Wok Hei techniques

Interesting article on Serious Eats this week on trying to replicate wok hei with a torch:

This was really well written talking about the possibilities and limitations of recreating wok hei with a torch including ingredients that take to the technique better, vessels to cook with, type of burners tried, etc.

If this is the same guy it appears he’s an alum of both America’s Test Kitchen and the French Culinary Institute where he must’ve run into Dave Arnold, host of Cooking Issues and developer of the Searzall.

This is probably a little inside baseball but I’d be interested to hear thoughts about possible torch taste as Dave Arnold wrote about here:

This is way, way out on a limb but since Arnold’s conclusions (generally) seemed to be that torch taste is a feature of extremely high heat rather than the chemicals that make up torch fuel I would lean towards the idea that “torch hei” wouldn’t have torch taste since high heat combustion is the whole point…?

Either way, looking forward to more article from this Mr. Chin.

I want to know what his dad thought.

Same…as his…mom…?

What’s the question?

Interesting. As I was stir frying/searing vegetables in my cast iron last night I was contemplating the term wok hei (breath of the wok) that most here understand but is still a mystery to me.

He said:

for some people like my dad (who grew up in China), when it comes to stir-fries, “If it doesn’t have wok hei, it isn’t Chinese food.”

But he didn’t say whether his dad thought the blowtorched food was Chinese.

Oh, copy that! Yeah, good question

I threw away my wok after years of frustration. Home stoves get about 1/4 as hot as a wok needs. I use a big cast iron to do high temp cookery instead, though obviously an imprerfect sub.

Make sure to bake the fuck out of the wok you buy with industrial oil on it. Use a bbq on full flames

*oh , this is about a torch method? ignore me as i’m ignoring that method :stuck_out_tongue:

Yeah, Chin also acknowledges Kenji’s previous suggestion of using a grill (or even a chimney starter, which is frankly terrifying) but it’s a pretty hard sell starting up a bunch of coals for one stir fry recipe.

I have been tempted to try the WokMon also mentioned but it’s about 50th on my list of kitchen items I want but can’t really justify.

We do have a seafood boiler I’ve thought about employing but since we bought it used I’m not sure of the BTU output and some boilers go an order of magnitude or more even beyond a restaurant wok burner so that’s on yet another list of things that I’d like to try when I’m feeling reckless.

I was referring to the treatment a real wok bought from a Chinese restaurant supply shop requires. It’s not sufficient to just wash it as it has industrial oil on it that won’t come off. The smell of cooking it off in the house us awful. I tried several times and wouldn’t go away. Only cooking the thing on full blast in a green egg did the trick. You really have to burn that stuff off then season.

Wouldn’t that smell/taste be absorbed into the ceramic on the Egg?

Not sure. Mine was already pretty baked in

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i applaud the length Tim goes to in this article and his thoroughness on how to achieve wok hei.

For me, the best investment and my favorite kitchen tool (and i have all the kitchen tools imaginable) is a $75 propane wok burner that you can find in chinatown or many of the SGV markets in their cookware section. In California, there’s no reason why anyone can’t have one of these and cook outdoors year round. I use my 16" carbon steel wok with the burner for everything. It’s a rip roaring dragon at full blast but fully adjustable.

I would agree that if my stir fries don’t have wok hei, then i’ve failed. but it’s something super easy to achieve with the above set up and as long as i have my mis en place all set up.


what does your setup for this look like? we’re gonna build a deck and i wanted to put in an area for a wok station.

i’ll send you a picture, but in essence, you want the right ergonomics to toss the food and work the wok…i find it easier on my arms and wrist to have it lower than your standard cooktop. the bottom of these burners get warm but not super hot so wood is fine, but i have it on concrete countertop that I lined with big sheet of stainless steel for easier cleaning.

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yes, please send me pictures, thanks so much!

You might also want to send in a question to Cooking Issues. He’s a bit of a maniac (in a good way) and will answer your question with about 10,000 words and five digressions but he has a lot of thoughts and experience with indoor and outdoor cooking stations.

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My propane is underneath along with supplies

See how it’s lower and easier for me to flip and shake the wok—I’m about 5’8

About 75% power, it concentrates heat in center right where you want it to be in a wok, not at the periphery. This style of burner can be found in the dtla Chinatown swap meet on the bottom level where all the cooking stores are. Hawaii market in sgv has these as well.


That patina is beautiful. I think I can see the future in it

Thanks…due to lots of frying…just fried batch of rice paper egg rolls :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:


thanks a lot, i never even thought about the height, which makes total sense!

thank you very much for this!