Using woks on gas and other stoves

This cross-post answered a Quora question published on October 21, 2015, with 16.1k views.

“Do professional chefs use gas or electric stoves? Why?”

Professionalism means you have mastered your skills. Cooking in different environments is where you have learned to adapt swiftly, adjusting work flow and speed. During my travels, I have worked and lived on different sides of the globe. You cooked with the utensils you had at hand at the workplace. Any necessity, if not available, remains just that: a luxury to dream about.

We have all come a long way from using an old-fashioned fireplace in our citified lifestyle. Where we embrace our gadgets. But outside the Urban jungle, in remote areas, people still use flints, wood, or coals to cook a meal. Creating dishes with amazing flavours and textures.

The main importance of cooking is focused on using good, fresh (local) ingredients cooked on old-fashioned or modern stoves. Using woks on gas or other stoves, especially flash-cooking food on high power ready to eat. Stir-frying with just boiling water, no matter whether it is household or professional kitchen equipment.

Wok burner

The standard gas stove in Europe (I live in The Netherlands) does not have sufficient range power for wok cooking. Stir-frying is healthier and is now a very popular cooking technique in many households all over the world. International kitchen range brands have offered somewhat bigger burners as a sign of more power as an option. Using woks on gas or other stoves in general for home-cooked family meals will be just fine.

Of all professional equipment, an average standalone wok burner has a capacity of 9,2 kW–15,3 kW. The Chinese wok gas range in restaurants uses either a 3-ring burner or a 24 kW burner. Up to an 18-tip jet burner or a 23-round jet nozzle burner powering up to 86–96 kW. Without a doubt, these are heavy-duty burners that cook fast and furious. A household wok burner lies between a minimum of 4 kW and 5,5 kW.

Image by fxquadro on Freepik

Stir-fry is a Chinese cooking technique that involves cooking food over high heat in a wok

What does that mean? On a standard household stove, stir-frying a vegetable dish takes 5-8 minutes. That is, if all the ingredients are prepared and portioned according to the number of mouths you feed. The same dish on a wok range would take one minute, and that depends on the skill of the cook.

If you are a beginner using these high temperatures, the chance of everything burning to cemetery dust is high. An experienced cook knows the firepower and can bake a paper-thin omelette or pancake sheets in a wok. Depending on the type of pancake skins, the concave wok can be interchanged with a cast iron flat pan.

Stirfrying in a stainless steel wok on industrial burner.
Industrial burner for wok stirfrying.

Gas supply

However, keep in mind that the gas pipe supply for households kitchens is controlled for obvious safety regulations. Buying expensive pieces of equipment without an efficient gas supply will become disillusioning. Your expectations will become a disappointment when you buy a beast without an actual power supply to meet its capacity.

Another aspect is the worldwide discussion on sustainability and environmentally friendly solutions. Choosing between gas or other stoves for a safer and more environmentally friendly upgrade with less CO2 emissions. This has become a part of the conscious decision making process in kitchen makeovers and future housebuilding projects.

Wok table height

The biggest pitfall or oversight with stir-frying technique in Western kitchens is the wok table height, especially with gas. Chinese burners standing on their worktables are built much lower. Enabling cooks to handle the “wok” while stirring and flipping the food from hip level in most kitchens throughout Asia. Watch the many Asian videos or TV documentaries focusing on the magic of the cast-iron wok on high flames.

For safety and aesthetic design reasons, the counter tops in most old or modern kitchens are built too high. The wok will rise above, basically making it difficult to really stir and flip the wok for an entertaining spin. With the risk of taking the stove apart or burning the house down. Unless you opted in your kitchen design to build in a lower table for a wok burner, You are good to go!

Induction wok hob

For the induction option, the height doesn’t matter since you cannot remove the pan without losing heat transfer. The upside is that it instantly heats up to a very high temperature, making it perfect for quickly searing ingredients. The downside here is the size of the fixed wok diameter and therefore the width and type of material. As the electromagnetism that heats an induction stovetop requires a magnetic material. Pots and pans that are induction-compatible are stainless steel, cast iron, and carbon steel. The wok size constrains family-size portions, which is perfect for daily cooking.

Wok skills

Older Chinese homes and remote areas still use firewood stoves (with or without chimneys for air flow control). With either two stoves or using interchangeably a flatter or deeper concave wok. Stir-frying involves fire power (wok hei), wok size, and type of material (cast iron or stainless steel). The use of utensils such as the shovel, ladle, spider skimmer, and sieve all together. In the country, your cooking skills, such as controlling a firewood wok stove, are a life skill. Long before it became fashionable, city dwellers would perish before anything edible reached the table.

Flipping the food up while stir-frying around in the wok allows it to mix quickly and evenly with ease for small and larger portions. Let’s not forget the entertainment value of wok skills, by controlling the fire with flames all around, combined with your wrist technique in short pulls while tumbling the wok.

By stir-frying with only a small amount of oil, the fat content is low, and the tender-crisp vegetables retain far more nutrients than when boiled.

New induction hob design

The newest design in cooking technology is known as the double induction wok hob. Combining both a flat surface for pans (fantastic at low temperatures, it works as a slow cooker) and a concave side for a wok. If I were to ever remodel or plan a new kitchen to replace my present stove, I sure would consider this type of convenience hob model.

Using woks on gas or other stoves

If you choose a gas range, please do not choose those types with a so-called wok burner in the middle. A poorly thought-out design; with the wok in the middle, you can’t use the other burners. Check the wok burner capacity if it only has 4 kW power. Restrain from using a large wok to cook up a noodle feast. It takes double the time, and it burns at the bottom in a thick crust if you are not fast enough.

I’ve been cooking on an induction stove for Oriental and Western cuisines without a problem for 2 people up to a houseful without a hitch. The high-powered wok burners are in a normal household out of reach; the induction stove delivers instant great heat and easily controls a consistent temperature for simmering dishes like stews. A gas stove gives a fire spectacle, you don’t have with induction.

Basically, you can cook any meal using woks on gas or other stoves, but you need to learn how to use your equipment as an extension of your arms and how to control the firepower. Let’s face it, if you can’t control temperature changes, making them bigger, better, or quicker is just a whimsical thought.

Update, October 23, 2015, original post link: Do professional chefs use gas or electric stoves?

An entertaining example among TV personality chefs is Jock Zonfrillo, who starred in the Chef Gone Wild documentary. Instead of travelling with a mobile kitchen, he only takes his knife roll into his backpack. Visiting other communities in remote places, where he observes and learns from indigenous people and locals about their native cuisines.

Not being squeamish to discover new flavours and different techniques, prepared in the bush or jungles, simply cooked above a firewood. Once back in his own kitchen, he’s seen using induction stoves to pay his tribute by reinterpreting and producing these influences of their culinary culture.