Impoverished chef - underheated Wok
Hello all. This is a GREAT board! Glad that I found it. Please forgive me if this has been discussed before and I simply could not find the topic. This is my first post.
Question: Can somebody PLEASE tell me why my new idea will NOT work? Safety, practicality, cooking ease, etc.?
I switched to doing lots of Chinese cooking about a year ago for health reasons. I have a great wok, but my little LP gas range is woefully underpowered. I can't even stir fry enough veggies and tofu for myself in one batch. Worst, I'm limited to a 20-inch range because of my small mountain cabin. All my electricity is from solar and wind, the nearest electric pole is 12 miles away, so electric or induction burners are impossible. There is no natural gas service here.I need some real HEAT under that wok.
I have been looking at commercial / pro / prosumer high-heat 20-inch wide options and they are scarce and expensive. A Wolf 15" cooktop where my 20" range is now, but where do I find a 20" wall oven to go below? Can't do without an oven. I could expand to 24" or even 30" with great expense in hacking up my nice countertops and cabinets, then easily spend $2k+ on commercial or pro-sumer equipment. Not quite in my budget here....
My first thought was to use one of my Cajun Cookers I use for brewing beer and mead, but 110,000 BTUs is quite a bit more than I need to cook for one human and a large dog. But my propane range has max 10k BTUs output from each burner, and that's reduced even more for high altitude (8,200 feet elevation)
Is there some reason this idea will not work or is dangerous? PLEASE let me know if you think it is a problem......
I already have a 30,000 BTU "outdoor" propane burner for camping and flyfishing trips:
I am building a platform to which this burner will be secured, that fits over the top of my wimpy 20" Sears range. A large metal plate, with the burner legs actually tapped for threads and bolted into the steel plate. When done, the thing will weigh over 30lbs and be near impossible to tip over. It will fit snugly over my current range top.
And, I can't see how a single 30,000 BTU "outdoor" propane burner will put any more carbon monoxide into the air in my kitchen than running all 4 of the wimpy 10,000 BTU burners on the range would....none of them draw outside air, and none are vented outdoors. I do run CO detectors all over the house since my refrigeration and water heating are propane also.
Does this sound crazy, or have I found a way to get a nice high-heat Wok burner that sits on top of my crappy little Sears range?
If it works I'll tap into the kitchen propane line with a quick disconnect and valve; for now I'll be trying it all on a portable 20# LPG tank to see if the idea is valid.
Comments and warnings welcomed!
DanBob, please describe your wok in a little more detail.
Mass market woks today often have a flat bottom which doesn't concentrate the heat enough. I have a old hammered carbon steel wok that works pretty well. I've even tried it on my Coleman stove and it gets hot enough (but balancing it and keeping the wind away is another matter).
Here's a smaller one that might work better for you:
Hi DiveFan -- I have a very old carbon steel 14" wok, round bottom with the ring.
I've known for a while how wimpy this apartment-size range is, by comparing heat from various other operations I sometimes do on other people's stoves.......roasting coffee beans, making small batches of beer, etc.
I do a lot of Asian cooking at home. Like you, I obsessed about getting a wok to work in my kitchen. I tried a bunch of things (including having one of my burner orifices drilled out to a larger diameter).
I have a propane cooker similar to the one you linked to, but I only use it outside on my patio. That is fine for the summer and I would hesitate to recommend using one inside for obvious reasons.
When I want to cook Asian inside, I don't use a wok...I use a couple of French style carbon steel pans (eg from deBuyer, http://www.chefscatalog.com/product/2... ).
I cook in smaller batches and adapt a European-style technique. I can get a wok-hei like flavour because the smaller surface area, the optimal flame-to-pan pattern, and the smaller batches of ingredients allow the food a chance to get very hot. It doesn't feel like wok cooking, but it can taste like it.
They are my favourite pans. Virtually non-stick once once you have used them for a while. The medium sized (9 and 11") ones get the most use and are perfect size for "Asian" "wok" cooking. Works well with electric burners as well.
They have a deeper sided "Country" pan that looks like it could be a good wok replacement (I don't have one myself).
And yes...cheap as chips.
I wouldn't use any of the gas/LP/etc methods you mention for at least a couple of reasons. First of all, you're isolated and refills are likely not as straight-forward as picking up another 5 pounds of flour. Then there are safety hazards. Others have already covered those.
What comes to mind for me is charcoal on the patio. Or outside. You don't want to try to use charcoal indoors unless you have a kitchen that has windows that open on all four sides of the room and a very strong exhaust system. People wake up dead from using charcoal indoors.
Anyway, something as simple as a flu pipe with holes poked in the sides to promote a draft for the charcoal and a coffee or Crisco can inside to provide elevation for the charcoal should work. You may have to experiment for optimum stir fry temperatures. Or maybe a round hibachi or something similar would work well too.
If you have a fire-proof surface at the right height for cooking, you can wrap bricks in aluminum foil and set four sets of them in a square that will support your wok safely, wire the bricks on the outside so they wont slip while you're cooking, and build a charcoal fire inside the bricks.
Types of charcoal can also determine how hot your fire will get. Lots of possibilities! But do all of your experimenting with safety in mind. Good luck!
My hottest burner is 14,500 BTU, and I find I can stir fry successfully as long as I give the wok enough time to preheat (it should be smoking just from the residual oil in the wok, and I watch for the color of the metal at the bottom of the wok to begin to change) and don't try to do too much in it at once.
re: David A. Goldfarb
Ah, well, these answers are exactly why I posted here!
"Those outdoor burners usually aren't anywhere efficient as a residential range, so will produce more CO from the same amount of fuel."
--I had no idea. That's important information, thanks.
I do have CO detectors throughout my house, because of the many propane appliances. But I *don't* have a power vent range hood.
I like the cast iron wok for inside use idea, especially when it's 25 below zero here, and it's only $100. And I didn't waste my money on the 30,000 BTU burner either, as I can always use it on the patio during nice weather (my little range can do only MAX about 8-9,000 BTU due to propane conversion and high altitude, and my 110,000 BTU Cajun Cooker is just not controllable enough).
Thanks again all -- I promise not to gas myself.
Please don't do this, CO is not detectable (except with a meter) and dangerous.
Here is what I suggest.. buy a lot of prep bowls and cut all ingredients and take it to the wok OUTSIDE with outdoor burner. It's a little more work but worth it. I make authentic Chinese dishes on my 65K BTU burner, I usually don't use over half the power though, so a 30K might work. I do not bother to try it inside, even if I get enough heat, the smoke is incredible and it's best cooked outside.
The burner I have is made by Eastman outdoors and it has 3 sturdy legs. All I do is take the wok out and the ingredients and stir fry away.
You can also try to Lodge cast iron wok on your stove, it's thick and you can get it very hot.
Those outdoor burners usually aren't anywhere efficient as a residential range, so will produce more CO from the same amount of fuel. The typical stir fry goes pretty fast, so doubt that you would snuff yourself. I would rather be safe than sorry.
Besides, there are probably a bunch of insurance and fire code issues with having a 20# tank of propane in your house. You probably won't get busted by the powers that be, but if you do have a problem, don't expect sympathy.
My suggestion is to switch to a cast iron wok, and then let it get good and hot in the oven or stovetop. (This was a tip from Ming Tsai on "Simply Ming".)
Are you sure your kitchen is ventilated and insulated enough? Ever year you hear about some poor family killing themselves by dragging their grill inside.. and most balloon frame homes are nowhere near insulated enough to support really-high-heat burners. can't you just do your wok stuff out on the patio?
I looked online at the Lodge Cast Iron Wok.
P14W3 - 14" dia., 4-1/4" depth, 12 lbs.
12 lbs. of cast iron should hold the temp very nicely as a thin steel wok cannot. Will take longer to pre heat, but, then you should be good to go.
Better to give this a try before Rube Goldberging you kitchen. First rule of any home project. Do not hurt yourself.