Has it ever happened to you?
You just had amazing stir-fried food from a Chinese restaurant.
And want to cook it yourself.
So, you got the recipe, followed it and stir-fried, with extreme care.
Then you taste it. And realize it is good.
But not as finger-licking, lip-smacking good as that Chinese restaurant.
And you wonder what could have gone wrong even after precisely following each step in the recipe?
Well, I will tell you what gone wrong. The BTU. The heat source is not enough.
Woks are meant for cooking on high heat but our kitchens are not equipped with using a high BTU burner.
Hence, either you need to take your wok outside to cook on a wok burner or follow some alternative ways to heat your wok as a woke burner does.
Best BTU for Wok Cooking (Stir Frying)
The actual taste of stir-fries comes out only when they’re cooked in high flame. Those Chinese restaurants are using commercial burners designed to produce higher BTUs, and hence they are delicious.
BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, a unit in which stove outputs are measured.
In simple words, it is the heat(energy) required to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water by 1°F at the sea level.
The best BTU depends on the food you’re cooking, but generally, stir-fried items taste the best when they are prepared in high flame.
When we say high flame, we’re talking about the blue hot, blistering flame of 100k – 150k BTU that can turn your entire kitchen to a hot furnace in a matter of minutes.
Stir-fries turn out to be unimaginably delicious when cooked at this BTU.
No one will ever recommend cooking at such higher BTUs indoors, unless you want to set your kitchen at fire!
For comparison, a normal kitchen stove produces a heat of 7000 BTUs, and some monster stoves can produce up to 12,000 BTU. So, on average, stir-frying needs 8 to 12 times the heat of normal stoves.
There are many outdoor burners available on the market, some of them with a capacity to provide heat of up to 20000 BTUs.
The best one is the GasOne 200,000 BTU Square Heavy- Duty Single Burner, it is perfect for stir-frying as well as brewing, camping, fishing, outdoor cooking, etc. and the strong build quality ensures that it will last long. You can see its popularity on Amazon.
Oh, and don’t go for a Chinese home stove instead.
They provide only 14k – 17k BTUs, way lower than the minimum requirement for a mouthwatering, delicious stir-fry.
Anything lower than 100k BTUs is not going to make your stir-fry as tasty as that Chinese restaurant.
If you have the proper setup, you can use a burner inside also.
We’re talking about the highly air-ventilated kitchen, with the burner placed near the window, and a high hood over the burner – like the one at the Chinese restaurant.
You’ll probably need to remodel your house and redo all the ducting to use one of such burners in your kitchen.
Or you can follow some useful tips to make delicious stir-fry at home.
Alternatives for wok burner (Don’t have a wok burner? Do this)
I did an extensive research to find out how much BTU is perfect for wok cooking, just to make my food or you can say stir-frying delicious.
Not only just, I found out the best BTU for wok cooking but also how to make stir frying at home delicious without a burner.
It will not be as perfect as cooking on high flame. But if you are not planning to have a burner any time sooner, these tips will almost serve the purpose.
Here, what I have learned.
A 1600s proverb says ‘where there’s will there’s a way’, and seems it is right.
Maybe it’s the Chinese people living in the west, or maybe it’s the western people who are desperate for Chinese food, some people have found to make nearly perfect stir-fries without having to burn down your kitchen, and it works.
Simple Steps to make nearly Perfect stir-fry at home without Wok Burner
Remember, my advice will always be to go with the best wok burner if you can to make perfect stir fry. Else, try these.
Just as we grill a steak by searing it in a highly heated cast iron pan, woks can be pre-heated to high temperatures before cooking.
You can heat the wok in an oven or burn 5lbs of charcoal in around 30 minutes, which will come closer to 100k BTU.
The end results can be pretty close depending on how well you have heated it. You may not get that ‘wok hei’ effect by inflaming the oil while tossing, but it sure does give a pretty decent result.
However, you cannot use a non-stick wok for pre-heating, or even any kind of high flame cooking. The non-stick coating can decompose at temperatures higher than 500°F, making the food unhealthy.
There are ceramic non-stick coatings that can withstand high temperatures, but we’re talking about the usual Teflon coating here.
Traditional Chinese woks are uncoated and are only seasoned prior to cooking and thereafter periodically. They reach higher temperatures and the heat is transferred directly to the food.
Also, enameled cast iron wok can’t be heated to higher temperatures, as it can damage the finish of the wok, and sometimes causes crazing.
The traditional, seasoned woks work the best here. After all, what matters is tasty food and not a little bit of extra maintenance that you have to put in.
Cooking small portions of food in batches can also do a great job if you don’t have a wok burner. Larger amounts of food mean more time to heat up and more time to cook, which breaks the basic principle of a great stir-fry.
How to make stir-fry delicious at home without high BTU?
Commercial burners are use-me-outside-or-die alternatives and also cost you dollars.
We all should thank the desperate stir-fry loving community, they have invented other creative methods to get that stir-fry right, at home.
If you don’t have a burner, charcoal, or an oven, that still shouldn’t stop you from making delicious restro-style food.
Follow the below tips:
I have a dedicated article on how to make a delicious vegetable stir fry at home like Chinese Chefs, or you can follow the below steps.
- Avoiding the watery, slow cooking elements can also improve the quality of your stir-fry.
- You can successfully stir-fry at home if you use a flat-bottomed carbon steel wok.
- The round-bottomed wok is the traditional one, but on a western stove, it must be set on a ring to stabilize it.
- Once set on a ring, the wok will be too far from the fire and it will not get enough heat.
- Flat bottomed, carbon steel woks are the best for home stir-frying with a gas stove of average power.
- Also, choose a wok of low diameter, say, 12” or 14” at max. This will ensure heat is transferred more evenly and efficiently to all parts of the wok.
- There are four main factors that make a good stir-fry – dryness, size, speed, and no vegetables.
- Wet ingredients can cool down the heat a bit, so you need to avoid/modify them and use dry ingredients instead.
- The second thing to do is to cut the ingredients to a smaller size and to cook smaller portions at a time.
- The smaller size increases surface area and that means the heat will be transferred to them faster and cooking smaller portions also aids faster heat transfer.
- You won’t be leaving the stove while cooking. We’re cooking at the highest heat we can get, as fast as we can, so continuous stirring and the speed matters. The food needs to be stirred as fast as you can so that all the ingredients experience the heat.
Vegetables are simply colorful bags of water, and they leak water when cooked.
This will cool down the wok unless you have one of those stand-alone wok burners or the gas-powered alternatives.
When they start leaking fluid, understand that your stir-fry is going to be just the usual, less tasty stir-fry that is nowhere near that Chinese stir-fry.
If you’re trying to cook on an induction stove or an electric wok, forget about it.
They provide much, much lower heat than a stove, leave alone a wok burner. Sure, you can cook stir-fries on it, but for someone who is determined to cook it Chinese style, an induction stove or an electric wok is nothing but useless.
Whether you’re using a burner or the stove, the kitchen needs to be well ventilated when cooking at high temperatures, although the damage caused by the burner might be way bigger than the stove.
Just don’t use a burner inside your home if you don’t have the proper setup – highly ventilated, high walled kitchen, preferably a hood over the stove too. There may be multiple reasons why it is called a burner.
As, I have mentioned the best BTU for wok cooking is between 100k – 150k BTU. If you can set up an outdoor wok station, then cooking delicious stir-fry will not be an issue at all. But if you are thinking of cooking it inside, then do follow the tips I have mentioned and let me know in the comment if it worked for you.