How to Set Up a Wok Cooking Station

When it comes to working with a wok, you can't get away with being unprepared.

Overhead view of a wok station

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Few cooking methods require such total and complete preparation as stir-frying. Cooking ingredients quickly in a wok over high heat is a fast-paced process that leaves little time to mince a clove of garlic or measure the soy sauce and Shaoxing wine on the fly. We generally recommend a properly "mised" (to borrow the French term) cooking station for most cooking tasks, but that's even more true when when working with a wok.

A wok-cooking station will look different at home than it will at a restaurant, though there will be some key similarities. Watch a chef working a commercial wok range, and you'll probably see the following: all the dish-specific ingredients in individual receptacles sliced, diced, minced, and cut; all the liquid ingredients lined up in bottles and containers, ready for deployment; a large basin of fresh oil for seasoning the wok and for cooking; a second basin with a strainer set over it to catch used oil and hold it for subsequent use; lots of water, for washing the wok and adding to the food; and all-purpose dry ingredients like salt and MSG.

Side angle view of tools and mise en place of a wok station set up

Serious Eats /Vicky Wasik

Your home setup will mirror that, just simplified and, in some cases, more fully prepped. Since you'll likely be cooking not much more than one or two dishes per meal, you won't need a near-endless supply of oil and water, nor will you need a long row of various liquids in bottles. "At home, I try to keep it more streamlined," says Serious Eats contributor chef Lucas Sin. "My advice is to build the sauce on the side and have it ready to go."

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Sin walked me through how you should set up your wok-cooking station at home:

All Solid Ingredients Ready to Rock

Whatever you're cooking, you'll want to get it ready for the dish before the cooking starts. That means fully prepping aromatics like garlic, ginger, and scallions; portioning and marinating meats; par-cooking proteins and vegetables as needed; and cutting vegetables. You'll want to put all of those ingredients in dishes and bowls to keep them organized and in one place; it can even help to arrange them in the sequence in which the recipe calls for them so that it's easier to find the next one as you rapidly toss things into the wok.

Sauce Ingredients, Ideally Pre-Measured and -Mixed

While restaurant cooks will often whip up sauces in the moment, you can make your life easier by pre-blending sauce ingredients so they can all go in the wok together (assuming, of course, they're all added at the same time in the recipe).

Oil

A supply of fresh, neutral oil, like peanut or vegetable oil, is essential for almost any dish. Squeeze bottles make dispensing the oil easy and controllable, which, as Sin points out, is especially helpful for coating the entire inner surface of the wok without accidentally dumping too much in or having to swirl more than necessary.

Water

While you're not likely to need deep wells of fresh, cold water, you'll want some water close by. Water can be used to quickly lower the heat of the wok and prevent ingredients from burning, and it's also essential for making some sauces, whether mixed with starch into a slurry to act as a thickener or to thin overly thickened sauces to get the perfect viscosity. While restaurant cooks will often do a lot of that on the fly, you might as well measure out any quantities of water specifically called for in a recipe to save time, and premix starchy slurries so they're ready when time to thicken your sauces comes around. It's also a good idea to have a small supply of water beyond what a recipe explicitly calls on hand.

Dry Ingredients for Seasoning and Thickening

Small dishes of salt, sugar, MSG, and corn or potato starch will be of help as you cook, allowing you to adjust seasoning, balance flavors, or tweak sauce consistency without having to dig into your pantry mid-cook. Sin recommends small lidded containers for this, if you have them, as they can be stored more easily between uses while keeping dust and foreign matter out.

All Required Utensils

You don't want to go rooting through your utensils drawer in search of cooking chopsticks or a spider while your shrimp overcook in hot oil. At the very least have whichever utensils the recipe requires set out on a tray or dish, though it never hurts to have the basics at your fingertips regardless of the recipe, just in case you decide you need something not mentioned in the recipe. The most useful: cooking chopsticks, a wok spatula, a wok ladle, a strainer or spider, a lid (the lid isn't just to trap steam, it's a useful piece of safety gear in case you ever have a grease fire in your wok—carefully pop it on to smother the flames).

Landing Pads, Landing Pads, Landing Pads

Stir-fries and other wok dishes often have multiple steps packed into them. Perhaps you first have to pass-through some velveted chicken in water before setting it aside to stir-fry the aromatics and vegetables, after which you'll add the chicken back to finish up. Or maybe you're making Sichuan-style toothpick lamb, which requires frying the lamb first, then finishing it with dry spices in a wok. Each of those situations will require "landing pads" for the recipe components as you work your way through the process: a place to set the par-cooked meat, a heat-proof container into which to pour out hot oil through a strainer, a tray upon which to set used utensils, and serving plates for the finished dish.