No Idea How To Use A Wok: 8 Cooking Techniques You Can Do With It

You consider getting new cookware. The wok is one of the options. You know that it is perfect for stir-frying. You associate it with Asian food only. You also heard that it’s versatile, but you’re not sure how.

In this post, we’ll tell you how to use a wok. It is extremely useful beyond stir-frying. Thanks to its unique concave shape.  You can use it for steaming, braising, searing, smoking, and much more. 

What is a wok?

You may wonder what a wok is. It is a deep high-walled frying pan. Traditionally it is round-bottomed and is popular in China. A flat-bottomed version – that adapts to standard ranges – emerges and gains popularity in Western countries in this century. It typically either has two small loop handles on both sides or a single long handle with or without a helper handle. 

What can you cook in a wok?

When talking about wok, the first thought that comes to mind is stir-frying. It totally makes sense to have the association because the wok works perfectly for stir-frying. Its high-walled, bowl-shaped design with sloping sides provides a large, slightly curved cooking surface that makes tossing food a lot easier and going back to the pan safely.  

Because of its special concave shape and the materials used for making woks, the heat distributes quickly and evenly across the entire cooking surface. That means it’s less likely to develop hot or cold spots so that you can get your foods done at the same time, which in turn decreases the possibility of over or undercooking.

Plus, woks have a large space inside. They can accommodate more stuff like water, oil, or food. Hence, you can almost cook everything with one utensil.

And remember:

Never do high-heat cooking like stir-frying, searing and deep frying in a non-stick wok. The high heat will damage the non-stick coating and release toxic fumes.

How to use a wok

Here are cooking methods you can employ in a wok.  

Stir-frying

Stir-frying is quick, high-heat cooking. The ingredients are stirred and cooked in a small amount of hot oil in a wok for less than 15 minutes. So, foods do not lose vitamins and nutrients with such rapid heat treatment. At the same time, stir-frying imparts a unique flavor of Wok Hei to your dishes.

As the cooking process is so rapid, it is a good idea to prepare your ingredients and arrange them in order before you stir fry your food. Then heat up your wok at medium heat. Add the cooking oil to the wok and spread it over the bottom and side of the wok. Switch to high heat. Put the ingredients in the following order: aromatics, protein, vegetables, and sauce. The order can be changed according to the cooking time of the ingredients. The rule is to add ingredients with a longer cooking time first, then ingredients that require less time to cook follow. Don’t forget to keep tossing and flipping until you get your dish done. 

Beyond that, don’t overcrowd your food in the wok. Otherwise, you won’t get the result of stir-frying. Plus, you have to check ahead and control the cooking time of each ingredient right so that foods are crispy and well cooked. 

Searing

Woks are a great tool for searing. Their materials allow you to cook at high heat to get a flavorful golden-brown crust outside of the thick cuts of protein. The large cooking surface also accepts several cuts of protein cooking together.

Searing in a wok is similar to a cast iron skillet. Preheat the wok properly at high heat. Add and spread the oil evenly. Place your food on the cooking surface until a golden-brown crust develops. Flip and sear another side. You can get a beautiful seared meal easily with a wok.

Sautéing

This cooking method is similar to searing. The difference is that sautéing uses and cooks smaller pieces of food fully. The advantage of sautéing in a wok is the flared side facilitates the flipping and stirring.

Deep-frying

Deep-frying

The flared, concave shape of the wok makes it a perfect vessel for deep frying. It can catch much more oil splatter, so there’s less mess, and keep your counter relatively clean. The large surface area can also avoid the kitchen disaster caused by boiling over.  

The roominess of the wok allows you to fry more foods at one time without overcrowding.  Plus, you can add, take out or flip your foods easily by maneuvering your tongs, skimmer, or chopsticks. 

And the best part of using a wok for deep frying is using less oil than a Dutch oven according to Cook’s Illustrated. Moreover, the oil heats up faster in a wok because the materials used for making a wok conduct heat pretty well. So, you can save more money on oil and energy over time. 

It is very easy to deep fry food in a wok. Simply fill the wok with oil no more than halfway. Heat it at medium heat until the temperature reaches 325 °F. Put your food into the hot oil until the foods turn golden brown.

Poaching / Boiling

Woks work on moist heat cooking. They are responsive to temperature changes. You can control the heat and keep the temperature easily by adjusting the output of the heat source. Simply throw your food into the wok. Pour liquid into it. And turn on your heat source. You’re done.

Steaming

With a large space, woks are ideal for steaming. Simply fill the wok with water and bring it to boil. Place your food in a steamer. Then put your steamer inside your wok and cover it with a lid. Depending on the type of food you are cooking, it takes 15 minutes to 2 hours to get your food done at medium heat. 

You don’t have to purchase a steamer as long as the steaming setup can hold your plate over the boiling water safely. You can use a metal insert from another appliance. Or you can place a plastic box inside the wok. Or even you can place several skewers across the wok to support your plate above.

If you want to cook delicate cuisine, you can invest in a bamboo steamer that can absorb excess moisture. The food that comes out will be less soggy. Plus, the steamer is stackable. You can steam multiple layers at one time.

Braising / Stewing

No more transferring food from pot to pot. No more moving your pot from stove to oven. You can make braising and stewing in one wok. Plus, woks outperform Dutch ovens a thousand times in terms of searing, so you can create flavorful dishes.

Simple sear the meat at high heat. Add your aromatics. Pour liquids like water, wine, or broth you choose into the wok. The foods can be partially or fully submerged in liquids depending on your recipes. Then slow cook it at low heat. With extended cooking time, the foods soften and get an intensified flavor. Remember to stir the foods occasionally to avoid sticking.

Indoor Smoking

smoking

Smoking is one of the niche applications for woks because they have spacious interiors and can hold the whole setup of smoking. You can turn a wok into a smoker easily with aluminum foils. All you need to do is line your wok with aluminum foils, and add your smoking ingredients like tea, sugar, or wood chips into the foils. Heat the mixture until it smokes. Then place a wire rack with food on top over the burning mixtures. Cover the wok with a lid or aluminum foils to trap all the smoke inside. Let it sit for 30 minutes to infuse your food with a smoky flavor.

Next step:

At this point, you know more about wok cooking. You feel so excited to start your journey.

But wait, it is important to find out if your stove is a good match for your wok.

Here’s how:

How to use a wok on an electric stove

If you own a flat-bottomed wok. Simply place your wok on the electric stove.

If you have a round-bottomed wok, you have to buy additional equipment, a wok ring, to make it sit securely on the top of the electric stove. But this setup is only suitable for the electric glass stove top.

Never use your round-bottomed wok on an electric coil stove top even with a wok ring. It won’t work because it will not sit stably on the coil and likely tip and fall, causing mess and burns. A flat-bottomed wok is your only choice.

How to use a wok on a gas stove

You can choose a round- or flat-bottomed wok. Both of them work well on a gas stove. Put your wok just like your pot and pan on the gas stove and cook.

Pick the right oil for wok cooking

When choosing an oil for wok cooking, pick the oil with a high smoke point to withstand the high heat of this type of cooking. If you use oil with a low smoke point, you will burn your oil, spoil the flavor of the dish and hurt your health. Of course, you can choose an oil with a low smoke point if you practice low-heat cooking like steaming, boiling, or stewing in your wok only. Always choose an oil with a smoke point that is higher than your cooking temperature.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Avocado oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Corn oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Canola oil
  • Grapeseed oil

Final thoughts

Now, you get some idea of how to use a wok. You can stir fry, deep dry, boil or smoke your foods in one cooking vessel. Try the above cooking techniques to prepare your meals. Enjoy!

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