No Oil? No Problem! How to Cook Without Oil

Brussel sprouts in a pan is an example of how to cook without oil

I was a TOTAL skeptic when it came to oil-free cooking. It wasn’t until I took how to cook without oil that I even realized it was possible!

In this episode of The Vegetarian Zen podcast we discuss how to cook without oil, whether you’re sauteing your favorite veggies or baking your favorite dessert.

No time to listen? No problem. Read on for a quick summary of what we discuss.

Disclaimer: Information on this site and on our podcast is presented for educational purposes only. Always speak to your doctor before beginning any new diets or supplements. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Wait, Aren’t Some Oils Good For You?

If you’re like me, you might get frustrated by conflicting sources that say something is good for you one day, and then bad the next. 

Like many folks in our community, I tend to read/listen to trusted resources and then make the best decisions for myself in consultation with my doctor (if needed).

While there are some sources that say certain varieties of oils can be good for you, I personally try to reduce and/or eliminate oil in general whenever possible.

Since this article focuses on providing you helpful tips rather than trying to convince you to reduce your oil intake, I’ll provide a couple of videos from two trusted resources, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Michael Gregor, so that you can learn more about how oils (yes, even olive oil!) can adversely impact your artery function.

In full disclosure, we still do use oil sometimes, but learning how to cook without it did give us options.

Now that we have a “why” for cooking without oil, let’s talk about how you can cook without oil using several common cooking methods.


How to Cook Without Oil – Sauteing

In the Forks Over Knives Cooking Course I learned that the classic caramelization you get when you saute in oil is totally possible to achieve without it.  I was AMAZED at how easy it was to get the same results using water, vinegar, vegetable broth, or wine in place of oil. The real trick lies in using high heat and constant movement as the food cooks.


Successful Sauteing Starts With a Good Pan

When Larissa and I first became vegetarians in 2013, we took the time to invest in a few key pieces of kitchen equipment to help ensure we were successful. Great cookware was definitely on that list.

I use a pan by Emeril for sauteing. It’s a really good one but is not non-stick. If you’d prefer a non-stick pan, just be sure to read the product description carefully to ensure it’s safe and won’t leach chemicals into your food or harm the environment.


Properly Heating Your The Pan

Before I had any cooking skills I didn’t realize that the heat of the pan when cooking could make or break a dish.

Because a successful saute comes from high heat and frequent movement of the food, it’s really important to understand what a properly heated pan looks like. Below is a video from Rouxbe’s Online Cooking School that demonstrates how to ensure your pan is properly heated.

The Importance of Mise En Place

Back in episode 285 of the podcast we talked about the importance of having all of your food chopped, prepped, and ready to go before you actually start cooking. This practice is called mise en place, a French phrase meaning “everything in its place.”

You don’t want to wait until your pan has reached the right heat before you start chopping your ingredients. In the time this takes your pan can overheat, and then you’ll have to wait until it reaches the correct temperature all over again.

mise en place

Sauteing Your Ingredients

Once your pan is properly heated, you’re now ready to get cooking!  For purposes of this discussion, we’ll use onion and garlic as examples.

When you add onions to a properly heated pan, ensure that you are moving the food as it begins to brown. You may need to turn down the heat so that the onions don’t overcook. A rookie mistake I made was not turning down the heat, which cost me some onions!

If you want to add garlic to the onions, do so right before you add the liquid. Garlic burns quickly, and if you add it to the pan at the same time as the onions, it will overcook.

The liquid of your choice (water, wine, or vinegar) can be added just a few seconds after adding the garlic.

Continue to cook and stir until the liquid evaporates. Even if you turn off the burner or remove the pan from the heat, remove the food immediately to ensure it doesn’t continue cooking.



Oh, how I love that sweet taste of caramelization. Who doesn’t? Saying goodbye to oil doesn’t mean saying goodbye to the sweet taste of caramelized veggies! Since caramelization occurs as the result of sugars in foods being released at high temperatures, oil really has nothing to do with it. This is why sauteing in other liquids has the same result.


How to Cook Without Oil – Roasting

Before learning how to cook without oil, I used to drench my veggies in olive oil before roasting them in the oven. I did so to ensure that any seasonings and spices I used would stick to the veggies and to prevent the food from sticking to the pan.

A much healthier way to accomplish both of these objectives is to use vegetable broth to coat your veggies and place them on a pan lined with parchment paper or silicone roasting/baking mats. If you buy silicone mats, just be sure they are BPA-free.


How to Cook Without Oil – Baking

In episode 390 of the podcast, we talked about how to create an awesome vegan cake mix. We not only included tips for eliminating dairy and eggs from your cake recipes, but discussed some substitutions for oil as well.

Some great oil-free baking options include substituting one or more of the following for the oil:

  • fruit puree
  • aqua faba
  • silken tofu
  • applesauce
  • banana

Most of these substitutes can be used cup-for-cup but you will want to experiment a bit to learn what works best in your specific recipes.


How to Cook Without Oil – Grilling

Grilling veggies on a warm summer evening is one of my favorite things to do. One of Larissa’s favorite is grilled corn on the cob.

I’ve never needed oil for grilling corn because I let the ears soak in ice water (husks on) for about 30 minutes and then place them on the grill for about 45 minutes. The result is yummy roasted corn!

For other veggies, like potatoes, mushrooms, onions, and zucchini, I’ve used a grill basket and I’ve also used foil packets.  Both methods work great, but just remember to put the veggies that take longer to cook on the grill first.


Air Frying

Larissa and I didn’t jump on the air-frying bandwagon right away. In fact, it took us a while before we finally decided to buy an air-fryer, but once we did we were all-in!  You can check out a review of our air fryer below.

The thing about air-frying is that your food really does come out crispy, just like with traditional frying in oil.

Like roasting, you can coat your food with veggie broth to help seasonings stick to the food. To avoid foods sticking to the basket of your fryer, shake the basket occasionally during cooking. You may still get some sticking, but hopefully not as much.


We hope this article has helped you understand how to cook without oil. Even if you don’t give up oil completely, using some or all of these techniques and tips can help you reduce your consumption.


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