Stir-frying may seem simple—just heat up a wok, toss in your ingredients, stir until cooked, and serve. But looks can be deceiving, and your average homemade stir-fry will rarely have that characteristic smoky, complex flavor you'll get at a good Chinese restaurant. It's called wok hei—literally, breath of the wok—and you can only get it from extreme heat: A wok needs to be over a big hot fire in order to impart that signature singed flavor and cook your vegetables without letting them steam in their own moisture. Those veggies should be crisp and fresh-tasting, not soggy and drab.
Here's the problem: American stovetops just don't provide that kind of heat. Scratch that, even most restaurant stovetops aren't hot enough. Not for a wok, at least—woks are thin vessels that store relatively little heat compared the heavy pans most Western chefs are accustomed to working with. And that lightweight structure works to the stir fry's advantage, allowing early additions like chicken or steak to rest at the cooler edges as later ingredients like vegetables and aromatics hit the blasting heat coming from the base.
All in all, it's a system that's tough to replicate at home. Tough, but not impossible. One option is to cook in batches, mitigating the amount of heat that's lost each time a new ingredient is tossed into the pan. But if you have an outdoor space, there's no better friend to the Western wok than a coal-fried grill. Fire up a full chimney of coals and pile them right into the center of the grill. You'll wind up with lames licking at the wok, for powerful heat from below, moderate heat on the sides, and plenty of airflow up and around the edges. Read the full post for our favorite hacks and tips, plus some great stir-frying basics.
But that's not all! Picking out your set-up is just the beginning. From a meaty, buttery stir-fried beef with snap peas and oyster sauce to a noodle-rich (totally vegan) stir-fried lo mein with charred cabbage, shiitake, and chives, we've got recipes to keep you flush in stir-fries for weeks to come. See the full list below!
- Stir-Fried Beef With Snap Peas and Oyster Sauce
- Mongolian Stir-Fried Lamb With Cumin
- Stir-Fried Sliced Pork With Yellow Chives
- Stir-Fried Lo Mein With Charred Cabbage, Shiitake, and Chives
- Takeout-Style Kung Pao Chicken (Diced Chicken With Peppers and Peanuts)
- Stir-Fried Velvet Chicken With Snap Peas and Lemon-Ginger Sauce
- Cantonese-Style Lobster With Ginger and Scallions