Help! I can't get a wok to work!!

Hi all,

So I’m really trying to improve my diet, and I bought a wok (stovetop), and then another wok (electric with temperature control)… but I have to face the fact that I DO NOT know how to cook in a wok. It’s just not working. The bottom always ends up being burned black, everything is a soggy mess… HELP. There are a few Asian cooking classes around here for sure, but they’re expensive, and it just seems that there must another way to do this. Maybe somebody knows about good Youtube videos? Advice? Tips? ??

I’ve been using a wok on a gas stove for years, but I’m not claiming to be an expert.

The heats always on full blast. About 4 Tbs. of oil in the wok. When it starts to smoke, throw in the first ingredients and keep them moving through the hot oil. The upper edges of the wok are cooler and food can be pushed up there if it looks to be cooking too fast. Add and remove ingredients until you’re done. A home stove will have issues cooking large amounts because it just doesn’t put out enough heat. That may be your steaming issue.

Also, try cooking your proteins first and then incorporate them back in at the end. So, for a stir-fry chicken, say, I start by getting my wok blazing hot, getting some oil in there, and then frying up my chicken until it’s about 90% done. Then I put the meat aside in a bowl or whatnot, heat up the pan again, make sure there’s enough fat, and get my vegetables going. When they’re just about done, I throw the protein back in to finish, along with any liquid and starch necessary to make a sauce.

I use a flat bottomed stovetop wok, and agree with the above. Cut meat very small/thin and put in first. I find that the meat, if it has some fat on it, usually makes enough oil for cooking the rest I add, and if not I use maybe a tablespoon of extra oil at most. But that’s me.

High heat, get some browning on the meat, then add veggies. Meat will cook the rest of the way with the veggies. Definitely have to keep it moving. Scoop, toss, scoop, toss. I have one hand on the handle close to the edge with a cooking mitt. If you add any sauce, it should be close to the end of everything being cooked, and in the pan just long enough to heat through and coat the food.

This is also a one-dish, maybe two small ones at a time, kind of cooking. If you add too much to the wok, that can also give you the steaming/watery issue.

I had an electric wok many years ago that someone gave me. It just didn’t get hot enough. To add to the problems, it was lined with Teflon; stupid idea, as the food that gets pushed up the side just slid right down again.

I had no problems with an electric wok. You heat it up with the oil and start adding ingredients. Usually I do long-cooking vegetables first (onions, carrots, celery). You stir, but don’t need to keep it constantly moving. When soft, move the up the sides and add meat. When that’s browned, add things the just need heating (bok choy, chinese cabbage, water chestnuts). Add sauce and let it heat.

Simple brown sauce: water, cornstarch, soy sauce, oyster sauce, fresh ginger, and garlic. Dissolve the cornstarch in cold water and then add the rest. Oyster sauce (available in most supermarkets; it does not taste like oysters) and fresh ginger (not powdered) are a must.

My advice: Get rid of the electric wok – I’ve never seen one that gets hot enough, or can recover temperature quickly enough after ingredients are added.

Heat the stovetop wok more than you’re accustomed to - i.e. get whatever oil you’re using to just before the smoke point before adding ingredients. You can tell when it’s there by looking for the rapidly moving wavy pattern that the oil makes at the bottom of the pan, or by “cheating,” and throwing in a bit of something and watching for it to sizzle just right. Both ways take some practice, but I prefer the first.

Cook in small batches – roots, meats, leafy vegetables, and then sauce. That’s key. If you overwhelm the wok, nothing works right, especially in the usual home kitchen where you just don’t have the heat level you need to recover if you throw in too much.

I usually manage to cook by shoving ingredients up the side of the wok and out the way while cooking other batches, but I’m usually cooking for one or two. Cooking in batches and putting them aside like pulykamell recommends seems like a good recommendation for larger preparations.

Also, I’m just going to flat out disagree with GaryM on one point: Four tbsp of oil approaches deep frying. You shouldn’t need anywhere near that for normal cooking.

I’ll add that I don’t move the ingredients around constantly. I find that with a normal gas burner, the BTU output is not nearly enough to require moving food constantly around in a wok. I let my ingredients sit for awhile (30 seconds -1 minute or so) to brown before I move them. To be frank, a cast iron pan works better than a wok for a home stove (holds heat better, bigger surface area touching the flame), although a flat-bottomed cast iron wok can produce very good results as well.

Hey, I use a large heavy skillet that’s about 1-1/2 inches deep to make paella. It works so much better than the authentic paella pan I bought and you have less chance of burning the rice.

The stovetop wok went away. :frowning: I just can’t get rid of this electric wok. Everything must be saved. (I was raised by Grandma and Grandpa, you see…)

So… it sounds like marinating meat before cooking it may not be a good idea? That could be part of the problem…

It depends on the marinade. If it’s got sugar in it, it will likely burn before it’s cooked if you do high heat and try to finish it combined with veggies. You could cook it first on lower heat, remove it and wipe out the pan (to get out sugars that will burn at high heat), then do the veggies and combine at the end just to warm it up. If it’s not a sugary marinade, you should be able to dry it off by squeezing between paper towels before adding to the hot wok. But yeah, that’s what burns and gets gummy - sugar.

lol, i thought you meant it was too big to carry on public transportation

No, that should be okay, minus the things SeaDragonTattoo mentioned to look out for. I marinate when I’m doing Chinese-style stir fries (usually with corn starch, rice wine, egg white, soy sauce, and maybe a little bit of garlic), but with Thai-style stir fries I typically just use plain meat.

Other points: get the wok very hot before adding the oil. If you work quickly (which you should be–have everything prepped and ready to go), there’s really no such thing as a wok that’s too hot. Also, if you’re doing protein and vegetables separate like I do, make sure you get the pan back up to heat after removing the protein and adding the vegetables, and make sure there’s enough oil. Sometimes, before I add the vegetables, if it looks like I have some sticky crud on the bottom of the pan that looks like it might burn, what I’ll do is deglaze it with some water or chicken stock, scrubbing all the little bits off, and pouring the liquid aside to reincorporate at the end, when I reintroduce the protein to the vegetables and add whatever additional liquid I may need.

I was thinking you might need to get a wide to work, but you don’t have to get a wok to work. You can just wok to work on your own. Weawwy.

I stopped using a wok years ago, and get excellent stir fry in my Calphalon “everyday” pan. It’s kinda wok-shaped. This one claims that the handles stay cool; if they do it’s an improvement on the one I have. The handles get hot as shit.

Otherwise, I do pretty much as noted above; cook meat, remove; add long-cooking vegetables and cook them about halfway; add other vegetables and meat, and then mushrooms and tomatoes last (if I’m using them). I do have the heat up pretty much all the way the whole time, and I have a gas stove. I use broth for liquid, though puly makes me want to get some rice wine and be all authentic.

You can talk the talk, but can you walk the wok?

This, except I don’t even bother with the semi-wok-shaped pan. I just use a big skillet. No way you can get a wok actually hot without a real wok burner in my experience.

I do, however, lust mightily over one of these.

What the OP needs to do is listen to Aerosmith. :stuck_out_tongue:

Your probably correct. I don’t measure so I was just estimating the amount and should have so stated. I really just kind of wet the bottom. My wok is about 17" across and made of carbon steel.

Alton Brown used a burner like that with his wok on one of his shows. My neighbor has one he uses for frying fish. I should borrow it and see how it works.