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I don't know how old it is, but I inherited it from my mother-in-law and she always bought good quality stuff, so it could be 40 years old, but it is still in great shape. I am trying to learn some Chinese cooking and I have a recipe that calls for heating sesame oil over high heat. The heating element goes from 100 dig F to 400 dig F. I set it to 350 dig F, added the sesame oil heated it for less than a minute then added the garlic. The garlic burned almost instantly (within 10 seconds). Is the temperature too high? Or could it be the heating element is just getting old?

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I don't think there is anything wrong with the wok. Chinese wok cooking requires some seriously high heat, if it was really too hot, you'd be complaining of the oil smoking so much that your eyes sting, or even seeing the wok bottom glow if the kitchen is somewhat dim.

The more probable explanation is that, as you are not accustomed to this type of cooking, you did not know that the garlic will burn so quickly. I would suggest that you go through the options in the answer to this question about burning garlic (it's a known issue when you use high heat frying) or start with easier recipes.

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So I checked the temperature of water where the element was set to about 100 degrees F. It seemed to be about 25 to 30 degrees high. So what temperature should I set it for wok cooking with garlic. I ended up cooking the dish in a regular fry pan on the stove, but I would like to use the wok, otherwise it is just dead weight in my kitchen.

  • Temperature settings on those old heaters were always somewhat notional, and inaccurate at both ends. To really get a feel for it, you'll need a thermometer that'll let you measure the temp of oil at 350°F or so. If it heats and you can get both low and hi temps, there's probably nothing wrong with the unit. At worst you may need to put some dabs of fingernail polish on the knob representing the actual temperatures you want to use. – Wayfaring Stranger Mar 25 '15 at 19:23
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Welcome! It does sound like the oil was too hot. However, in my experience with any electric fry pans, the elements don't go bad. Most of the older wok models had a plug in temperature control unit and this is most likely the culprit.

I would try your wok, perhaps with water, and use a thermometer to see if the temperature is what it is set at or how much variance you have. If there is a lot of difference in the set temperature and the actual temperature you may want to replace the heat control unit. Even though this is an older model you should be able to get one that works with it.

Last but not least, do be careful. Oil that gets too hot can be dangerous.

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    Note with water in the wok you can only get the temperature of the water up to 212F no matter what temperature you set. The temperature of the wok won't be able to go over that point until all the water boils off. You'll need to use oil if you want to measure temperatures above that point. – Ross Ridge Mar 22 '15 at 20:02
  • Hi @RossRidge. The idea behind my suggestion was to find out if the temp control unit is working properly, not to see how hot the wok will get. E.g., the OP could set the temp at 150° and then see if the water goes to a higher temp. For this purpose water is safer and there is no need to heat oil to a high temp. – Cindy Mar 23 '15 at 10:28

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