In the fractional or destructive distillation of hydrocarbon oils or other liquids, the pressure in the still is raised and lowered alternately. The still is closed to raise the pressure, and is opened to lower the pressure rapidly solely by expansion of the vapors. The operation is effected without intermittent cooling, except such as may occur during the lowering of the pressure. In distilling hydrocarbon oil, pressure steam is blown into the oil until the pressure reaches 5 lb/in./sup 2/. The vapor outlet is then opened until the pressure falls to 2 lb/in./sup 2/, whereupon the vapor outlet is closed and steam is again admitted. The operation is continued until the steam, which is of 20 lb pressure, no longer effects distillation; after this stage, superheated steam is used.