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I've heard that using a wok helps ensure not only perfectly cooked meats and vegetables, it also just makes food taste better. I've purchased a new wok and am looking forward to putting it to use. As a beginner, what are the key steps I need to follow to cook properly using a new wok?

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Flat-bottomed or round? Non-stick, carbon steel, or something else? –  Bob Nov 9 '10 at 18:35
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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Um ... just off the top of my head, important things when cooking with a wok:

  1. Make sure all of your items to cook are ready before the first thing goes to the heat; it's quick cooking, and you don't want to be trying to chop something while you're trying to stir things at the same time.
  2. You want to cook over high heat. The oil should be just about to smoking before cook with it, and you want to use an oil with a high smoke point (eg, peanut, canola, soy, corn)
  3. Don't cool off the pan. Add ingredients in stages (harder, longer cooking things first), so you don't drop the temperature too quickly.
  4. It's called a stir fry for a reason -- you need oil to help transfer the heat. You can saute, if you really want to, but it's not quite the same.

... and unfortunately, most residential stoves can't put out enough heat for the wok to work perfectly -- it might be good, but you'll never quite get the same as what you get from a restaurant. If you're cooking for a large number of people, it's sometimes easier to cook the ingredients individually or it batches, then combine it all back together at the end.

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Also: cook in small batches (depending on the heat source). If the heat drops too low, you'll be sweating/steaming not frying (which are fine methods, just not what you're looking for). –  Bruce Alderson Nov 9 '10 at 3:10
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Joe has it covered well

I would like to add that wok cooking is often a mix of frying and steaming

For the steam you need to ensure you keep splashing small amounts of hot water or hot stock (chicken stock is the standard) into the wok

I usually start cooking the meat or nuts in oil, then add onions and spices, and then add all the greens with stock to steam and finish

The oil and stock form a rich sauce with the help of a little starch (corn flour etc) near the end of cooking

Maximum continuous heat is what you need. Get a large gas burner ring and a lightweight Chinese steel wok

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First thing first, did you get a non-stick wok, or is it steel?

If it's steel it will need "seasoning" there are many guides on how to do this (eg this) and though it takes a while it is the best way to keep a wok rust free and maximises the benefits. This does mean you have to take care cleaning it (no soap).

If it's a non stick one treat it like any other non stick pan.

As far as cooking goes Joe has that covered, good luck!

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For meats, in particular, the trick is to get the wok really, really hot, then add the oil (If you add the oil first, it will burn too fast), then immediately add the meat without stirring them.

Stir or toss the meat once they've cooked half-way. If the wok is properly prepared, then they won't catch.

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