Correction appended.

Stir-fry is a cooking technique that is a mystery to most. The act of frying is common, but what makes it a stir-fry? The simple answer is heat. Stir-fry is cooked at a much higher temperature than most stoves can handle. That is the reason why it's difficult to get the taste right at home. Furthermore, Western stoves are designed to handle a flat-bottom pan, which mostly eliminates the need for a traditional wok altogether. 

The pan

When starting stir-frying, common sense dictates the first thing you should purchase is a wok. That’s what they use at Chinese restaurants, right? Chinese restaurants, however, have the equipment necessary to use a wok. That is primarily a round-bottom stove and a high BTU 3-ring or jet-burner that can heat a wok to 750 degrees and above on all sides. A typical kitchen stove has a flat surface that will only heat the bottom of a wok to 350-500 degrees.

So, the best approach is to ditch the wok and use a thick stainless steel or cast iron frying pan. A frying pan will heat up more evenly on a stove and thus transfer heat better than a wok.

The oil

Use vegetable oil. Vegetable oil has one of the highest smoke-points possible and can handle the heat of stir-frying. Canola oil can be used, but it has a higher chance of smoking.

Basics of heating the pan

When stir-frying, place the frying pan on the stove cold and turn your burner up to the highest setting possible. You don’t want to heat the pan up with oil inside, because the oil will smoke. Wait until the pan is either smoking or you can feel intense heat radiating an inch off the surface of the pan.

2 Protein cooking methods

Method 1: Limited Oil (Preferred)

With this method, you simply coat the surface of the pan with enough oil to cover it. When adding the protein, move it around constantly so that it fries on all sides until evenly browned. This makes the protein a little dryer than the deep-fry method, but it is less messy.

Method 2: Deep Fry

For this method, you fill the pan with an inch of oil before putting the protein in. You fry the protein in the oil for one to two minutes before taking it out and draining it in paper towels. You drain the excess oil into a heat-proof container and store for reuse. When done this way, the meat is cooked perfectly, but it’s messier, and moving hot oil between containers is dangerous without the right cooking station.


If you can, the best method is to toss the stir-fry by picking up the pan and flipping the contents through the movement of the pan. If you can’t, take a spatula and push the contents to the edge of the pan with the back of the spatula. Then, turn the spatula and push it underneath the contents you moved to the edge of the pan. Lift up the contents and flip them. Do this continuously in all steps of a stir-fry.


Basic Moo Goo Gai Pan (Chicken and Vegetables):

1-2 chicken breast cut into thin strips

1 clove of grated garlic

1 sliced onion

½ a head of bok choy cut into strips

1 julienned carrot

1 can of water chestnuts (drained)

1 can of baby corn (drained)

1 cube of chicken bouillon (crumbled)

1 - 2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 ½ cups water (more for a thinner, lighter sauce; less for a thicker, more flavorful sauce)

1 teaspoon of sugar (optional)

1 heaping teaspoon of cornstarch dissolved in water (add more cornstarch for thickness)

Salt to taste (with the soy sauce and bouillon it shouldn’t be necessary)

Any vegetables you think are good (This is a good meal for leftover vegetables, even tomatoes)

How to cook

Use the limited oil method to cook the protein. Once done, take the protein out and set it aside before adding the vegetables to the pan. Stir them until they are just cooked. Watch for the onion to be translucent. At this point, add the protein, soy sauce, salt, water, sugar and bouillon to the pan and bring the mixture to a boil. After it boils for about two minutes, add the dissolved cornstarch and wait for it to thicken. Serve with white rice.

Western Stir Fry

Not every stir-fry has to be Asian-inspired. It can be argued that fajitas are a stir-fry, after all.

½ lb. to 1 lb. of pork loin cut into strips

1 sliced onion

1 diced green pepper

1 beefsteak tomato cut into wedges

½ a head of green cabbage cut into strips

1 grated garlic clove

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the protein with the preferred oil method. Add in vegetables and cook to desired doneness. Serve with white rice. 


Correction appended: A previous version of this article contained the incorrect spelling of a recipe. The artticle has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.