Autoweek Asks: Can you fry chicken in motor oil?

Or have you ever heard about anyone claiming to have done so? This is a serious question, I swear

The first thing I’m going to say here is that you absolutely shouldn’t attempt to fry food in motor oil, axle grease, brake fluid or anything else you might have kicking around your garage. What are you, stupid? (Don’t answer that.)

The second thing is, I can promise you that I am asking this question in earnest.

Have you ever heard anyone talking about frying food in motor oil? Because I swear that at some point, some real old-timer mentioned having done it or having seen it done. And it was said that, if done correctly, it didn’t even taste bad. This would have happened way back in the day — the Depression era or earlier.

Maybe it was from my grandpa; maybe I overheard it at Hershey or at a bar near Hershey. I honestly can’t remember. Assuming it wasn’t some sort of jet lag-induced fever dream in the first place, the story probably came to me third, fourth or even fifth-hand.

And even if we do accept that it’s something someone claimed to have done at some point, it may well have been a yarn spun to mess with newbies in the same vein as blinker fluid or muffler bearings. Maybe it was to make a point about how much tougher they all were Way Back When.

Weird thing is, whether it was a joke or (less likely) a thing that used to be done, I simply can’t find anything about it online. There’s a video of dubious authenticity of a woman marinating fish with 5W-30, and the gentlebros from the Life OD cooked up some chicken and fries as a gag with predictably terrible results:


That’s about it, aside from other people asking the same question and getting a whole lot of “Of course not, you dummy,” responses. I’d write the whole thing off as personal delusion but for two things.

First: One user on, uh, the forums reports that he has cooked with mineral oil (though as of Feb. 20, 2007, he had “yet to muster enough courage to try and deep-fry something in it.”). Now, I’m not saying that the self-professed World’s Most Trusted Anabolic Website is necessarily the best place to get food-prep advice, but it indicates that at least someone out there had the idea to cook using petroleum-derived hydrocarbons … and apparently not as a prank. Further, the theft of mineral oil from electrical transformers for both lubrication and, yes, cooking has reportedly caused blackouts in some parts of Africa.

Second: Paraffin wax, another hydrocarbon often derived from petroleum, is used as an additive in candies, sprayed on fruits as a protective coating and — bizarrely enough — was reportedly pressed into service as a fat substitute for baking in WWII-era Britain due to wartime rationing. Its flash point is somewhere between 392 and 464 degrees Fahrenheit, which is right at the edge of the temperature at which you’d want to fry something, but it could probably be made to work.

The big downside here, at least when you’re using clean, fresh oil, is not necessarily toxicity; according to, accidental aspiration of motor oil is a bigger concern than ingestion. No, the issue is that the human body can’t break the stuff down. It acts as a laxative. On the other hand, if you’re deep-frying things correctly, very little oil should soak into the food, at least from my personal experience (mind you, this is with canola oil, not straight-30).

So is it possible that at some point — in some early age before motor oil included exotic additives and detergents, back when people used kerosene as a cure-all and survived largely on vim, vigor and unfiltered cigarettes — food fried in motor oil or other automotive lubricant was a thing? I just can’t believe it. But I can’t let it go entirely, either.

Have any of you heard about this, either as a tall tale or something someone actually professed to have done? Do any of you have any idea where this bizarre idea rattling around my brain could have come from?

Please, let me know in the comments.

Graham KozakGRAHAM KOZAK – Graham Kozak drove a 1951 Packard 200 sedan in high school because he wanted something that would be easy to find in a parking lot. He thinks all the things they’re doing with fuel injection and seatbelts these days are pretty nifty too.
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