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My kitchen currently consists of little more than an electric grill/hot plate combo, one wok and one non-stick pot/pan. Woks, it seems to me, were really designed for flame - either wood and coal fires or gas burners. The one time we tried with the wok (a round bottomed one) on the hot plate no heat seemed to be getting through. So my question is, were we just doin' it wrong? Or is it impossible to cook on a flat electric burner with a round bottomed wok?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Impossible is a strong word, but yes its near enough impossible as there is insufficient surface area touching to transfer the heat through, and hot plates do not have good heat .. not sure of the word, but they don't transfer heat well to things which are not touching them.

You can get flat bottomed woks which are more suited to this set up, but even then if you are moving the wok about a lot you still end up with the contact being lost quite a bit, and so not as much heat being transferred as you might want.

I've always found woks to work best on gas. In fact gas is just best, full stop.

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Agreed on the gas - but one has to work with what is provided sometimes. Specially when traveling. –  Daniel Bingham Aug 10 '10 at 13:47
    
This applies to round bottom woks, flats can and do work on all burners, but if your burner doesn't put out enough BTU's your wok will not get as hot as it should. –  sarge_smith Aug 10 '10 at 23:32
    
@Daniel regarding traveling, they do make portable gas burners that run on mini-propane tanks. Ex: dunhamssports.com/product/… –  ManiacZX Aug 11 '10 at 16:26
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Can I suggest that if you have limited space and so on, that you buy an electric wok. I have used one and with great success.

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Round bottom vs. flat bottom makes a difference, as Sam indicates. Another difference is wok type. You have really thin woks that really require a massive heat source, and you have thicker, cast-iron ("Chinese style") woks that you heat through-and-through before you start cooking. You might have a go with the latter type, but the wok will still probably be cooling faster than your heat source can match. If the wokking's short enough, perhaps you'll be able to pull it off.

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And you can shorten the cooking time by not cooking everything at once -- cook in small batches, and ingredient or two at a time, then mix everything back together at the end. –  Joe Aug 10 '10 at 13:44
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