HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >


Tabletop wok burner?

I got a great new cast iron wok and love it. I first used it at my parents house during the holidays on their blazingly hot commercial stovetop. Worked like a champ. My gas stove here in Denver... not so much.

I attempted a stir-fry last night and alas my stove wasn't up to the task. I added the ingredients slowly so as to minimize cooling of the wok but to no avail. The wok still ended up cooling too much and I ended up with a somewhat soggy dull dish. Had I added ingredients any slower I would have overcooked the early ingredients while some were left out.

I have to accept, as is often suggested here, that my stove just doesn't get hot enough to keep the wok blazing. While buying my wok at the Wok Shop in San Francisco I saw a small tabletop stove. It was a single burner powered by butane cylinders. These stoves seem to be rated around 7,000 btu

I have found several similar burners locally and online and am thinking about getting one. Have any of you tried such burners? If so, were they hot enough? Were they significantly hotter than your home stove?

Thanks in advance!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Those butane hot plates are mostly used for table side hot pots (Japanese Nabe, etc) and grilling (with a matching grill accessory). I haven't used a home gas stove in a long time, but my impression is these butane burners have about the same power. I have seen higher power models at a large Korean grocery (HMart), as well as smaller ones.

    1. They are not going to be hotter than your gas stove. "Commercial" cooktops have burners that run 15,000BTU or better, residential models are about 7500-9000.

      Those are not intended for stir-fry use and if they were then you'd use a can of butane in about a minute. They're supplemental burners for hot-pots (you'll also see them in use for omelet stations at hotels and for catering events, but cooking eggs is a fairly low-demand task).

      1. They're too punky to bother with, as noted. A friend hacked a propane-powered burner for outdoor wok duty but it's not for the timid--or under-insured. Are you letting the wok get hot enough? Can you adjust height with the ring--assuming you're using a round-bottom version?

        5 Replies
        1. re: Kagemusha

          Thanks for the responses. I Used the wok ring with the wider side facing up, allowing the wok to sit as close to the flames as possible. I heated the wok until it was smoking significantly.

          There is an Hmart in town and I'll zip over there tomorrow to see what they've got.

          I may look into the propane burner. I am not heavily insured but as a firefighter I posses a completely false sense of confidence in my ability to tame flame. What could possibly go wrong?

          1. re: mmmcqueen


            The butane burners are completely underpowered for wok cooking. I've had to use them for events and found my pan cooled down rather quickly after food gets added. You'll be highly disappointed.

            Just set up my jet-burner wok stove outside last month, it's a completely different cooking experience. I've worked on Garland commercial ranges before, these jet-burners are at least 5 times more powerful. I can finish my stir fries in less than a minute with the authentic "wok-hay" taste.

            In terms of using a rigged up propane burner indoors, unless you have a commercial-grade exhaust system, you're gonna be dealing with a whole lot of fumes that will set off your smoke detector in an instant. I'm assuming that you being a firefighter you must have one installed in your home!

            As well you must have seen videos of grease-fires getting completely out of control in an instant. I rigged mine up on concrete cinder blocks with nothing flammable around because when you stir fry with such power "flame-ups" are common (not to mention highly desirable for that wok hay flavor).

            See previous post below:

            1. re: doctorandchef

              Not just the fumes.. you are going to put out a lot of CO..which tends to be bad for the constitution.. don't you guys tell local residents not to haul their gas grills inside in the winter?

              1. re: grant.cook

                Charcoal fires produce a lot more CO than well tuned gas burners.

                1. re: paulj

                  Charcoal fires with outside of an open chimney in a house are generally ill advised, right? CO outside - fine, CO inside - blue people

        2. While the 7K BTU burners definitely won't help with your wok, I know what will: Turkey fryers. The burner on those are plenty powerful, and the pot holder doubles as a wok ring. You might find some for cheap after Christmas, but a halfway decent one isn't that expensive to begin with.

          1. You think YOU have it bad, mmmcqueen.....my range is crippled by being small, propane, AND at 8200 ft elevation!

            The cast iron wok (bought thanks to advice from the nice folks on this board) has helped a lot. I cook for only 1 or 2 people, so i can make it work, with breaks between ingredients for it to reheat.

            But really I didn't even begin to get Wok Hei until i got an outdoor burner. It's shielded from the wind anyway, and at least I don't have to stand out in the cold for TOO long. Looked into an indoor wok burner, but way too expensive, and would need to replace my propane line, it's only 3/8" and can't flow enough gas for a big burner anyway.


            1 Reply
            1. mmmcqueen, if you want to really experience some disappointment try a wok ring in a chinese restaurant after using your home stove. I took my wok from my 40,000 btu work stove to my house and I don't think it ever got hot enough to smoke oil. I was glad I had the power I had at work until I tried my friend's professional wok ring, complete with operating pedal, which made my commercial stove seem like an easy bake oven. Chinese chefs have over 120,000 btu! If you ever get the chance try one of the jet-burner wok rings!! It's the culinary equivalent of a top fuel dragster.

              7 Replies
              1. re: la2tokyo

                BTW if you're serious you can get an "outdoor" wok ring from amazon for $60. 54,000 btu. I would like to test one of these things in my apartment for you, but I think my girlfriend might not be too happy. Of course she's not gonna be happy when we get the 125,000 btu jet-burner in our house after we get married, but by then she'll be stuck with me.


                1. re: la2tokyo

                  Sorry for all the reposting, but I just found a 160,000 btu outdoor propane burning wok ring. I might have to try this before I suffocate myself indoors with a commercial wok ring.


                  1. re: la2tokyo

                    I am glad that you have confirmed that real wok stir fry should be done on high heat. Of course, a person can stir fry at lower temperature, but it is just authnetic stir fry and it tastes bad -- granted that people who has never done it properly won't know the difference..

                    It will be very tough to do a tabletop stir fry due to the low heat output, but it may not be impossible if the amount of food kept very low. Of course, any Telfon/PTFE cookware are unsuitable for stir fry because they put a cap on the maximum temperature and prevent high temperature cooking.

                    If you cannot heat the wok to the point that peanut/corn oil starts to smoke, then you don't have the proper setup for stir frying.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Part of the smoky flavor from wok-hay is in fact oil superheated close to their smoke point. Fancy that!

                      By the way my jet-burner is almost too powerful, on 3/4 power oil smokes in an un-preheated carbon steel wok in 20-25 seconds. I have to lift off and add stuff in the wok otherwise white smoke develops and then POOF! combustion occurs.

                      Having that kind of firepower is addictive.

                      1. re: doctorandchef

                        Agree, and I am jealous of your awesome burner. I wonder if firepower is as addicitive as cutlery knives....

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          almost as addictive as sharpening knives on japanese whetstones.....

                    2. re: la2tokyo

                      That site compares their burners against others including the butane canister one.

                  1. re: paulj

                    could be worth a try, looks more powerful than the others.

                    with a small pan i think would be a good choice.

                    1. re: paulj

                      Much better prices on iwatani are available....


                      Great prices on either their 10K or 15K BTU stoves. They also carry the Iwatani canisters by the case of 12, for 1.79/canister.

                      Eleanor Hoh, "The Wok Star" likes/sells (for a lot more) the smaller stove. She sells one that looks exactly like the 10K unit for $65, here:

                      I enjoyed her website and her pitch for EZ wok cooking instructional videos...except I don't like the fact that you have to purchase a big package to get the dvd's. Still, very interesting perspective on wok cooking, woks, wok heat sources, etc. The upshot of all that is that, yes, people appear to putting out yummy food on these little butane stoves with high BTU's.

                      Wasserstroms has one that looks identical to those two, but has a few more numbers at the end of the model number, and say it is a 12K BTU...

                      I've seen the canisters at wasserstroms in the past, but if it is available, they aren't making it easy to find today. I recall them having individual canisters for something like $2.46.

                      At the Iwatani site, there is just one that looks like either of these 10 or 12K units, and the model number is identical, and Iwatani says it is 12K:

                      You can download the pdf spec pages on each of the three stoves they make, and on their canisters.

                      Anyway, maybe it operates like a 10K, but Eleanor Hoh is building her Wok Instruction empire by advocating the use of the 10-12K Iwatani unit. Or maybe it is technically 12K but cooks like a 10K. In any case, I did some legwork. Or finger work. I like my round-bottomed wok, and it is a little bit fussy on my flattish gas grates and so I did some research on my options and found Eleanor Hoh, Restaurant Source and Wasserstroms - EH's site and free videos are fun, and for best prices look elsewhere on stoves. My buying decision will be based on....emptying more cabinet space, lol.

                      1. re: cookware junkie

                        i finally signed up for youtube, here's my jet-burner


                        i've tried all kinds of butane stoves, there's little chance of getting proper wok hay on them especially if doing it indoors.

                        true test is perhaps seeing if you can combust the oil if you heated up the pan, pour in the oil, and then put some moist ingredients in the pan. The sizzling from the water droplets (e.g. from your marinated beef slices) would help micro-vaporize the oil slightly, and if you shake the pan a little you could get a nice flambe going.

                        i used to do that on a Garland stove at work using melted butter and moist spinach leaves, the flameout contributed a subtle sweet smoky taste to my veges.

                        1. re: doctorandchef

                          Doctor, do you mind sharing which model burner you have? it seems perfect for outdoor stir frying. Thanks.

                          1. re: doctorandchef

                            Great technique and video!

                            May I ask the specifications of the wok that you are using?

                      2. Am also having same thought of purchasing tabletop burners and i think it will be very compact when compared to other burners....... there will be a time consuming while cooking in this....

                        [url=http://newandusedcateringequipment.co... Equipment[/url]

                        1. A little perspective from a former Hong Konger: an average home-style gas cooker would have the maximum output of 21,600 btu for each of the 2 burners. When we stir-fry, we turn to the max.

                          Yes: In the US, nothing short of a professional-grade cooktop can get this much power.

                          (For reference, I was talking about this Rinnai-manufactured cooktop, costing the equivalant of $269.99 in HK: http://www.towngasappliance.com/Eng/P... )

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: SamCurt

                            "an average home-style gas cooker would have the maximum output of 21,600"

                            I am surprised that average HK users waste that much energy and gas -- considered the fact that energy is much more scared and expensive in China area including HK.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              I don't even know why; this output is higher than what Rinnai (and any other Japanese gas range manufacturers) sells in Japan and Taiwan-- the maximum there is 5.24kW/h, or just under 18,000 btu; the standard is 4.2kW/h, just under 15,000btu.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                Most people there don't have ovens, just rangetops / cooktops, often with only 2 burners (and probably many fewer meals made with 3+ stoves going at once), and I don't think that cooking gas is really a significant portion of gas used (vs. other things gas might be used for -- heating, water heating, clothes dryers, etc.). Also, fewer people there use clothes dryers at all. Given the cost of housing in HK, I really doubt that a 21k BTU/hr burner vs. a 10-15k one will be a big influence in someone's gas bill, even if the prices are high. Granted, many people in the US with ginormous 6+ burner ranges with double ovens probably rarely have all of these things going at once, but I see much more potential for waste here than with 2 very powerful burners. And, the fact that we have 4+ burners on our stoves is one reason that the burners themselves don't tend to be as powerful. Manufacturers want to make sure that even their 6 burner, double oven stove will still function on a standard gas line.

                                When you say "waste", you imply that it's lacking efficiency, whereas a burner's gas consumption tells you nothing about its *efficiency*. The efficiency has more to do with the design than with how much gas it uses per hour. If the stove is efficient, cooking can be done more quickly, which is certainly the case with a stir fry on a very powerful stove.

                                Lastly, I think a lot of folks in HK don't cook much... same as NYC, because there's a lot of good, cheap food around that's open late.

                                1. re: will47

                                  Thanks Will and SamCurt,

                                  I guess it has been a while since I was at HK. I guess I just don't remember the average gas stoves being that powerful, but memory is a funny thing.

                                  When I said waste, I wasn't talking about energy transfer efficiency which appears to be what you were talking about. I was talking about energy consumption per person, per capital. Let's take US for example, we (Americans) use more energy per capital than any other countries. So from that point of view, we waste more energy than other countries. Yet, our power plants or power transmission lines are nowhere the worse in the world, so from that angle, we are not inefficient.

                                  1. re: will47

                                    Hk cooktops are mainly natural gas (a lot of homes use equipment sold by TownGas) or in older buildings propane tanks.

                                    They probably run in the 15,000-20,000 BTU range, not at all powerful but adequate for most household applications. As for gas consumption, 6 minutes of stir frying a day will probably not put a dent on the bill. Most cooktops have 2 burners, one for the soup pot and one for the wok. Full size ovens are almost non-existent.

                                    THe average HK family does NOT eat out every single meal, so there's a fair bit of home-style cooking going on everyday, a significant majority done/prep-work-done by maids. A plate of vege, steamed fish and rice would constitute a typical family meal. no need for high powered stoves for those dishes!

                                    By the way I hooked myself up with another new wok burner, direct from the manufacturer in Taiwan. I believe they also made my present burner.


                                    Can't wait for its arrival in a week. I believe I got the X73 infra-red electronic ignition model, will upload some videos when ready. The guy said this model is popular in Europe for restaurant setups and street vendors in Taiwan as well.

                                    1. re: doctorandchef

                                      Hi Doc& Chef,

                                      Would be interested in your experiences with the Man-Niu burners. I have several models, with the ceramic burners, but you will have found out that the gas connections are NOT US regulation. That does present a safety and legal/ethical issue, especially to a doctor!!

                                      To the OP, here is my humble suggestion, none of which approximates the ideal but are practical in one respect or another without sacrificing safety. Your stove gas burners put out about 25-30K/BTU/hr front, and perhaps 15K/back, or some modern stoves like mine have equal strength back and front.

                                      Now, a 19 inch sauteuse or 20 quart stainless steel/aluminum rondeaux brazier spans both front and back burners. A 25 quart rondeaux brazier spans all 4 burners on a 26 inch gas stove. There are high quality aluminum braziers with 3 inch high sides, that make ideal stir fry vessels. The SS steel ones are also good, if you purchase a heavy duty sandwich bottom from a good commercial brand. The Chinese ones are cheap, and will work in a pinch, BUT youj can purchase Vollrath in pairs from some good restaurant suppy like WEB Restaurant Supply. You can even look into the heavy duty large roasting pans from Lincoln, to span either 2 or 4 burners; these pans are aluminum, and the cover of the pan will be a great cooking vessel for the SKILLED CHEF who understands that the basis of certain Chinese dishes is to spread the food out, give it a char: the proportion of heated surface area to fat, to meat, etc.

                                      Having cooked professionally for a long time in Thai and Chinese takeout, I urge you to consider that exceptional results can be had from the bottom half of a Mirro pressure cooker on a regular stove, if you know what you are doing. Of course, this would be for 4 servings per dish.

                                      I have 3 different sizes and pressures from Man-Niu, and would not recommend that firm to anyone.

                                      So, excellent results can be had by spanning 2 burners with:

                                      Copper-stainless steel cookware
                                      Stainless steel sauteuse/frying pan, 19-20 inches, very practical, very safe

                                      Rondeaux brazier, aluminum or 3rd best, SS steel, low sides, <4 inches, to span 2 burners, 20 qts, minimum

                                      Lincoln professional heavy duty Al. roasting pan or just its cover, 40 qt. size, to span 2 or 4 burners, as you wish

                                      Cast iron cookware, shallow pan, 19 inches to span 2 burners.

                                      Pray pardon me for being presumptuous. Even medium pressure burners, 77K, are extremely dangerous, even when lit outdoors. Please use 14-16 feet of metallized tubing to move your propane tanks away, because many people do not realize that the mechanics of showmanship with 18-22 inch woks by part-time practitioners can have unforseen consequences. Once is once too many. Most understimate the danger of hot oil and wok fires, and the need for meticulous mise en place, that make restaurant preparation seem so enchanting. Few home cooks will spend 5-6 hours merely getting the food prepared for cooking, and then another couple of hours attending to the equipment, safety and the utensils. Thereing lies the problem for the occasional cook. And, the USA has particular gas connection regulations based on long experience, that other countries disregard. These are just my half cent's worth, because I feel a moral obligation to point out such unpleasant things that are very real in terms of practicality and safety. No Chinese meal is worth a burn and I have seen some terrible ones in my time. I shall accept your criticisms without demur.

                              2. I was just watching Easy Chinese on Cooking Channel (the chile pepper episode)
                                It sure looks like she is using a butane burner. I couldn't tell the brand, or whether it was a special model.

                                Here is looks like a standard model

                                1. I realize this is an old post that's recently been brought up from the dead.

                                  However, fleabay and a few other places on the internet have a lpg/propane burner that does 35k btu. I'm not sure whether it's something that could be used indoors..

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: jedovaty

                                    I've used this exact stove and it's a nice little propane stove, around 17,000 BTU, but NO where near 55K BTU...! I connected it to a high pressure regulator and then it packed a punch, but the extra pressure caused the flame to flare out too much, heating the upward side curves of my woks (not to mention my hands and wok spatula!)

                                  2. Our family cooks with a Wok once a week, sometimes more.

                                    After many years, our first round bottom Wok started falling apart at the handles. We kept cooking with it on our gas range, which was a bit of a struggle at times.

                                    Along came a major remodel in our kitchen a few years ago, and out went a wall, and a few appliances. After sitting down with the wife and looking at our pots and pans, in went an Induction cooktop.

                                    Exactly two pans in our collection required to be changed or upgraded to be induction compliant: A stainless pasta-asparagus pot (Spargeltopf) set, and a new flat-bottomed stainless wok set.The new wok was larger and heavier than the previous pan, but my wife cooks with it and does enjoy it.

                                    The added benefit is that this pan can be used on the dining table, out on the gas BBQ, on our alcohol fondue set, out in the backyard, up at our Chalet-cabin, or even camping. In addition to our kitchen cooktop, we have a small 2-element disc portable or tabletop induction unit that plugs in anywhere.That fires the wok up very fast in seconds.

                                    My point here is to think out of the box. It doesn't have to be only gas as an alternative. In our case all one needs is a tabletop and electricity.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: SWISSAIRE

                                      You are quite right. Cooktek sells commercial quality flat-top and wok-shaped induction stove rated at 1800 W and 3500 Watts. The 1800 Watts, with analog controls is good enough for ordinary household current and circuits. These are drop-in or portable units, very rugged. So are the Vollrath units of similar quality.

                                      1. re: SWISSAIRE

                                        The problem I see for those of us that are truly stir-frying, is that I cannot find an induction unit that allows the cookware (wok) to be heated above 464F...?

                                        By my calculations with an infrared laser thermometer used to measure multiple woks over different heat sources, over the last 6 years, is that woks don't even start to smoke (and therefore are ready for a high heat stir fry to begin) until around 480F.

                                        My best stir fries indoors on home ranges, those that come the closest to having wok hei, usually do best at high temps of 480F-550F. I'm very tempted to try Adcraft's wok induction burner at around $200, but I just have severe reservations that it will produce a great stir fry if you can never even get the wok to smokeā€”to evoke the "breath of the wok" as Grace Young says...