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Nov 28, 2011 02:09 PM

High Heat Wok Cooking Problems

I purchased an outdoor turkey fryer type propane burner that I use to cook with my carbon steel wok on very high heat, I've had very hit and miss results. Thusly I'm turning to the hounds for tips and tricks with cooking on such high heat. Heres a little background info to help yall figure out what I'm doing wrong.

- 60,000 BTU flame output on burner (usually cranked to 3/4 power while cooking)
- Carbon Steel Wok (purchased from Wok Shop and seasoned multiple times in oven with lard)
- Peanut oil used for most stir frys.
- Cleaned with just water (no soap)
- Coat with a little peanut oil in between uses.

My problem is that when I go to whip up a stir fry my food gets a residual dark brown color to it. A bunch of black flecks of what I assume is bits of the patina also seem to cover the food. I'm not sure if this is coming from the actual patina flaking off or if these are burnt spots from cooking over too high of heat. I've given up on trying to use chicken in my stir frys because of how un appetizing it looks when completely covered in the brown/black flecks and liquid.

The smokey flavor or 'wok hei' is definitely there, no complaints in that department.
I'm still working on perfecting my actual technique of having both proteins and vegetables cooked properly but this is the basic technique used;

-Wok on till oil is smoking lightly
-Proteins until seared on outside then removed and set aside
-Aromatics (IE garlic, scallions etc)
-Vegetables in order of cooking length requirements (longest time first, shortest last obviously)
- Proteins back in to finish cooking
- Sauce (usually oyster sauce based brown sauce)
- Wok Off.

I've tried scrubbing a bit harder with a soft sponge in between uses and it doesn't seem to help with the amount of discolor the food gets. I feel if I scrub any harder the actual patina may come off. Should I be blanching my vegetables before cooking? Any tips on basic technique, and discoloring issue will be much appreciated.

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  1. Your "patina" should result from oils absorbed into the metal. If yours is a surface patina you don't have the wok properly seasoned. I assume you know that you have to keep the food moving constantly in the wok and that the wok must be moved as necessary, off of the flame, to maintain appropriate temperatures. It's not all "peddle to the metal" high heat cooking and the food should never remain in the wok or at rest long enough to darken significantly. If you're using soy sauce (or an sauce for that matter) and allowing it to burn onto the wok surface the problem you describe will develop.

    2 Replies
    1. re: todao

      Thanks for your reply. From what you've posted I gather my wok may be improperly seasoned? If I scrub my wok with a soft sponge and hot water should I be able to remove any of the patina at all? Also what would be the best way to avoid sauces getting burned into the surface?

      1. re: KungPao

        Remember that your wok seasons differently than cast iron cookware. Cast iron is porous, a good quality carbon steel wok is not.
        Here's a pretty good outline for seasoning the wok:
        Sauces should be added to the food, not the wok surface, and (except for marinated ingredients which have sauce on them) they should be added at the end of a cooking cycle when your recipe is at the point of simmer. The marinated ingredients which may have sauce on them that is likely to burn on the wok surface if not properly handled are typically added when there is a rich supply of oil in the wok - that helps prevent the sauces from burning onto the surface.
        Here's a good outline (and a video) that might help:

      1. Have you tried scrubbing it with something a bit more abrasive than a soft sponge? Bamboo wok scrubbers are sold to scrub out the wok between uses, like this one: