bottom of the pot or pan as it won’t be able to float on top of the oil.

Frying Temperatures

To shallow fry foods, you will almost always use a pot or a pan. The size of the cooking vessel will depend on what you are shallow frying and of course the quantity. You will never use an electronic deep fryer to shallow fry foods.

When heating oil in a pot or pan it is more difficult to control the exact temperature and you will need a thermometer to help indicate the heat of the oil.

Shallow frying usually needs a temperature of around 320°F (160°C). It can however be as low as 284°F (140°C).

Because you are generally working at lower temperatures (compared to deep frying), you will also shallow fry the food for longer to have it completely cook through and get a crispy exterior.

Types Of Oil Used

A big benefit of shallow frying is that you can use a wide variety of oils to fry in. It uses a lot less oil so you can even use more expensive ones.

Using different frying or cooking oils will help add a unique flavor to your food that normal frying oils don’t really.

The most common (and in our opinion flavorless) frying oils (for both shallow a deep frying) include palm oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil.

These are generally the less expensive oils, easier to find, and they also have higher smoking points because of how refined they are.

If you are choosing a different type of oil to these, ones that have been refined will have a higher smoking point and can be used for high-heat shallow frying.

Type of OilSmoking Point
Avocado Oil520°F (270°C)
Canola Oil428-446°F (220-230°C)
Coconut Oil (Refined)400°F (204°C)
Olive Oil (Virgin)410°F (210°C)
Palm Oil (Fractionated)455°F (235°C)
Peanut Oil441-445°F (227-229°C)
Sesame Oil (Semi-refined)450°F (232°C)
Sunflower Oil (Semi-refined)450°F (232°C)

Techniques Used For Shallow Frying

To shallow fry foods, you can either fry them as is or add some sort of coating. There isn’t necessarily a correct or incorrect method because shallow frying is mostly used for browning, not crisping.

Many people add a layer of corn starch to their food to help get an evenly browned color and even add a slight crisp

You can of course also pane the food item, although these are difficult to shallow fry. Pane is a cooking method used to add a ton of crunchy texture. You coat the food item in seasoned flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.

This is also not very common for shallow frying because of how difficult it is to get even crispiness all around the item.

Difficulty And Time

To shallow fry food is very easy and relatively quick. What mainly determine the amount of time a food item takes to cook are the temperature of the frying oil and the size of the item.

Larger food items will take longer to shallow fry, whereas smaller items will take less time. You will also take longer to fully fry foods at lower oil temperatures.

In terms of difficulty, shallow frying is still relatively easy. The biggest problem you will run into is completely cooking the food as well as getting an evenly brown color.

Because the food isn’t fully submerged you have to turn it often and monitor it closely. And getting an even color is nearly impossible. You also have to prevent the item from burning at the bottom where it touches the pan.

However, because you are working at lower temperatures (usually) you can more easily control how far the item should be cooked and prevent it from completely drying out.


Shallow frying definitely cooks the food fully, you just have to monitor the temperature of the oil. You don’t want the item to burn before it is fully cooked.

For larger food items, either pre-cook it before shallow frying it or use lower temperatures for the initial cook.

Shallow frying gives the food item a browned color and only adds a slight crunch to the food when cooked at higher temperatures. You also need to take care not to dry out the food before it is fully cooked.

However, shallow frying can still produce beautifully evenly cooked food that is tender and still retains its moisture.

In terms of health, shallow fried foods use less oil which in turn means that the food is exposed to less oil.

It is technically healthier compared to deep frying, although fried food, in general, doesn’t have the best reputation (health-wise. Taste-wise, yes, it’s delicious).

Best Foods to Shallow Fry

Of course, you can essentially shallow fry any food item, however, there are some that work better for this method compared to deep frying.

Shallow frying will work best for food items that need to be tender, that are smaller in size, and that only need to be cooked for a short amount of time. 

These include food items such as;

  • Sausages (like breakfast sausage or pork bangers)
  • Fish (fillets or small whole fish)
  • Wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole or portioned
  • Poultry
  • Red meat (preferably chops, steaks, or fillets)

Deep Frying

Deep frying food is very different from the shallow frying technique.

For this method, you need a ton of frying oil – enough to completely cover the item being fried and enough to make sure it doesn’t touch the bottom of the pot, pan, or deep fryer.

Frying Temperatures

Deep frying can be done in pots, but not really in pans. You can use a very deep pan but we wouldn’t recommend it. Most people buy electronic deep fryers. 

What makes these deep fryers so great is that they control the temperatures. So if you set the deep fryer to 320°F (160°C) they will automatically stop once the oil reaches that temperature.

And once it cools slightly, the fryer will automatically heat the oil again until it reaches the set temperature.

Deep-fried food usually gets fried at much higher temperatures – somewhere between 320-392°F (160-200°C)

As with shallow frying and many other cooking methods, the temperature of the heat source (in this case the oil) and the size of the food item will determine the amount of time it takes to fry.

Types of Oil Used

Because we are generally working with higher temperatures, the deep-frying technique mostly uses oils with very high smoking points.

And because you need quite a bit of oil to fry your food in, using expensive oils is also not recommended. Once the oil has been fried with, it will never be the same and shouldn’t be used for any other purpose other than frying.

This means you are limited in flavor and unless you want to spend a fortune, you are limited to more budget-friendly oils.

You can reuse your oil after frying, as well. Simply pass the cooled oil through a coffee filter once or twice to catch any errant debris and you’re good to reuse this oil another four or five times.

These oils include palm oil, canola oil, and sunflower oil. A lot of the time you can buy oil blends which are also very affordable and easy to find.

None of these oils adds any additional flavor which can be a good thing. If you want to enhance the spices used on the crumb of the food, you don’t want the taste of coconut or avocado oil to overpower it.

Type of OilSmoking Point
Canola Oil428-446°F (220-230°C)
Palm Oil (Fractionated)455°F (235°C)
Sunflower Oil (Semi-refined)450°F (232°C)

Techniques Used for Shallow Frying

For deep frying food, you can also use the food as is like with fries; however, most deep-fried foods have some sort of coating to make it extra crispy.

Most deep-fried foods are coated with breadcrumbs. This method is called pane. As we mentioned in the shallow frying section, to pane an item you simply coat it in seasoned flour, egg, and then breadcrumbs.

Often this step is repeated to get an extra crispy product.

There are a ton of other coatings that are used like a tempura batter, a coconut crumb coating, or simple corn starch.

Difficulty and Time

Deep frying food is effortless. All you do is place the food into the preheated oil and let it go! You may need to turn certain items if they don’t rotate automatically.

Lower temperatures and larger food items will increase the amount of frying time needed, so just keep that in mind.

The biggest difficulty with deep frying is choosing the correct temperatures. Because you are working with higher temperatures, some food items will brown and become crisp before the inside has been fully cooked.

To prevent this you can either pre-cook an item or first fry it at a lower temperature before increasing the heat and giving it a crispy exterior. This is however mostly only necessary for larger items.


Deep frying gives food an extremely crisp and crunchy exterior while the inside remains juicy and soft. 

This is because the oil fully cooks the outside of the food. This allows it to crisp up and essentially create a seal. While the “seal” becomes crispier, the inside heats up and cooks without drying out.

Your food will also have a beautiful and evenly browned crispy coating.

Deep-fried food is notoriously “unhealthy” and should be consumed in moderation. It gets exposed to a ton of oil which has many health impacts. We always recommend moderation when it comes to fatty foods.

Best Foods to Deep Fry

You can virtually deep fry anything! Whether you choose to fry raw ingredients or crumbed ones – the possibilities are endless and extremely delicious.

These include food items such as;

  • Battered fish
  • Crumbed poultry
  • Battered fruits and vegetables
  • Fritters
  • Doughnuts or other deep-fried pastry

So, What’s The Difference?

So, bottom line, the main difference is the amount of oil used. Shallow frying doesn’t cover the entire item whereas deep-frying does.

The amount of oil will ultimately affect the final outcome of the food item. Shallow fried food produces tender ingredients with nicely browned exteriors.

Deep-fried foods produce very juicy foods with an extremely crunchy and crispy exterior.

Have a look at our table below for a side-by-side comparison of all the differences between shallow frying and deep-frying.

TypeShallow FryingDeep Frying
Equipment Pots PansPots Deep pans (rarely)
Deep fryers (electronic)
Frying temperatures284-320°F (140-160°C).320-392°F (160-200°C)
Amount of OilShould cover half of the food item. Food will touch the bottom of the pot or pan.Should completely cover the food item. Food will float in the oil.
Types of Oil UsedCan use virtually any oil regardless of price or flavor, as long as the smoke point is higher than the frying temperature required.
Avocado oil
Canola oil
Coconut oil
Olive oil
Palm oil
Peanut oil
Sesame oil
Sunflower oil
Cheaper oils work best because of the quantity you need. You can also only work with oils with higher smoking points.
Canola oil
Palm oil
Sunflower oil
Oil blends
DifficultyVery easy to do, just requires constant monitoring and turning of the food items.Extremely easy to do, you simply have to check when the food is fully cooked before removing it.
Interior TextureTender - not very juicy but not necessarily dry.Juicy and soft
Exterior TextureBrowned and sometimes lightly crispedExtremely crispy and crunchy
ColorNot evenly browned, but you can control the amount of browningEvenly browned to your liking
HealthShallow frying uses less oil so will be slightly healthierDeep frying isn’t very healthy because of the large amounts of oil used

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