Wok Hei and the usage of a wok in home kitchens

I’ve been following the debate on this forum in another thread about wok cooking and how wok hei (Cantonese expression meaning the ‘breath of the wok’) is a must to really get the most out of using a wok for for instance stir fry dishes.

First I would like to show a video where you see AND hear a wok in action at an Asian top restaurant and you really hear what ‘wok hei’ sounds like and why it’s close to impossible to obtain wok hei in regular home kitchens - western home kitchens as well as Asian home kitchens a like.

To get a flame like what you see in the video will not be possible in 99% of all home kitchens. You either need to go outside or have a professional setting in your home kitchen to obtain anything close to wok hei.

But is wok hei really necessary to get the most out of a wok used at home on your non professional stovetop ?

I’m not so sure. I honestly use my two woks because of their design much more than to be dreaming of getting my stir fry to taste like wok hei made stir fry, since that’s not possible on my gas stovetop at home.

I find my woks are the most versatile pans in my kitchen - and I’m a cookware geek with more than 50+ pots & pans in my collection.

I can boil pasta and noodles in my woks, so I’ll save washing up an extra pan. Is a wok ideal for this ? No, but it works just fine.

I can sear meat in my woks, not ideal for larger pieces of steak like a ribeye of course, but you get the point.

I can deep fry in my woks - though I don’t, since I’m not a deep fry fan, but my wife does it often. Is the wok ideal for deep fry ? No, but it works just fine*****

*****As ChemicalKinetics points out, a wok is in fact ideal for deep frying of smaller portions and for shallow deep frying.

I can jump sauté and toss vegetables in my woks like in no other pan I own. The wok is king for jump sautéing.

In fact I make most of my one-pot dishes like rice dishes, vegetable dishes, pasta dishes and noodle dishes in my woks and prefer them slightly over my Sauciers and sauter pans for these one-pot dishes.

But again, I don’t use a wok in hope of obtaining wok hei stir fry dishes to magically appear out of the blue on my gas stovetop at home.

I still feel my home made stir fry is on par with most stir fry dishes I can get in local Chinese and Thai restaurants in my hometown - Copenhagen in Denmark - whether these restaurants obtain wok hei or not.

Being able to pick your own favourite ingredients for you own home made stir fry in many cases can make up for a restaurant wok hei made stir fry, where you got to accept the ingredients the restaurant uses.
At home you’re the BOSS of your own dish and you decide exactly what type of spices and ingredients you want to include in your home made stir fry.
People often overlook this great advantage you have in your home kitchen.

I spoke to two of my friends about wok cooking and home kitchens the other day. One is a Thai and has lived in Denmark for 21 years. He’s a fully trained danish chef. The other is also a fully trained danish chef, but comes originally from Vietnam.

Both agreed that technically it would be better to use a frying pan or a big saucier than an actual wok for home cooking since home stovetop are better suited for cookware with flatter bottoms, if you look for anything close to wok hei in a home kitchen environment (unless you have a big BTU flame and a wok ring at home)

So in fact if I wanted a home style wok hei’ish stir fry, I really should fire up my thickest Darto carbon steel frying pan or my Demeyere Proline frying pan and heat the living crap out of it and stir fry my ingredients in that instead of using a flat or round bottom wok since the flatter frying pan have a larger surface that will high heat sauté the ingredients better and faster.

I still DO think my Demeyere Apollo 32 cm 7-PLY flat bottom wok does such an amazing job, that I’ll continue using it at home for my wok dishes, pasta dishes and what not.

So how about you ?
Do you use a wok in your home kitchen and what do you feel are the ups and downs to wok cooking in a home kitchen environment ?


Actually, a wok can be very good at deep frying – depending our definition. If it is to deep fry a lot of food then it is not. However, if someone wants to deep fry a small amount of food, then the round concave bottom of a wok only requires a small amount of oil to form a pool of oil.

Cook’s Illustrated has mentioned this


Before entering into the discussion in home wok cooking can be achieved, here’s an article to understand what is wok hei.

Wok hei can only be achieved under conditions of intense heat, at levels that are difficult to achieve without a commercial cooking range. The wok should always be heated until it just begins to smoke before adding cold oil. Never heat up the oil together with the wok or the food will stick and begin to char.

The science behind it
The basis of wok hei is the smoky flavour resulting from caramelisation of sugars, maillard reactions, and smoking of oil — all at temperatures well in excess of traditional western cooking techniques. When individual food pieces or grains of rice are tossed about in this inferno, the searing heat blasts away excess moisture, drying out the surface of the food for maximum caramelisation. The patina of a seasoned wok is made up of polymerised fats, which impart even more charred wok hei aroma during the cooking process



I think that is more a reflection of the low quality of Chinese food in many parts of Europe. Growing up in Germany I thought I visited some good Chinese restaurants but now living for the last 20+ years in the US (but still visiting regularly Europe) I have realized that the level of quality in areas with high Chinese population in the US is so much higher than in Europe that I wonder if you don’t realize how much certain “techniques”/“characteristics” like wok hei play an important role because you had never/hardly Chinese food on that quality level.


I agree.
I think what you refer to is called ‘shallow deep frying’

I’ll edit my original post.


Here’s a video to show usage of wok at its best. Cooking eggs and stir fry noodles.


The average Chinese restaurant in Europe definitely used to be pretty mediocre and non-authentic. These days you can absolutely get great Chinese in Europe - also in Copenhagen.

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Yes, and also the fact that the amount of oil need to form a depth is less for a triangle than a square. Of course, a wok is not a triangle, but you understand what I mean.

You can look at it two ways:

  1. It usually requires less oil to form a depth in a wok than in a pot.
  2. Once a depth is formed, a pot often can deep fry more food than a wok.
    Thus if you only want to deep fry small amount of food, then a wok is very good at conserving oil.

Well I’ve been to Thailand and eaten stir fry dishes from top restaurants as well as street food shops.

I’ve eaten stir fry at the only Thai Michelin star restaurant in Scandinavia on 3 occasions.

We have a very well respected Chinese restaurant in the centre of Copenhagen where I hardly see other people than Chinese and that’s a sign of a great Chinese restaurant in my book.

Perhaps my tastebuds are immune to this particular wok hei way of high heat sautéing ingredients.

Perhaps amateur home cooks are not willing or capable of turning their own home made stir fry into something on the level of wok hei stir fried dishes, using proper ingredients and spices in their favour and accepting they’ll never obtain true wok hei stir fry at home, but still being capable of making fantastically tasting stir fry.

I’ve heard the same story with pizzas. Pizzas need to be made in high heat specialty pizza ovens. At least napolitan pizza.
I’ve eaten pizzas all over the world and in top pizza restaurants and cheap restaurants - one of the best pizzas I’ve ever tasted was made by me, myself and I in my own oven.

Call me full of myself or whatever, but amateur home cooks in general have very little confidence in themselves and you don’t turn out great tasting food at home or in a restaurant, when you don’t have faith in your own cooking skills and cooking technique.

So there you go.

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You can cook with wok hei at home. But I don’t think even professional chef will bother with that at home. Because you need a stove with big flame. The cooking itself will create a lot of oily smoke, means a lot of cleaning up, and smelly home, or you need to invest in a powerful hood. Also, wok is normaly associated with more oily food, so considered by some, not particularly healthy.


I think Michelin places, they cook with wok hei and everything thing, just like in Asia, but more the smaller places that are considered good in Europe, I think many are rather mediocre in Asian standard, but considered great in European eyes. Hard to find good authentic Chinese in Paris, I have to admit.


This thread should come with a Miranda warning.

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you!” :upside_down_face:

Let me call my lawyer first before I jump in… :rofl:


That has little to do with confidence but there are certain techniques that can’t be replicated in home kitchen because certain tools are not available (or very rarely) and so it is physically impossible to recreate certain dishes - can you create good Chinese/Asian food in a home kitchen - yes. Can you create wok hei in a regular home kitchen - no. Does food from a good restaurant kitchen which knows how to “create” wok hei tastes different/better than something similar cooked in a home kitchen - yes
Similar with pizza - can you create good pizza at home in a regular oven - of course, many people are doing it and there are many pizza styles which can be easily recreated in a home kitchen (many good chapters about it in Modernist Pizza). Can you make a good Napolitanean pizza in a home oven - no, because, similar to the wok hei, you are missing key tools which make it physically impossible in a home oven which doesn’t heat to 900F. So overall it boils down if you want to replicate exact techniques (which is sometimes not possible in the home kitchen) or do you want to create a good tasting dish which has some other characteristics (which is always possible)


2 posts were split to a new topic: Modernist Pizza / Bread, your opinion

Wok hei is not possible at home, the charred taste you get is unique.

I simply just do not think wok hei in stir fry dishes is obligatory for a stir fry dish to be fantastic.

Wok hei gives you this unique smell and scent in the stir fry, but for me stir fry dishes made in a wok without this unique charred scent can be as good or even better depending on the ingredients and spices used in the stir fry dish.

Also if people in general find food prepared in a wok oily and unhealthy, they really don’t know how to cook in a wok as wok food to me is some of the most healthy food on the planet.

So I totally disagree about wok food being overly oily.

You determine yourself how oily wok food should be, unless you’re eating out in a restaurant, which exactly underlines my point about home made wok food being as great or even better tasting than restaurant made wok food.

Imho it’s not so much a US versus Europe thing, but more as you say yourself, where a lot of Chinese people are that you will find great food there.

I live in a medium large European city with a lot of Chinese people and the food here is pretty good (or used to be before covid). And my benchmark is Hong Kong.


Personally, I can’t use a wok with my induction top. I have a cast iron wok with flat bottom, but it heats up too slowly. I don’t feel it resemble wok cooking at all.

To cheat, I use a large paella pan, so I have enough surface to stir and move the food, with high heat to mimic the stir fried. So far, the stir rice I made was partially crispy, good enough for me.


Both you and naf are right though.

If you want, you can get wok hei at home. Just put in a big azz stove. But most people won’t bother because you make a mess of everything - aluminum foil everywhere notwithstanding :star_struck:. Plus in places like SE Asia and Hong Kong you can just walk down the street and get great food for cheap. Why bother making it at home?

Then again, at home everyone can do as he pleases. If you like the way your stir fries are, then nothing else matters.


And for the record, Cantonese food is so much more than stir frying and wok hei.

For any typical full blown Cantonese meal I will have in a restaurant, my guess is that only 20-30% of the dishes will be cooked in a wok where wok hei is needed.

Well, a side note, my husband is getting crazy with making professional pizza, he is investing and testing with professional ovens. THAT makes a difference, even with inferior commercial dough, the result is impression. So the answer to the question of wok or pizza is, HIGH HEAT.