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Home stir-frying with a wok, is it possible? Not enough BTU?

c
Charybdisz Sep 23, 2012 02:25 PM

Hi,

I would like to get into wok stir-frying at home. But after reading the board, and viewing some videos on Youtube, it appears to me that home wok burners aren't powerful enough for real wok stir-frying.

The most powerful wok hob I could find is this: http://www.siemens-home.co.uk/our-pro... (see the attached image

)

It has a 6.0 kW dual control wok burner. I am from Europe, 6.0 kW equals to 20473 BTU.

Is 20473 BTU enough for a wok? I really could not find a more powerful wok burner for indoor home use.

Can I stir-fry good food using a very good carbon steel wok and this 20473 BTU wok burner?

By the way, another issue is that the gas quality is not the best here, so it affects the produced heat level in a negative way.

I don't want to win a cooking competition, I just would like to cook/stir-fry delicious and healthy meal for myself.

 
  1. r
    Rigmaster Sep 25, 2012 10:37 AM

    A 20k BTU burner is plenty for home wok use. The commercial burners with much higher BTUs are for cooking in a setting where lots of cooking needs to be done in very little time. That's not usually the case for home cooking.

    That said, make sure the wok is well preheated and that you accept that most home cooking in woks is best done in smaller portions or batches because overcrowding brings down the wok's heat significantly and not being able to cook at high temps will release water and create more of boil/steam than fry. As a rule, I tend to try to stir-fry only what can be eaten immediately and don't plan on "seconds." That also allows me to enjoy the meal while it's at it's hot and tasty best too.

    As has been pointed out by others, nonstick woks probably shouldn't be used if you're going to heat them to high temps.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Rigmaster
      Chemicalkinetics Sep 25, 2012 11:23 AM

      < The commercial burners with much higher BTUs are for cooking in a setting where lots of cooking needs to be done in very little time. That's not usually the case for home cooking.>

      In fact, I may add that many people do not have the skill set to take advantage of the high heat output stove for a wok. As you have implied, this is for cooking a lot of foods in a very short duration. The cook needs to constantly move the foods, so that the food can experience the high heat for short duration.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nn2PJ9...

      If the person doesn't have the skill to constantly toss and flip the foods, then the high heat output will start to burn your foods which can only hurt the efforts, not enhancing it. I know plenty of people who bought the jet engine stove only to cook at a much lower heat output setting simply because the highest heat setting is giving off too much heat and they were to slow to move the food to avoid burning the foods.

      1. re: Chemicalkinetics
        t
        ThanksVille Sep 26, 2012 04:21 PM

        Right on target. Love to stir fry and spent almost a year researching and trying out different gas ranges to see what best fit our skills and style of cooking. We ended up with a range that has a couple of 22k burners and configured with open cast iron burner wells that allow a 12 or 14" round bottom steel wok to nestle very close to the gas jets without the need for a wok ring. The round geometry of the wok is far easier to cook with than the flat bottom versions but close access to the heat source trumps all and should guide the choice if woks. The difference in btu output really affects recovery time in cooking and the rate of heat transfer to the ingredients. When we tried to stir fry on a commercial wok burner (apprx 120k btu) I found my reactions were not fast enough to keep up with what was happening in the wok....literally there is no time for distractions and I think you have to be reacting 30 seconds ahead of what you see. By contrast, at 22k btu, the recovery time is plenty fast to achieve true stir fry cooking and not simply steaming the ingredients as our old underpowered electrical cooktop gave us. Preheat the wok, everything prepped and within arms reach, practiced quantities to avoid overcrowding don't be afraid to have some smoking level cooking action so definitely have a substantial exhaust hood system properly sized for your btu output.

    2. Gio Sep 25, 2012 06:31 AM

      As a home cook with very little wok cooking experience before the late 1990s I come to this thread from an entirely different perspective. The only stove/range type I've ever cooked on in my home is a gas range/cooker. A quite ordinary home cooker. A few have had burners with high BTUs and others have not. Yet, I've been able to cook along with other Chowhound home cooks during what we call Cookbook of the Month. (COTM) and create very good Asian meals, most much better than I've eaten in Chinese-American restaurants.

      Listed below are links to master threads for Asian cookbooks we have used and recipes that have been reported on after cooking. Many, many other CH home cooks have cooked from these books as well and have shared their experiences, techniques, and expertize. There is expert advise in the threads from Breath of a Wok and Sir-Frying to the Sky's Edge by Grace Young who popped into our discussions, answered our many questions including yours about high BTUs, and taught us how to properly care for a wok. Good luck with your quest and I hope you return and tell us about your new endeavor...

      MARCH 2008 COOKBOOK OF MONTH: REVOLUTIONARY CHINESE COOKBOOK, and LAND OF PLENTY, both by Fuchsia Dunlop
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/494660

      September 2008 COTM: "Vietnamese" Pleasures of the Vietnamese Tablel, Mai Pham, &
      Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, Andrea Nguyen
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/553813

      August 2010 Cookbook of the Month: THE COMPLETE ASIAN COOKBOOK, Charmaine Solomon
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/724623

      January 2011 Cookbook of the Month: BREATH of a WOK & STIR-FRYING TO THE SKY'S EDGE, Grace Young
      BREATH of the WOK:
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/756703

      STIR-FRYING TO THE SKY'S EDGE
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/756704

      3 Replies
      1. re: Gio
        c
        Charybdisz Sep 25, 2012 06:57 AM

        Thanks, maybe I should buy the Grace Young: Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge book? Does it write about wok and wok-related equipment, or only recipes?

        1. re: Charybdisz
          Gio Sep 25, 2012 07:43 AM

          Grace Young has said, "...I have...devoted much of my career to demystifying the art of stir-frying and celebrating the traditions of wok cookery." In S-FTTSE there are not only recipes but glossary, pantry ingredients needed, a description of the distinctions among different types of woks and skillets and how they affect the stir-fry results.

          In your case, however, I'd recommend Breath of a Wok for vivid descriptions of the use and care of a wok. In this book she discusses the BTUs, the differences between professional cooking and home cooking, and the types of wok to use.

          Both books have chapters on everything one needs to get started, though, with photos and lists of tools, ingredients and finished dishes. In fact all the books I listed have virtually the same preliminary chapters on style, technique, tools, ingredients, sources, etc...

          Here's a New York Tomes feature on Grace Young and her Well Tempered Wok...
          http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage...

          1. re: Gio
            g
            graceyoung Sep 25, 2012 12:39 PM

            Charybdisz, I've done extensive research on stir-frying on a home stove. For 17 years I was the Test Kitchen Director for Time LIfe Books so I approach my work with a tremendous amount of research. I've tested the differences of stir-frying on electric, gas, and induction stoves; carbon-steel, cast-iron, stainless-steel, anodized aluminum, and nonstick woks, round-bottomed and flat-bottomed woks. The stove I use at home is a gas stove with average power. I don't use a professional or semi-professional range because I want to simulate what most of my readers will be using. That said you can successfully stir-fry at home if you use a 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok (with a long wood handle). The round-bottomed wok is the traditional pan but on a western stove it must be set on a ring to stabilize it. Once set on a ring the wok is too far from the heat and it can't get sufficiently hot. The flat-bottom is specifically designed for a less powerful stove. I've successfully stir-fried on stoves with BTUs from about 9,000 to 12,000.
            PS Thanks Gio for the recommending my work.

      2. k
        kaleokahu Sep 24, 2012 09:27 AM

        Hi, Charybdisz:

        I think you're good to go. To go much higher in BTUs, you're either going to be needing to cook outside or install a $$$ hood and/or fire suppression system.

        If you can cook outside, there are several threads here on how to pimp out a propane campstove, and oodles of eBay/Amazon sellers of commercial single wok burners that you can hook up. Or, consider ordering a larger "turkey fryer" or lobster boiler kit.

        Have Fun.

        Aloha,
        Kaleo

        3 Replies
        1. re: kaleokahu
          c
          Charybdisz Sep 25, 2012 04:18 AM

          And what is the difference between 20 000 BTU and 120 000+ BTU wok stir-frying?

          Let's say in either case I use the right wok, the right ingredients, and the right technique. The only difference is the BTU (20 000 BTU vs. much higher). What will be the difference?

          If the 120 000+ BTU wok burner (with the right wok, right ingredients and right technique) is the 100%, how close can I get with a 20 000 BTU burner (how much %)?

          1. re: Charybdisz
            scoopG Sep 25, 2012 05:43 AM

            It will get so hot you will need to remove the wok from the burner!
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Phu7nd...

            1. re: Charybdisz
              j
              JavaBean Sep 25, 2012 10:16 AM

              Hi, Charybdisz:

              +1 on Kaleo comments. I have a dedicated indoor wok burner (~30,000 btu) & really big vent system. For safety as well as insurance reasons, you really don’t go with a more BTU commercial unit, turkey fryer or use anything not meant for residential usage indoors.

              A commercial level unit (aka jet engine) is capable of producing a distinct flavor and cooking large quantities. I can get fairly close to replicating that flavor on my unit by doing thing in smaller batches and combining everything at the end. At the same time, dishes that require melding of a lot ingredients / cooking a whole bunch of stuff at the same time don’t come out as well.

          2. c
            cleobeach Sep 24, 2012 08:13 AM

            You might enjoy listening to this podcast -

            http://andrewzimmern.com/2012/08/10/g...

            He explains how so many home cooks do stir-fry "wrong" I gave up years ago and got a good chuckle out of his explaination how how so many do it wrong and how to do it right.

            1. splatgirl Sep 24, 2012 02:11 AM

              Buy a cheap, plain steel wok and don't try to cook too much at once. Whether you need a stand alone wok burner depends on what range you've got to cook on and how much you're going to wok cook, IME. In my previous home I cooked on a run of the mill 70's era gas range. It didn't really have the BTU to do wok cooking well--I have no idea it's output. Obviously it cooked, but it wasn't great at anything that needed really high heat much less wok cooking. IME newer generation, non-fancy gas ranges have much, much better output, but YMMV.

              In this home I have a pro style range with 30K BTU burners. That is plenty to get the job done in a wok. That said, I also have a stand alone, 130K BTU commercial wok burner which is like a jet engine. It works as amazingly as you'd expect, but unless one is wok cooking every single day (which I don't), it's unnecessary and would be the first bit of kitchen real estate I'd reclaim if I needed the space for something else. That something else would probably be induction.
              I also have a 1500cfm hood, which, as someone else pointed out, is as or more important than the cooking appliance.

              1. Chemicalkinetics Sep 23, 2012 03:42 PM

                Yes. It is possible. I agree with GH's point and I have mentioned this many many times. Yes, it would be great to have high BTU stove for stir fry. However, wok was invented thousands years before high BTU stoves were available and even most Chinese in today China do not have crazy pro style ranges.

                Nevertheless it is important to stir fry at high temperature. The way to ensure this are: (a) preheat the wok to the desirable temperature and (b) do not over crowd the wok due to the limit BTU stove. If necessary stir fry in two batches or three.

                Ultimately, it is about the temperature. The power (BTU) help to achieve the temperature, but there are ways to circumvent.

                1. Charles Yu Sep 23, 2012 03:16 PM

                  I agree with GH1618.
                  Just as one can grill a steak by searing it in a cast iron pan heated up to 800C at home or have the same steak at Ruth Chris that seared their steak to 1800C. The end result can be pretty close! Likewise with stir frying with a wok. At home, one might not achieve the desired 'wok hay' effect by inflaming the oil while tossing, thus creating that 'smokey' aroma and taste, however, as GH1618 eluded to. If you 'pre-heat' the wok ( DO NOT USE NON STICK WOK! get a decent Chinese one that can take higher pre-heat temperature ) and DO NOT OVERLOAD. You should be able to get some pretty decent result!

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Charles Yu
                    c
                    Charybdisz Sep 23, 2012 03:30 PM

                    pre-heat the wok on the same wok burner where I will cook the food, or in an oven? For how long should I pre-heat it?

                    I also read that pros use non stick woks, I am considering the Joyce Chen Flat-Bottomed Wok (14 inches), and its product description says: "Traditionally Woks are uncoated. They are simply seasoned with a little oil before their use and thereafter periodically. The advantage of being uncoated is that higher temperatures can be reached which are in turn transferred directly to the food. On the downside Non Stick coatings make cleaning far easier and helps maintain the appearance of the Wok. If you are a very serious Asian Cook then use uncoated, otherwise Non Stick will make your life easier."

                    1. re: Charybdisz
                      Sid Post Sep 23, 2012 04:49 PM

                      JUST SAY NO TO NON-STICK WOKs!

                      A properly seasoned "raw" iron WOK won't stick. You can also use metal wok utensils without hurting the finish. Considering the fumes from Non-Stick pans can kill pet birds from cooking eggs, I can't imagine what sort of toxic gas I'd get from a non-stick WOK at much higher temperatures.

                      In terms of sticking, clean up, etc. it's easier then stainless steel for me. Even stainless steel isn't too hard with the right technique. My De Buyer Mineral pans are every bit as non-stick as your better non-stick skillets.

                      1. re: Sid Post
                        n
                        NVJims Sep 25, 2012 12:54 PM

                        The only way you are going to kill a bird with a non-stick pan at egg cooking temperatures is to add the bird to the scramble, and it will be the heat that will do it in...

                        Non-stick pans are totally safe at their designed cooking temperatures. There are new ceramic based finishes that are designed to work at higher temperatures up to the flash ignition point of cooking oils.

                      2. re: Charybdisz
                        g
                        GH1618 Sep 23, 2012 09:23 PM

                        Just let the wok heat up with a little oil in it on the burner where you will cook. I usually put some garlic in the oil to flavor it, which will get overcooked, then strain it out before continuing. Stick a common bamboo chopstick in the oil to test the temperature. When it is hot, bubbles will come out the end of the chopstick.

                        A plain carbon steel wok is best. The appearance of the wok is nothing. A well-used wok is an ugly wok, in my opinion.

                        1. re: Charybdisz
                          s
                          sr44 Sep 25, 2012 10:22 AM

                          And you don't need a flat-bottomed wok with a wok burner.

                      3. scoopG Sep 23, 2012 02:34 PM

                        You should do just fine.

                        1. g
                          GH1618 Sep 23, 2012 02:30 PM

                          What is "real" wok cooking? Most of the people who cook with woks (Chinese) do not have expensive pro-style ranges. I wouldn't (and don't) let the equipment snobs discourage me from using my wok. The main thing is just to preheat it and not put too much in it at once. The burner you have is sufficient.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: GH1618
                            c
                            Charybdisz Sep 23, 2012 02:38 PM

                            "What is "real" wok cooking?" That's a good question, I just read on several places that the "pros" recommend 100-120K BTU wok burners. But this indoor wok burner can only produce fifth of it.

                            I an a newbie when it comes to wok stir-frying. I will buy a wok set and a wok burner in the next 1-2 weeks, so any advice is welcome. I move to a new home and I shop for the kitchen equipment now. I am considering that Siemens ER326AB70E 6.0 kW wok burner because it is the most powerful wok burner I could find for indoor use.

                            1. re: Charybdisz
                              g
                              GH1618 Sep 23, 2012 02:59 PM

                              I wish I had something that nice. Will you have exhaust ventilation?

                              1. re: GH1618
                                c
                                Charybdisz Sep 23, 2012 03:32 PM

                                Should I? :)

                                1. re: Charybdisz
                                  g
                                  GH1618 Sep 23, 2012 03:35 PM

                                  It's recommended, because you can produce smoke with wok cooking, as well as a lot of heat.

                                  1. re: Charybdisz
                                    Sid Post Sep 23, 2012 04:37 PM

                                    For indoor WOK cooking (or cooking with any really high BTU burner) you want a really good hood (600~900CFM) that vents outside to remove any smoke or odors. You will also need the corresponding fresh air intake.

                                    1. re: Sid Post
                                      c
                                      Charybdisz Sep 25, 2012 02:15 AM

                                      How many CFM do I need for this Siemens 20 000 BTU wok burner?

                                2. re: Charybdisz
                                  Sid Post Sep 23, 2012 04:43 PM

                                  That burner will work better then what most home cooks use with their WOKs. It will also work nice for large pots of water for pasta.

                                  In terms of BTU's, a lot of people are happy here in the USA using an outdoor turkey fryer or similar burner that puts out 30,000BTU's. That Siemens unit looks like a very good option for you considering where you live and the fact that you want to use it indoors.

                                  You aren't running a professional Chinese restaurant so, don't worry about getting a 100K+ BTU burner to use with 20 or 30 inch WOKs. With smaller batches of ingredients I doubt you will notice the difference in BTU output in the quality of your cooking.

                                  1. re: Sid Post
                                    c
                                    Charybdisz Sep 24, 2012 12:51 AM

                                    Cool!

                                    Don't you know a wok hob which is more powerful than this Siemens 20 000 BTU? For at home, indoor use of course.

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