Several Questions About Woks on Electric Coil Stoves
There have been some great discussions on here regarding this topic, but something confuses me:
I bought a Williams-Sonoma hand-hammered carbon steel wok (that has been reviewed on this site) to use on my apartment's electric coil range. It is flat bottomed.
Many places state that these electrics don't get as hot as what is required to properly stir fry in a wok. Because of this, after seasoning the wok, I popped it on the coil and turned it on to 'HI'. Essentially as hot as it goes. I tested a tiny drop of peanut oil on the wok, and once it hit center it promptly ignited.
So I'm confused - how can this wok possibly need to get hotter if the oil already catches fire in it? I can't even add food to it on HI without scaring the neighbors.
On that note, I also bought the Lodge cast iron wok because once heated, it retains heat (supposedly well due to its density) which will allow me to add food to it without a sharp drop in temp.
The temp drop is what I experienced with the WS wok when I turned it down to use. It resulted in less charring and more boiling/steaming.
Are either of these woks going to work for me on my electric coil stove? And what do i do regarding the high heat needs of stir=fry versus the tendency of the peanut oil to burst into flames?
<Many places state that these electrics don't get as hot as what is required to properly stir fry in a wok.>
A lot of time people have misspoken. Most electric stoves can get an empty wok pretty hot, it is that they do not have enough power to keep the wok hot after the foods are tossed in. Once you tossed the foods in, the wok will very quickly cool down. The stoves, at this point, need to quickly supply the energy to heat the wok back up.
< I tested a tiny drop of peanut oil on the wok, and once it hit center it promptly ignited.>
Is your wok clean? Obviously, a very hot wok can ignite the oil. However, a wok full full debris and curds will do so easier.
<how can this wok possibly need to get hotter if the oil already catches fire in it?>
After you toss in your food, then you will find out if your stoves have enough power to sufficiently stir fry your foods.
<it retains heat (supposedly well due to its density) which will allow me to add food to it without a sharp drop in temp.>
Ah, same thing just mentioned earlier.
<It resulted in less charring and more boiling/steaming.>
If you have a more powerful stove, then you won't get boiling and steaming.
<Are wither of these woks going to work for me on my electric coil stove?>
The cast iron wok will give you sufficient heat capacity to partially overcome the weaker stoves. However, you will very unlikely able to toss foods in a heavy wok like it. The WS wok is a bit too thin. I have it. It works, but, objectively speaking, it is probably not the best wok I have.
Maybe not. Maybe you really have the wok really hot (way pass the flash point).
Following DuffH's comment, yes, you should not turn down the stove power after you add the food keep the stove output high and try to maintain the hot temperature. In fact, that is the most important time to increase heat not decrease heat.
<The temp drop is what I experienced with the WS wok when I turned it down to use. It resulted in less charring and more boiling/steaming.>
You turned down the heat. Why not run the WS wok at high heat, but add the oil before it reaches flashpoint? That way you might have enough heat being poured into the pan to allow it to recover more quickly than at the lower setting, preventing food from boiling.
I lightly toss my stir fry ingredients in the lightest coating of peanut oil before throwing them into a carbon steel wok that has been heating empty on hi for 5 min. Exhaust fan on, kitchen door open they hit the dull red carbon steel wool bottom, dance around the wok a bit and stay crispy while getting that singe I find really pleasing. The actually time in the pan is almost always under a minute... Veggies work best diced in fairly small uniform pieces & meat I've either velveted and blanched or smoked.
I believe this would be in keeping with the "bao" style of stir frying - ingredients added rapidly with no break and constantly stirred.
Recovery time is what is the problem with an electric cooktop. In my opinion you cannot get a wok too hot. If you had oil ignite then try adding the oil to the food you are cooking prior to putting it in the pan. I have a cast iron wok and I preheat it in my oven to 550 degrees for an hour before cooking. I've never had oil ignite before even at that temperature.
I got so frustrated trying to use my 40 year-old wok on my smooth surface electric cooktop, that I bought a single-burner butane stove for around $20 and that little gem gets blazing hot and holds the heat level, unlike the electric stove element that turns itself on and off. I set the little burner on top of my stove and use the exhaust fan for safety purposes, and also because I am stir-frying. The butane stoves are available online or in Asian market stores, and the canned butane refills are quite inexpensive, too.
A bit late but wanted to throw in my advice on this topic because I am a wok cooking teacher and also market a wok kit and stove setup. It was this exact experience like you are having that gave me the idea to put a wok and stove together to help other folks solve their problems with wok cooking.
An easy solution is to manually lift your wok on and off to control the heat. With electric, it's either screaming hot or fizzles when you add food.
An even BETTER solution is to do what triff did, purchase an Iwatani portable butane gas stove which you can set on top of your electric stove for your wok. Iwatani is the best and will last a long time, don't get the cheap ones from Asian markets, they are pathetic.
Quit using the heavy cast iron wok, it's just not enjoyable to wait for that to heat up. Use your hand hammered even though I think it's pretty useless at conducting heat.
The best material for wok cooking is the traditional lightweight, thin walled round bottom cast iron wok. Everyone who uses this setup I suggest LOVE IT and are successful.
It's folks like you who convert from the wrong kind of wok and heat source that will really appreciate the difference in texture, flavor, color and most important of all, your everyday experience and joy it will bring you when cooking! I get it all the time in my class.
<...like the "Artisan" from Williams and Sonoma>
I love mine. I'm no wok expert, but there are several cooks here who have some very extensive wok experience and rave about them, too.
Wok experts disagree about the right and wrong kind of wok. My theory is that if we buy what we like, rather than what someone tells us we need to buy, we'll be more likely to use and enjoy it. That's as true for woks as it is for any other thing.