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Chat Leftovers: Grease Is the Word

During last week’s Free Range chat, a Mr. or Ms. Alexandria of Va. asked a question we didn't have time to get to:

“What to do with old cooking oil? It’s fine in the garbage (maybe) if it’s a coffee can’s worth, but what if I’m deep-frying chicken wings by the hundreds? I’ve got multiple gallons of used oil in my garage. What’s my best course of action?”

Oh, where will this cooking oil end up? (Bonnie Benwick -- The Washington Post)

I hear you. Over the past few weeks I’ve tested a mess o’ fried chicken, and last year, I tested turkey fryers. As luck would have it, today’s recipes called for quarts instead of gallons. But more importantly, I live in the great and thoughtful County of Montgomery, whose Division of Solid Waste Services offers a Vegetable Oil Exchange link on its Web site. Last week I scanned the list of dozens of Maryland residents and businesses (some Pennsylvania business, too) under “Oil Offers” or “Oil Requests.”

Stephen Barrett’s offer for pickup seemed right up my alley: “any gal / other,” and “I will pick up and provide containers as needed. . . .” He’s a general contractor who lives in Libertytown, Md. (northeast of Frederick), and has been collecting used cooking oil from seven Asian restaurants and a host of suburban Maryland homes for two years. While he and his crew drive to and from jobs, they can make stops along the way and add oil to large containers they keep on their trucks.

Barrett and his family drive diesel vehicles that also run on used, filtered vegetable oil; the four-cylinder car gets about 45 mpg. “We don’t convert the oil. We convert the vehicles,” he told me by phone last week. “I initially put an ad on Craigslist and was inundated with offers of oil. I got calls from all over the country.”

Chicken frying in a combination of butter and oil; when the mixture's cooled, it won't be a candidate for recycling. (Bonnie Benwick -- The Washington Post)

He quickly dove into the subject matter he’s learned well: micron filters,, his proposal of a co-op system to make it easy for folks to share this way. I must admit most of it went right over my Jiffy Lubed head, but when he said “We love peanut oil,” I snapped back into focus. He’s coming to collect the two gallons’ worth I have (including some that was in my garage, too, Mr./Ms. Alexandria).

So check your own jurisdiction’s government Web site for procedures. Arlington residents will find FOG (Fats, Oil, Grease) information under Environmental Services, for example.

Generally, you can strain and re-use cooking oil at least one or two times. Some people prefer to keep it refrigerated, which can extend the life of, say, used canola oil. If you’re not planning to recycle, though, be sure never to pour the used oil down any drain.

Either use a funnel to transfer the cooled oil back into its original containers and cap it tightly as garbage, or possibly pour it in a larger disposable vessel that has something like cat litter to soak it up.

I can’t end a food blog on that note, can I? Now's a good time for cooks who use lots of oil to share their strategies, whether it's a can under the sink or searching for the best pickup deal on the Internet.

Whew. Better.

-- Bonnie Benwick

By The Food Section  |  June 30, 2009; 8:00 PM ET
 | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, Free Range, frying  
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