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Jul 15, 2011 07:07 AM

Wok Burner Advice

I'd like a wok burner set-up that will work with my current wok, a carbon steel unit that I bought in San Francisco Chinatown over 20 years ago, and I really like it. It's 14" across the top, and it has a flat bottom about 6" wide. (I know that round bottom woks might be ideal, but I'm supposing that my current one is probably good enough.)

I have read a number of CH threads on the topic of outdoor burners for use with woks, and those threads leave me with a few conclusions and some questions. My conclusions are:

--that a propane set-up is best for me, for higher power than the smaller butane ones.
--that people vary widely in how to assess the needed BTUs. Where a stovetop gas range might have about 15K BTU, outdoor cookers range anywhere from 30K-120K+.
--I hear that a set-up with some kind of wind guard for the flame is useful.

My questions:

-I'm aware of some very high power units (say, Bayou Classic KAB4), but it seems that many of these bigger units have quite wide burner rings and are aimed primarily at heating large pots of water (or oil, as for turkey frying). Does anyone know what I should look for in the gas flame width to work optimally for a wok?
--Does anyone here have experience with a propane burner not being powerful enough for high-heat cooking (say, that can make the oil flame up, as is sometimes desired?) If a 60K BTU unit is just fine, I don't want to get hung up on getting bigger numbers.

Thanks for any tips!

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  1. Hi, Bada:

    I'm not expert, in either BTU delivery oh high-heat wok cooking, but I have recently pimped my propane burner setup to do what it sounds like you're after. Here's what I found out:

    As you suspect, a wider ring of jets may not be ideal for wok cooking, and the consumer burners with high BTU ratings mostly come with wide rings. I think unless you go to a commercial-grade wok burner this will probably be the tradeoff: Even with enough BTUs overall, not enough of the heat is at the wok's bottom where it needs to be.

    I chose initially to simply retrofit a higher-pressure regulator body onto my cast iron double burner setup. This was easy (the regulator can go right on the bottle if you want), and the rings were the right size, but it was totally ineffectual, as it didn't really up the flame enough, even when the downstream burner valves were cracked wide open. So I took another regulator off another propane appliance (a shop heater); this one is infinitely *adjustable* from 0-60 psi. I HAD this one, but I had read up that the equivalent new regulator (at full 60psi) is rated at 850,000 BTU! But I mounted it up anyway--outside.

    I now leave the regulator set at about 12psi (controlling the flame with the burners' valves) and it still roars like a jet at takeoff. It probably would flame the oil at that setting if you tipped it and wanted to ignite the oil, but it is not all that scary. The plus for me is that the burners' integral spiders are open in the center, and the round-bottomed wok sits with OK stability there. A nice big, wide circular rim would be better, but it works for me.

    I plan to play around more with this setup over the summer, maybe even set it up away from EVERYTHING, and see how high a flame I can cook with.

    Whatever you do, just be careful.


    6 Replies
    1. re: kaleokahu

      Thanks, Kaleo. Yes, I think 850K BTU might be well beyond what's required!

      I don't know what you mean by the "burner's integral spiders," though.

      I notice that my local Ace Hardware has this sort of unit, a so-called "jet burner" that focuses flame centrally, using a little baffle to diffuse the flame a bit when desired:

      There is no wind protection or wok support there, however.

      1. re: Bada Bing

        I had a friend who lived in the country and could only get propane. She found it to be so "cool" burning in contrast to natural gas. What about electric or induction to get some more heat?

        1. re: escondido123

          I'm no scientist on the matter, but I've read that propane burns hotter than natural gas, at least when it comes to grills that people use on their patios. I'm sure that the regulators and maybe the physical configuration of the burners are also relevant factors.

          I'm pretty sure that induction and electric would be difficult with wok cooking, because of the pan shape. I'm thinking here of very high heat, outdoors.

          1. re: Bada Bing

            You are absolutely right though I understand in indoor stoves the propane is tempered in some way that makes it cooler. I only mentioned the induction and electric because you said your wok was flat bottomed and that's perfect for induction. Good luck:)

            1. re: escondido123

              Hi, escondido:

              Gas ranges and cooktops are converted to propane by replacing orifices that choke down the flow of gas to compensate for the difference in BTUs.


        2. re: Bada Bing

          Hi, Bada:

          You're welcome. On most gas ranges and cooktops, the spiders are removable for cleaning. Some folks call them grates.

          On my burners, the spiders ARE the stove's top. Visualize something like this:
 except all one piece of cast iron. Spills and drips drop right through. The center of the spiders is open enough to hold a wok.

          The one you're looking at looks to me to be a little tippy. Ace carries the adjustable regulator I mentioned. It's a "Mr. Barbecue" product, but it's most commonly used on weedburner wands and crab/lobster boiler and turkey fryer stoves.

          I think I got my cast iron stove from Harbor Freight or somesuch for $30 15 years ago for use in elk camp. I can take a photo for you later if you want.


      2. I own and use several BC and BC style high pressure propane cookers...IMO the BC Banjo is over kill for your stated it's only about 12 in tall.... It's made to sit on the ground/level surface.... Elevating it to Wok cooking height on a table etc, could prove hazardous to your health...Rated at over 200,000 BTU' is a helluva lot of fire for your needs.....I suggest you look at/consider something along the lines of the BC SP50 at about 55.000 BTU or you can kick it up to around185,000 with a 20 PSI regulator. It's also about 2 foot tall putting it at a more comfortable level for cooking.....I used 14 in. Carbon Steel round bottom Wok with a Jet burner several days ago....Trust me I had to idle it way down....HTH

        1. Woks are cheap. If you're going to do an outdoor stove wok burner type setup, invest in a round bottom wok.

          1. As I've had to give up on finding a propane wok-burner on the shelf around here, I'm thinking of these items via mail order. Anyone experienced with any of these units?

            The most serious gear seems to be that from, with this line of units, running $160 for the unit that looks best for me:


            Then there's the King Kooker line at Amazon:


            Also Eastman Outdoors line, at Amazon, with big or baby "Kahuna" burners:


            Thanks for any final feedback. I'm determined to get something for the patio soon, so that my family can stop coughing from chile pepper molecules all over the inside of the house!

            3 Replies
            1. re: Bada Bing

              Hi, Bada:

              No experience with any of the three, sorry.

              They all look pretty "tippy", truth be told. The Kahuna's tripod looks wider, but that may just make it more of a tripping hazard. I think you'd be happier with a tabletop type model, because you're going to need a cook table anyway, right?

              Good luck with whatever you get, and keep us posted.


              1. re: kaleokahu

                Thanks. Actually, one thing I like about the Outdoorstirfry rigs is that you can order them in table-top form or with legs that can be detached to make them table-top when you desire. Also, I think that the design looks like it would protect best from wind.

                1. re: Bada Bing

                  No problem. Better yet if you can *attach* the legs to your table.

                  Have Fun!

            2. I'm no expert on any of this, but I bought a Big Kahuna (Eastman Outdoor) burner about 10 years ago. It is certainly more than adequate for my wok cooking; I could get the wok literally red hot at the bottom if I so desired. Flame configuration is two concentric rings of flame; don't know if the outer one is considered wide for wok cooking (the unit doubles as a turkey fryer). The grid (or spider) accommodates a 16" wok or larger, but a 14" would wobble. The tripod is quite wide and stable. (I think the legs can be set at half-height.) Downside: I do wish there were some kind of wind screen.

              If I were buying today, I would look at some of the other units, as you are. When I purchased, I didn't know about any other brands. For my current setup, I need a tall, tripod-mounted model.

              I do recommend a round-bottom carbon-steel wok.