So I have a wok that I really love using for stir frys / curries because of its high walls.

I'm having a lot of trouble though keeping the oil from smoking. It seems like whenever I have the gas high enough to brown things in a reasonable amount of time I get smoke, particularly from the high walls. I typically use grape seed or canola oil, and I feel like I don't have this problem with traditional flat frying pans.

Is there some trick I don't know, or am I just impatient?

  • Do you use refined or cold-pressed oil? Last time I bought a bottle of what was labelled "frying oil", it turned out to be unrefined sunflower oil. Not neutral, and with a very low smoke point, practically unusable for frying.
    – rumtscho
    Sep 28, 2012 at 16:11

5 Answers 5


I think you will find smoking inherent in the wok construction. Every bit of oil that spatters up the sides from deep-frying will smoke.

You may reduce smoking-sides somewhat by using the smallest burner possible but not entirely eliminate it. Many Chinese restaurant kitchens (many Indian too) have small 6 - 8" openings above furnace like flames that the woks nestle into. The sides are sealed against excessive heat.

Also, the heavier the wok the less the sides seem to start smoking ahead of the base which is counter-intuitive given the better distribution of heat by heavy or copper-bottomed woks. I am less certain about this point, merely personal observation.


A chef i used to work with said a pan isnt hot enough until the oil is smoking

this is doubly so for wokking (a word i am inventing right now...)

grapeseed oil has one of the highest smoke points in the oil world (425F) ... so if that is smoking then perhaps you are using too large a ring and heating the sides of the wok more than the middle


The trick is in the flame/temperature graduation and also in consideration of the type of oil you are using. As well as the item you are attempting to fry.

In my and family experience, we have found that peanut/groundnut oil has the highest breakdown temperature.

Let's say you are frying an 8 inch mackerel. Underneath the work, obviously, is the gas burner (since you cannot operate a wok over an electric stove - and if you do operate a wok over electric stove - that would be a problem).

Steps in learning to familiarise with the wok

First, you turn the flame to 1 cm in height (== low temperature). You provide sufficient oil so that you could use the frying ladle to swirl the mackerel around the trough of the wok smoothly. The crest is the highest curve of a wave and the trough is the lowest curve.

Gradually turn the flame up until you encounter resistance in swirling the fish. Then, turn it down a notch.

You let the fish sit there to cook, turning it over now and then, swirling it to ensure the oil is not burning.

Let's say you have five fish to cook and the size of your wok fits only one 8 inch fish. So you have to go thro the motion five times.

When you have finished cooking the fifth fish, you throw (well, please don't literally throw the fish and splatter hot oil all over) the 1st fish back into the wok and turn the flame up because now you are going to burn the oil a little to brown the fish. By the time you have finished browning the 5th fish, you would have ruined the oil and you would have to use fresh oil to fry any more fish.

But save the ruined oil because now you have the family secret oil to stir fry your chicken-broccoli dish. People will ask you where did you learn to have that "fragrance" in your chicken-vegetable dish.

The trick is in the swirling

The wok is designed to allow swirling of the food being cooked. It also allows turning your food without stuffs dropping off the edges. With each attempt you will soon get used to knowing the speed with which you could turn up the temperature.

When you fry a sunny-side-up, you have to ensure the least amount of oil and warm it up with a sudden blast of temperature and quickly turn it down. That takes some trial-and-error experience of when to turn the blast down. Usually no more than 30 seconds. When you throw your raw egg in, the abruptly fried egg would float on the oil. And you can push the egg with the ladle gently and a little and the egg would swirl slightly to demonstrate that it is not stuck to the wok. What I mean by "float on the oil", is a thick film of oil, a teaspoon of oil, not a cup of oil.

Frying fish and eggs are the two most effective ways to learn the purpose and make use of the curvature of the wok.

The test of your skill is frying angel fish/pomfret. Unlike mackerel, they are delicate fish. They tear easily. How are you going to make sure the fish swirls and how do you brown the fish.

Understanding the wok

Certainly, you might find that my thesis here is uncalled for because all you want is to know how to prevent oil from burning in the wok. However, you first need to understand the wok before asking that question.

You need to have a physical and mental connection with the wok as a soldier has a connection with his/her gun. And understanding that different targets of the weapon deserve different treatment.

You need to know when and how to prevent the oil from burning as well as when and how to get the oil to burn. So that by the time you rack up an intimate relationship with your wok, you will find your ex-relationship with your flat pans unsatisfying.


A few people here mentioned peanut oil. I’d have to say that’s good choice. I knew a Chinese chef in Japan, and peanut was his oil of choice. For high heat stovetop cooking, though, lately I’ve come to prefer coconut oil. I know it’s got a faint coconut scent, but it seems o lose that on the cooking. Happy wokking!


Try using a different oil like peanut oil, sometimes the oil may be the wrong one but I have had no problems using an Imusa Wok that I recently got for reviewing. Using peanut oil may give you a higher temperature without the oil smoking but this may also depend on the quality of the oil you buy as well. A cheaper store brand may be less refined oil while the national brands may be able to withstand a little more heat before smoking due to better refining.

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