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Top 12 Wok Tips http://rasamalaysia.com/top-12-wok-tips/
May 26th, 2010 49 Comments

Top 12 Wok Tips

I get a lot of emails about wok, but truth to told, I am not an expert in the subject matter even though I do use a wok. All my wok knowledge came from my late mother: seasoning it to “open the wok,” the basic tips/techniques how to properly use a wok, and how to control the heat. I am really not in a position to advise you on carbon steel wok versus cast iron wok, etc. That’s why I have invited my friend Eleanor Hoh, also known as Wok Star, to share the top 12 wok tips that everyone could use. A special thanks to Eleanor for sending me her wok kit (as pictured above) when I first inked my book deal. Please welcome Wok Star to Rasa Malaysia and leave your wok questions in the comment section.

Thanks for inviting me to be a guest on Rasa Malaysia! I love your beautiful site which promotes the best in Asian culture and cuisine, so I am very thrilled to be included. As a wok enthusiast, cooking teacher and creator of a Wok Star Kit, I hear a lot of common mistakes people make when attempting wok cooking. There’s a lot of very confusing information out there, so, here are my…

TOP 12 WOK TIPS
from Wok Star Eleanor Hoh

1. Cooking in a wok requires the right technique, the right heat, the right seasonings = Wok Star!

2. Declutter your kitchen: use your wok for stir frying, steaming, stewing, deep frying, smoking and soups.

3. Leave your wok out at all times so it’s convenient. If you don’t see it, you don’t use it…

4. Getting the wrong wok & not seasoning it right can set you up for failure.

5. A lightweight cast iron wok is BEST. Who wants to lift a 15 lb. wok every night?

6. One handle woks tip over when you have food in it plus the handle gets in the way.

7. Round bottom woks need direct flames i.e. gas for maximum contact & to control your heat.

8. Flat bottom woks do not give you a natural stir fry motion, uses more oil & were made for electric stoves. See no. 11 & 12.

9. Non-stick woks cannot be used above medium heat according to manufacturer’s warning but high heat is ESSENTIAL to sear meat and for crunchy veggies.

10. Gas stove owners: use the smallest burner so heat is focused for your wok.

11. Electric stove owners: a portable butane gas stove solves the problem of cooking with your wok!

12. A Wok Star is someone who develops their own cooking style and thinks outside the box.

For more on how to become a Wok Star, visit the website and my blog.

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49 comments... read them below or add one

  1. David says:

    Oh boy do I have a story to share.my first wok was one of those that weighed 15pnds, my second tipped over and my third worked out much better for me.Thanks for sharing your tips, wokking is serious business and who better then to learn from than Wok Star!! Thanks Eleanor and Bee for sharing =)

  2. Kate says:

    I have a Chinese wok, it’s not heavy, but black in color, not sure if it’s carbon steel or cast iron. Anyway, it’s rusty, what can I do to salvage it? I heard we are not supposed to clean it with water???

    • akovia says:

      I clean my 30 year old steel wok with hot water and a steel scrubber pad. then it goes back on the burner for a couple of minutes to dry the water out of the pores. When needed again, always get it HOT before putting oil in. Nothing ever sticks.

  3. Ooh, I’m just thinking of buying a new wok! Thank you for your informative post always, and my thanks also goes to Eleanor :)

  4. Dave – thnx for sharing your wok horrors, glad your current one is working out for you.

    Kate – thnx for comment. Easy to ‘reseason’ and once you start using it, it will rebuild its patina. See if your wok has concentric circles inside the wok, that’s carbon steel but not all have circles. I clean my cast iron wok with mostly hot water, it’s fine, it rebuilds patina when you use it. Maybe you can take a photo and send me?

  5. I have a wok, but never really knew much about it. Thanks for the great list of tips!!!

    • Shannon – thnx for your comment, I love helping people be Wok Stars! You cook the way I do, no recipes or measuring. Think you’d be a wonderful Wok Star! What kind of wok do you have? Hope you’ll start using your wok for one of your food contests, you can cook most anything in it. Great for browning meat for a stew, I even use my wok to stew in. Love to hear your ‘off the wall’ uses of your wok.

  6. Carrie says:

    Hi, I have used my wok often over the last 32 years. It is a round bottomed wok and I have an electric stove. I put the wok directly on the burner and it works for me. Maybe I’m just used to cooking that way. I keep thinking about buying a flat bottomed, cast iron wok, but I am ridiculously attached to my current wok! Do you think the flat bottomed will work that much better for me?

    • Carrie, I like hearing you’re attached to your wok, me too, I take my wok and gas stove with me when we evacuate for hurricanes in Florida! I’ve even had students give nicknames to theirs! Stick with your round bottom wok, DEFINITELY a more natural stir fry motion as explained in no. 7,8,11. I used to think electric was O.K. but it took a while to heat up and to cool down. I had to physically take my wok off and on the heat to ‘regulate’, painful. I will NEVER go back, gas gives you instantaneous control. I didn’t realize it made my meat stew or veggies soggy because the minute you add food in your wok, the temperature of your wok dies. So, I definitely do NOT suggest using flat bottom woks on electric, you will still have same problem with heat even though you have more surface area! Many folks who have my setup LOVE it and now understand why they were never successful stir frying.

      • Mike says:

        If I want to use my wok on an electric stove what tips do you have for me? I watched a video on youtube where one Chinese cook suggested putting the wok inside the oven for 10 minutes at high heat then putting it on the element? does that sound like good advice to get the wok up to a high enough temperature? what cooking oil is the best to use on an electric stove top? peanut oil?

        I have a stainless steel flat bottom wok

        • Rollo says:

          Whateva!- Seems as if some commenter is trying to sell something – Even with the recommended Wok kit if you put too much ingredients in at one time- can lower temp and steam rather than getting the desired sear – nothing magic about a wok over other cooking vehicles – the use of any combination of pot or pan, heating characteristics of the heat source – types of food – recipe etc has to be practiced and adjustments made to achieve a consistent desirable outcome. In terms of thermal capacity (ability to achieve and attain heat) depends on weight and material. Light weight less – heavy weight more. Cast iron most – carbon steel (stamped/hammered) – stainless – aluminum least. The lower the thermal capacity the more quickly (depending on the control of heat source) one can adjust temperature – gas flame can adjust quicker than electric.
          If I keep my added portions small using a seasoned cast iron frying pan can get a great stir fry on an electric range. Using lightweight pan would have to use even smaller portions otherwise more boil/steam rather than desired sear. By using a much larger diameter pan than the burner (like a 12 or 14 inch flat pan on a 6 inch burner) can push seared food over to lower temp portion on periphery similar to wok.

  7. Raf says:

    Thanks for your tips. Is it True that one should not steam in the same wok as the one you use for stir frying otherwise you will lose the patina? I have just ordered a french made blue steel wok, did not have much succes with the chinese cast iron one as it tips over.

    • Hi Raf – not true. You can use same wok to steam, fry, braise, make soup, paella, deep fry. As mentioned to Tango, patina will build up the minute you start stir frying in it. Trying to determine why your cast iron wok was tipping? Were you using on a gas stove with horizontal grid and because it’s a round bottom, it moved? 2 solutions: 1. get a wok ring but put the smaller diameter at bottom with wider diameter at top, this way you wok fits snugly in and sits closer to the heat. 2. wok attachment for your gas stove. I’m sad you’re using steel, you need a lot more oil and not same flavor and texture as cast iron.

  8. Tango says:

    Hi Eleanor,
    Can you advise me on how to season a wok properly from the start, ie a new wok ? And then on, how to maintain it ?
    Do I have to clean it with detergent after each use ?

    Many thanks…..

    Tango

    • Tango – thnx for your questions but this is not the place to show how to ‘season’ a wok. I ‘preseason’ my cast iron woks using two steps, first an overall bake in the oven, then stovetop to start off the inside. This ensures it’s done correctly so people can focus on becoming a Wok Star instead of dreading/spending time ‘seasoning’. It’s the most important step in setting up a cast iron wok for life. If you visit Chow or other forums, many folks complain how they’ve done it incorrectly and food sticks. So, they give up. No, it’s not necessary to use detergent, just hot water unless it’s a strong flavor. Patina builds up immediately as you start using it. That’s why I suggest using your wok to cook everything not just stir frys.

  9. John says:

    I use a non-stick wok and always use high heat, what are the risks?

    • John – I am concerned you use your non-stick on high heat, I’m constantly amazed people are not aware of Dupont’s warning (manufacturers of Teflon). High heat can release toxic fumes and can deteriorate the teflon. Just Google Dupont cookware safety.

  10. DailyChef says:

    Thanks! This is very helpful :)

    • Thnx, hope you’ll try using a cast iron wok for your Asian dishes. I scanned your site and notice you use a flat pan with wood spatula. Don’t things fall out plus wood spatulas are USELESS for stir frying, only ‘stirring’ i.e. moving food around. It’s too thick to flip under the veg or meat, designed to use with non-stick to prevent scratching the pan. If you want to be sucessful, the spatula you see in my kit is PERFECT! Gotta have the right tools, techniques, heat and ingredients to be a Wok Star!

  11. John says:

    Thanks Eleanor. I just Googled “teflon on high heat” and found many disturbing information. Guess I will have to use a wok!!!

  12. Tango says:

    Many many thanz for your advise, much appreciated.

  13. Alex says:

    First of all-thank you for your tips, they are wonderful.
    Just a couple of words more about flat bottom wok. I live in a small apartment with an electric stove, and I don’t have place to put a gas burner there. I found out, that flat bottom thin cast iron wok works just fine, if you use a 1.5 kW burner and do your meat in batches-I never put more than 250 gr of meat or veggies at once-temperature drops and meat releases its juices, that’s not good for the tenderness.
    Yes, it takes about 3-4 minutes to get the wok going, but most of the time it’s OK

    • Alex – Thanks for your comment. I have never seen a flat bottom thin cast iron wok? or is it a skillet? Can you take a photo and send me? I am fascinated. Yes, cooking in batches is way to go. I have a small kitchen but I still leave my wok and stove out at all times. You can see my setup on my blog.

      • Rollo says:

        There are a several flat bottom iron woks available (just goggle it) They are moderately heavy but they stay put on smooth top electric ranges. The best kind are those that are thick enough on the bottom such the inside is completely concave (curved) allowing the use of a round edge cooking spatula the matches up to the inside to get a good stirefry action and cooking control. Also because they have the smooth curvature cooked ingredients can be pushed up on the side enabling juices to drain down to help serve as a sauce base to which other seasoning ingredients can added before pushing it all together in the final preparation. Also the extra flat bottom thickening one heated retains heat in the wok sweet spot. Whatever the configuration of wok/frypan/heat source takes practice. But don’t give up at first few tries the results will improve once you get to know your cooking utensil and stove.

  14. phil says:

    I have a cast iron wok I like but I prefer my carbon steel wok with the long handle. Good for the ‘pau” technique. Many of the cast iron woks have a flat exterior base but are fully round inside. These are good on electric coil stoves as they get the heat where you want it and are stable. But you won’t be tossing the food around in it except with the spatula/shovel.

    The secret to wok cooking on wimpy stoves is not putting too much in the wok. Cook in small batches and combine at the end.

    • Phil – thanks for your comment. You’re doing exactly what I ‘m mentioning in no.5, heavy cast iron woks put people off cooking, no wonder you prefer carbon steel. That’s why I have the 3lb. thin wall, cast iron wok.

      I think I wasn’t clear enough – electric is a killer for successful stir frying. It takes too long to heat and cool down. People put up with what they have because they think it’s not possible to change i.e. electric stove or heavy flat bottom woks. But, I’ve proven you can and folks who have an open mind LOVE this setup. They are thankful I helped solved a challenge and frustration that made them dread cooking.

  15. I have thrown out my frying pans after I saw this Hong Kong cooking show hosted by 苏施黄. She was lauding about this light weight and cheap black wok on the show which she referred to as 黑金刚(hagumgong). I found one that is similar here in Singapore and love it to bits…

  16. Simon says:

    I have to disagree slightly here. I’m using my lightweight cast iron wok for gas burners, but as one of the users who have a household induction stove top there are a good and convenient solution. A enamel wok is very convenient for flat stove tops, there is a chinese wok that weighs only 3 lbs. This wok has a enamel exterior, but chinese cast iron on the inside. I have been cooking on this for a while, and end up getting the same good crunchy textures.

    By using the induction booster function the heat is just as sufficient as the gas tops, and I strongly disagree with using the smallest gas burner. Smaller 10 000 BTU burners are sufficient for cooking smaller quantities of food. In other words, the larger quantity of food, the bigger flame is needed. Secondly, being said that a wok should never be more than 1/3 – 1/2 full. And another important thing to point out, when ingredients are added to the wok the temperature drops a bit, which makes it important to keep the heat source hot so the food don’t end up being steaming/boiling instead of stir frying.

    for gas users:

    Go with the wok mentioned above.

    For induction/electric hob user:

    go for the enamel cast iron interior wok at wokshop.com. It’s same light weight.

    • Simon – Great to hear you cook in your wok! I understand you have your own personal experiences and always open to hearing them. Many folks tell me they really appreciate my thought process and LOVE the setup I’ve suggested and are very successful.

      I CANNOT agree with using electric stoves for stir frying, period. If you don’t want to be successful, then go ahead. Here’s my own personal experience just last night: I used a stainless steel pot with flat bottom on my electric stove to fry zucchini and tomatoes for a pasta dish and it never gave my veggies any texture or color. They were limp and dull. This is EXACTLY what people complain about.

      No, you should NOT use bigger burner for a 15″ wok because the flames come leaping up the sides of your wok and burn you, I’ve experienced this! I do agree you need constant HIGH heat and say so no.7. I could come up with 20 more tips but was asked to give TOP ones.

      The problem with most residential gas cookers is that there are regulations that prevent the jets from emitting stronger heat. It’s not even so much the size of the burner. I had a KitchenAid gas stove and had to beg the gas company to increase the heat!

      Your suggestion of using enamel exterior for induction stoves could be a good compromise. But I’ve never met anyone who’s not a chef say they enjoy cooking with induction, they are too fast.

      Simon, it’s why I keep telling people, it’s not just about a cheap wok, it’s also technique.

      • Simon says:

        Electric stoves are a failure no matter what, because of the terrible heat control. But the induction stove i use from Siemens is still sufficient. It changes heat rapidly and has been so far over all stable. When i was cooking in Australia the average household stove was around 15 000 BTU which is average household capacity.

        The enamel wok has same type of interior as the wok you provide, it’s just more suitable for peoplewho use induction. The vegetables i cook turn out nice and crunchy, but soggy veggies were a problem on my previous electric stove. But when I get to a new residence I would definitely go for a hybrid stove. One with a wok burner and one with regular induction stove tops. The main reason why I also posted the suggestion for the enamel wok was to say that there are alternatives for those who use induction stove tops too.

        We are only human beings, and we are fully allowed to agree/disagree with each other. But we have one thing in common. We all have the passion of cooking, we love good eating.

        We only live once, and sharing each others experience can create more knowledge.
        Simon,

  17. barb says:

    I have a very old high- end electric stove circa 1975 with burners of different BTUs. One burner is hot, hot, hot. I also have an old carbon steel round bottom wok. With these two, I can make crunchy stir fried veggies. A gas burner would respond faster to the control but I manage.

    • Hi Barb – exactly – manage but enjoy? Not so much. I used to “manage” as well but once I started using gas, I can’t go back, no way. People who have my setup LOVE and ENJOY cooking this way.

      As mentioned on my site, you need different technique to control the heat. Don’t you have to take the wok off and on the heat to regulate? Are you using a wok ring to stabilize? The ring makes you further away from the heat, so I tell people to put the wider diameter of ring at top so wok sits snugly and closer to heat.

  18. I was extremely frustrated with “trying” to do wok cooking before getting an powerful Viking gas stove 14 years ago. WOW what a difference. Even our Vietnamese foster daughter and numerous students from Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, etc found wok-cooking dreadful on electric.

    I do also use a bar-b-que side burner to wok deep fry fish. I am thinking of getting a powerful street cooking type burner for out door serious wok cooking. LOL I prefer a metal wok spatula but do use a thin curved large wood one from Thailand sometimes and love it-feels great. Feel is so important with cooking gear like the proper very heavy wood pestle and stone mortar. Nothing like the feel and Rhythm of pound, scrape, pound, scrap…………..or clank-clink-clank of stir-frying. It is theraputic!

    I use a cast iron Viking wok ring for wok cooking and it keeps the wok in place for serious hot frying. I use a spun steel wok (have both a large and medium sized wok) and love them. I also have a Le Crueset enamel coated wok but really do not like the way it heats slowly and never gets hot enough to wok cook. Wasted $$$

    I am very curious about the mentioned enameled outside cast iron 3# wok. Where are these available as I have never seen one in any of the Asian cookery stores here in the San Francisco Bay Area or in SE Asia? I even hand carried my brass wok from Chatuchak Park in Bangkok.

    I even use my wok for non-Asian cooking-especially for veggies of any ethnic style (Italian, French, Serbian, etc). Using bamboo steamers on the wok is also great for anything to be steamed Asian and non-Asian alike IMHO. Wok Cookery is my absolute favourite.

    Thanks again for the tips!

    mary-anne

    • Hi Mary-Anne, thanks for sharing your wok uses. Glad you’re such a wok enthusiast as well and cooking dishes not typically Asian in your woks. Those exterior enamel cast iron woks do exist, I used to carry those but found them a pain to ‘season’ due to the bakelite handles. Google for them though I think you have enough woks, Mary-Anne, ha, ha.

  19. stringbean says:

    Hi there. I just bought a cast iron wok. It was imported from India. It has some rust on it and am wondering if you can suggest how to clean it off before I actually take a light scouring pad to it. I don’t want to ruin the wok so any information will help.

    Much appreciated!

    • Hi stringbean, love your name, ha, ha. I’m not sure what the cast iron is like from India, so hesitant to say. But you have correct idea. Well, you’re going to scour prior to seasoning anyway, so go ahead and do that. As a side note, Bee invited me to write section: Seasoning a Cast Iron Wok for her new cookbook but won’t be out till fall 2011, oops. I think I got that right.

      • stringbean says:

        Hi Elenor

        Well I’ve scoured my wok to death and I think I’m going to put it there too. My food comes out to taste really metalic and I’m afraid of getting sick from it. I am not sure what to do. I cannot find a cast iron wok in Bangkok, Thailand (where I am living currently)… would you happen to know where I can get one, here, or anywhere that can be shipped to me? Sorry to bug you about this, I used to have a great cast iron pan and wok in Toronto but since my husband and I moved here (5 years ago) I cannot seem to find one that is not aluminium. I don’t like teflon anything… for the reasons above. Any help will do

        Thank you again
        Stringbean

        • Peter Kong says:

          Don’t give up on your Indian wok yet. Fill wok with water and boil it for a while (5-10 mins)then turn off flame and let water cool. Throw away the water.

          If you have any leftover oil from previous cooking (if not use some other cooking oil), reheat oil in the wok and turn off flame when it starts smoking. Throw away the oil after it has cooled and wash the wok.

          Try cooking something in the wok and test to see if the problem still persists.

          • Hi stringbean and Peter Kong, sorry, I didn’t realize you had written more. Peter, I’m not a fan of this method of adding water to cast iron woks when seasoning. You want to add oil to start the patina going.

            So, stringbean, I don’t know if you’ve just got one rust spot or all over. After light scouring, wipe dry and also dry on your gas stove. Let it cool completely, then add oil to a wad of paper towel and wipe all over coating the wok in a thin layer evenly or if it’s just a spot. Zing onto medium high heat, you’ll see the area you had scrubbed burn black and bronzy color. Keep doing it till it’s set in. Think that should do the trick. Good luck, let me know if you succeed or have more questions. Cast iron is the BEST.

  20. Hugo says:

    Good tips, if only I had one of these :)

    • Hey Hugo, well, you can get one of ‘these’ seasoned, lightweight, thin walled cast iron woks! But I want to say it’s never just about the right wok, also require good technique and ingredients.

  21. simon hsu says:

    No chinese food without cooking in the Wok….

  22. sary says:

    awesome post and like your weblog extremely much and both of you are searching especially cute !

  23. SallyB says:

    Hi

    I have just bought a wok set from my local Chinese Cash and Carry. The wok is made in Vietnam and on the box says it says the wok is made of ‘iron’. I am not sure if this is cast iron as it is very light. How do I tell the difference between carbon steel and cast iron (apart from the weight). Also can I season a carbon steel wok in the ovenany thanks

    • No, this is NOT true cast iron. It’s a hybrid mix of metals, the most dangerous cause you don’t know what mix! Cast iron is not blueish, it’s greyish prior to seasoning and becomes black the more you use it. Carbon steel has concentric circles, groove lines around the wok and looks like steel. Many retailers will ‘say’ it’s cast iron when it is NOT because they know it’s the most searched term and it’s the BEST material for stir frying or cooking most anything. These people are NOT interested in your success, just to sell you stuff.

  24. SallyB says:

    Sorry forgot to mention that the inside of the wok is a bluish grey colour

  25. Jen Miller says:

    I am thinking of buyng my new wok this week. Thanks for this great information as always. Jen

  26. Hi Laura, thnx for comment. Glad you and many Wok Stars agree cooking on a portable gas stove when you have electric is way to go!

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