Here’s the situation: you want to make a stir-fry dinner, but you don’t have a wok. Does this mean you have to order takeout? No way! It’s easy to learn how to make stir-fry without a wok.
Kung Pao chicken and stir-fry vegetables via Craftsy instructor Grace Young
Now, don’t get us wrong, a wok is a valuable cooking tool.
Its unique shape, with high, vaulted walls makes it ideal for flipping ingredients frequently, so they can all be cooked at high temperatures while moving constantly in the pan. That is to say: it is tailor-made for creating a perfect stir-fry dish.
However, a wok is also a fairly large piece of kitchen equipment. Perhaps you live in a city where you have a teeny-tiny kitchen and you simply don’t have the space. Or maybe you like stir-fry, but you don’t make it incredibly often.
Whatever the reason a wok isn’t present in your kitchen, rest assured that it is possible to make stir-fry without one. Here, we’ll explain how to do it right.
Illustrations via CakeSpy
Stir-fry without a wok: what pan to use
Before you stir-fry without wok, it’s good to understand the advantages of working with a wok; this can help you troubleshoot possible issues when you work without one.
The high walls of a wok make it possible to toss and stir ingredients without them falling out of the pan and making a mess. It also makes it possible for ingredients to get exposure to the high heat on the bottom of the pan evenly as they are tossed.
So when working without a wok, you have to be sure that you have enough room for ingredients to move, and to have exposure to heat. An ideal tool for this is a large (12-inch or so) skillet or frying pan with slanted sides.
Stir-fry without a wok: how to do it
This simple tutorial is open-ended so it can be used with a variety of different stir-fry recipes.
- Large skillet with slanted sides
- Your favorite stir-fry recipe
Prep your ingredients. Make sure that you have your mise en place: this includes having your ingredients cut to a uniform size, stirring utensils, sauces and oils at the ready, etc.
Evaluate your ingredients and the pan. You want to be able to fit your ingredients in the pan without crowding: you want every ingredient to have space, and to be exposed to the hottest part of the pan. If all of your ingredients form a huge mound in the pan, you have a few choices. You can decide to halve your recipe, and reserve the cut veggies for next time, or you can prepare your recipe in two batches, either one after the other or concurrently if you have two pans.
Begin to follow your recipe, but keep these things in mind as you work:
Make sure the liquid level is never so high that it will slosh when you stir the ingredients. This may mean altering the amount of liquid, or adding it more gradually, than you would with a typical wok recipe.
The high walls of a wok help reduce spatter on your stovetop. To avoid spatter when working without a wok, briefly reduce the heat on the burner before adding a sauce. Pour the sauce down the side of the pan, and then raise the heat again. This may not prevent spatter entirely, but it will highly reduce the likelihood of a big mess.
Mix in a big dish:
If your stir-fry features noodles or rice, they can crowd the pan very quickly. Personally, when making stir-fry without a wok, I like to cook the noodles separately and then combine with the cooked stir-fry ingredients in a big, heatproof dish.