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What Is Wok Hei?

Wok hei is the smoky taste food gets when stir fried over high heat. It is a fine line between burning the food and achieving wok hei but with a little practice and time wok hei can be achieved at home. Simply go to a place that does wok cooking in front of you (noodle joint, Wok Box, Thai Express, etc) and study what is happening in front of you.  The commonality between all of them is high heat and seasoned woks and wok hei...

You need high heat and a carbon wok - a non-stick wok will not deliver wok hei.  A carbon wok when used over time will develop a patina that becomes the non stick surface you require to create wok hei. As well, the hot wok - cold oil, food won't stick mantra is good for stir frying but not for achieving wok hei.

The oil has to be at the smoking point before you add the food to cook. Hot wok, add the oil and stir until the oil smokes then quickly add the meat, noodles, vegetable, etc and toss as they cook. Now the smoking oil is where you can fall of the rails and by that I mean if the oil goes from the smoking (grey smoke) point to the black smoke where it leaves a residue of burnt smudge on the counter, is bad, in fact at that point it is nearly to the burning flash point and that is very, very bad. If the wok is hot and the heat is high enough the oil will smoke in a couple seconds.

Also you need to use an adequate amount of oil when using high heat, enough that when the food is placed into the wok the oil is deep enough to coat all of the food touching the wok bottom to sear it and seal it as well, and it is the searing that will allow the food not to stick.

High heat + hot oil + enough oil+ good seasoned wok + practice = wok hei. Once you have it, you will never let it go.

I have done stir fry wok cooking for 30 years now. During those years I used a coil ring electric stove for the majority of the years, then for 5 years or so I had the misfortune to own a flat top ceramic stove which incidentally I hated with a passion, finally, I bought a Samsung induction range, I hit the jackpot with this latest range without a doubt. It does everything I want and then some and I am a very happy camper as a result.

However while no fault of the cook-top, I was less than ecstatic about the performance of the induction elements (hobs) for stir-frying large amounts of food. It does a fantastic job when stirfrying for 2, but I generally wok for more than that, many more sometimes, so my quest for a dream wok stove continued. Imagine my delight when, while surfing the Internet, I stumbled across a website called Outdoor Stirfry and hit paydirt!

I looked around the website and finally decided on the wok stove of my dreams, a 13” jobby that ranges from a low of 30,000 Btu’s to a high of 160,000 Btu’s! Yup 160,000 Btu’s!!!! Fuelled by propane, portable and able to handle a huge honking wok if one desires, and I desire. So I ordered one and waited for it to be delivered. I did not tell my wife, you know her, She Who Must Be Obeyed, about my joyful discovery and soon to be delivered cast steel appliance.

Then one day about 10 days after I ordered it a note was left by Canada Post that there was a parcel waiting to be picked up at the Post Office, and being the dutiful wife that she is, or perhaps she was just curious about what it was I had purchased now, she picked it up and brought it home. Not content to act as just a courier, she opened the package and discovered a big steel thingy, with Chinese writing on it and that was about as far as she decided to investigate. She set it aside and waited for me to come home... And explain...

As luck would have it, I too went to the Post office not knowing she had picked it up and when the clerk told me it had already been picked up I said there must be some mistake, as I had the note they left in my mailbox in my hand. With some alarm being expressed on the clerks face she looked up who had picked up my parcel then she asked me if I know She Who Must Be Obeyed at the address I too call home, I told her that yes in fact she is my wife and all is okay, knew I had some 'splainin to do now, so I raced home to see my new prize possession and as I drove I tried to concoct both a story and a reason why I needed such a thingy in my arsenal of cooking wares.

When I got home I was met by my wife and by the look on her face I could tell she was thinking I was an imbecile, I have seen that look before. So as I looked into the box and then emptied the contents across the garage floor I was asked a series of questions:


“What will you do with it?”

“How much did it cost?”

“Are you kidding me?”

Those questions were just a few of the intense interrogation questions I faced and throughout the inquisition I held my ground, convinced that what I had purchased was indeed a “very good thing”. She was less than convinced. I on the other hand was joyful beyond giddy, nearly floating I was so high. She decided to keep me grounded. It almost made me... Well almost! Okay, it did play to my prurient interest as I ogled it, spread out on the floor, but I did not debase myself, I was restrained...

So to convince her that my purchase was the right thing to do and not my usual foray into money not well spent, I searched my notes for suitable recipes to prepare on the new wok stove, to convince her I am not not some run of the mill stupid bastard and then set to cooking, but I had to assemble the wok stove before I set to cooking and it was easy-peasy even for me.

Gentlemen! Start yer woks!!!!

I made Pad Sew or “Pad Se Ew”, a great killer Pad Thai – twice. Delectable Chicken with Black Pepper Sauce, a couple of beef and greens that were, to put it mildly, awe inspiring, and then I made a simple but utterly fantastic Beef Chow Fun. I nearly wept when I tasted it, She Who Must Be Obeyed enjoyed the hell out of it also, as did the kids.

Suffice it to say that I am not Stupid Bastard, nay, nay, I am Lazy Bastard, great cook and romantic troglodyte, Proprietor of Snowy Palms Resort and She Who Must Be Obeyed is one happy woman...

160,000 Btu's!!!!!! Ya baby. Who's yo daddy now?!

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