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Wok Cooking Over a Chimney Starter?


TheTInCook
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In Grace Youngs book "Breath of a Wok" there are a least a few photos of someone wok cooking over a pail filled with charcoal; I believe this is a typical "street" style of cooking.

Cheers...

Todd in Chicago

P.S. Personally, I'd go for the "Big Kahuna" (look on Amazon) or something similar.

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while not having done it over the chimney, I have done it on charcoal and it's way better than a stove. The chimney approach seems sensible, if prodigal with the coals.

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Right on top of lump charcoal is how i stir fry.. I just get the charcoal going almost white hot using a hairdryer , then nestle the wok down into the bed of coals. I remember Martin Yan had a show where he went to china and toured around. He showed people using woks over beds of coals from a fire , and talked about how the designed of a wok is actually meant for that kind of cooking. small contact area at the bottom is hotter than the sides that curve up out of contact from the coals.

"Why is the rum always gone?"

Captain Jack Sparrow

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Right on top of lump charcoal is how i stir fry.. I just get the charcoal going almost white hot using a hairdryer , then nestle the wok down into the bed of coals. I remember Martin Yan had a show where he went to china and toured around. He showed people using woks over beds of coals from a fire , and talked about how the designed of a wok is actually meant for that kind of cooking. small contact area at the bottom is hotter than the sides that curve up out of contact from the coals.

i'm trying to understand this--if the wok is nestled into the coals, aren't the coals in contact with the sides as well as the bottom? not seeing how this makes for a hotter bottom than sides? please help me understand, as i'm interested in trying this over the weekend. tia.

"Laughter is brightest where food is best."

www.chezcherie.com

Author of The I Love Trader Joe's Cookbook ,The I Love Trader Joe's Party Cookbook and The I Love Trader Joe's Around the World Cookbook

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I've done the wok in coals. My coals where very hot and plentiful, which made my wok ridiculously hot. Hot enough to burn the seasoning off the bottom of my cast iron wok.

When you do this, keep in mind that you will have to work extremely fast, likely faster than you've ever cooked before unless you've cooked over a 100000+ BTU wok burner or something similar before. I cooked three dishes in about as many minutes, and I felt like I was always behind! I would put in the oil, then the aromatics, stir once (no time for more than that), then the meat, stir until nicely brown, then the sauce, stir to toss, and you're done. More stirring and time than that and you will burn the aromatics. Think of your active time in increments of 15 or 30 seconds, not minutes, and you'll be in the right frame of mind.

The results were great--definitely the best I've ever cooked and the only time I've been able to achieve the elusive wok hei at home. The meat browned beautifully, but the cooking was so fast that it was only just done inside and incredibly juicy.

Cooking in the coals is great, but difficult. Starting with the chimney would probably be easier to manage in terms of how much heat you're giving the wok. I'm going to give that a shot sometime soon.

nunc est bibendum...

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If you can hookup a small charcoal grill with a hair dryer or a leaf blower, you can have a furnace hot enough to melt metal.

Similar to this one:

I recommend a variable motor speed control so that you can vary the heat.

dcarch

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Yes, we have that.

Portable%2520Forge.jpg

This is my DH's portable forge. He is a blacksmith hobbyist. I never thought of using one of his forges for cooking! Thanks for the inspiration! FYI - He says to please note that this type of forge gets up to 3000 degrees F.

Edited by robirdstx (log)
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I think the chimney would give better air flow and more concentrated heat than a bed of coals - that's why they are used as a starter. If I tried this, though, I can see knocking it over and ending up with a load of hot coals spilled down my trousers.

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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Right on top of lump charcoal is how i stir fry.. I just get the charcoal going almost white hot using a hairdryer , then nestle the wok down into the bed of coals. I remember Martin Yan had a show where he went to china and toured around. He showed people using woks over beds of coals from a fire , and talked about how the designed of a wok is actually meant for that kind of cooking. small contact area at the bottom is hotter than the sides that curve up out of contact from the coals.

i'm trying to understand this--if the wok is nestled into the coals, aren't the coals in contact with the sides as well as the bottom? not seeing how this makes for a hotter bottom than sides? please help me understand, as i'm interested in trying this over the weekend. tia.

Maybe my wording didn't convey a proper picture. I didn't mean that the wok is surrounded by coal up to the side rims.. I simply meant that the bottom rounded 1/4 to 1/3 is into the coal bed letting it sit level without the need to hold onto it.

The shallower the curve of a wok the better heat control you can have as the food will be less likely to fall back down to the bottom.

To exaggerate this effect you can tip the wok to one side.

Alcuin's description of how fast you need to work is spot on. With the kind of heat you are dealing with, there is no room for hesitation, and you need to be prepared to move the wok off the heat if you feel things are getting out of your control.

This is where thin carbon steel wok is going to perform better than a cast iron , as it will cool off faster for better heat control . Cast iron woks generally are better for use with heat sources that don't put out quite so much heat ,as they will let you cheat the heat drop that can occur when ingredients are added , with their greater thermal mass.

"Why is the rum always gone?"

Captain Jack Sparrow

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I was at Home Depot today picking up some stuff for my sous vide rig, and the Weber chimney was only 14.99, so I ended up getting it. Once I get some charcoal, I will give it a try and report back.

Any idea how much charcoal would be needed for, say, a two to three dish session? I'd hate to be wasteful.

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------------Any idea how much charcoal would be needed for, say, a two to three dish session? I'd hate to be wasteful.

Get a small metal container that has a very tight lid.

After you have done cooking, dump the hot burning charcoal into the container and cover it. The coal will soon be extinguished and can be reused.

Somehow I think there needs to have some holes made at the top of the starter to improve vertical ventilation, otherwise it may not be hot enough.

dcarch

Edited by dcarch (log)
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------------Any idea how much charcoal would be needed for, say, a two to three dish session? I'd hate to be wasteful.

Get a small metal container that has a very tight lid.

After you have done cooking, dump the hot burning charcoal into the container and cover it. The coal will soon be extinguished and can be reused.

Somehow I think there needs to have some holes made at the top of the starter to improve vertical ventilation, otherwise it may not be hot enough.

dcarch

Those holes would also allow for more complete combustion of the charcoal.

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I have done the wok over chimney starter trick and it does indeed get plenty hot. I used a weber charcoal chimney and put it on the charcoal tray of my kettle grill. I have a well seasoned steel wok. It was amazing to cook on heat that high after trying to cook on a wok on a residential stove. You, as was mentioned above, have to move really fast. Downside is that I almost dumped the thing over a half dozen times because it really isn't very stable. If you had a way to hold it down it would be better. Oh, if you use it in your grill like I did use long oven mitts. It gets really hot around the chimney.

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while this may work, I'd be concerned about setting my yard/house on fire. Once the wok is really hot I tend to move it quite a bit, like tilt here and there or lift off the heat, even with the chimney inside my weber I'd be concerned that I'll throw the whole thing over and making cooking over it impossible. I guess with a smaller wok (frying pan size) you can do this?

I have the Big Kahuna wok burner, it's not expensive, it will NOT fall over, it gets very very hot and works great. I'd definitely recommend getting one, if you want to wok often.

If you just want to play with the idea, do the coal thing, but try to stabilize the chimney somehow, it would be a shame if if falls over and either all your food goes with it or - if lucky - only the coals spill and you'll be in for a bbq instead ;-p

There's no way charcoal is going to get as hot as the Big Kahuna.

As for the forge shown above, I believe those use natural (rock) coals, as every time I've seen them in action they STINK and I'd not want to cook on those. Maybe you can use those contraptions with charcoal, otherwise I'd pass on that idea....

And keep in mind, aside of liability, there might be other good reasons that chimney starters come with the instruction not to cook on top of them.....

The Big Kahuna is not very expensive and works great. I've also read of people using turkey fryers to wok on top of, again I'd be concerned about stability, those tend to have straight legs, the Kahuna legs spread far out, you can NOT tip that thing over.

Keep in mind, you will have very high heat, a very hot wok, and oil....

I've had the oil ignite on contact with the hot wok - you don't want that to happen on a wobbly chimney starter! You want something stable. I doubt your insurance will cover setting your house on fire with a weird cooking contraption :-)

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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  • 1 month later...

Tried it for the first time tonight. Good exercise in heat manipulation.

Dcarh is right that you need good top ventilation. If you just set the wok on top, it seals it, and you might as well be cooking on a stove. So for the most part, I was either tilting it on the edge of the starter or holding it above the top to allow for air flow. I will need to figure out a way to rig it.

I had no problems with stability. The chimney sat on my concrete driveway, and I got to sit on my stoop while I cooked. Very cool experience.

I'll need to get a little caddy so its easier carrying all the ingredients and paraphernalia outside. Also going to try adding a fan or hairdryer to the equation.

Didn't get what I would call wok hai this time, but I did get that campfire flavor. So it's a step in the right direction. I didn't have the heat control figured out.

The best part of it was I was cooking with it for the neighbor girl. She looked at me like I was crazy, until she tasted it.

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Tried it for the first time tonight. Good exercise in heat manipulation.

Dcarh is right that you need good top ventilation. If you just set the wok on top, it seals it, and you might as well be cooking on a stove. So for the most part, I was either tilting it on the edge of the starter or holding it above the top to allow for air flow. I will need to figure out a way to rig it.

I had no problems with stability. The chimney sat on my concrete driveway, and I got to sit on my stoop while I cooked. Very cool experience.

I'll need to get a little caddy so its easier carrying all the ingredients and paraphernalia outside. Also going to try adding a fan or hairdryer to the equation.

Didn't get what I would call wok hai this time, but I did get that campfire flavor. So it's a step in the right direction. I didn't have the heat control figured out.

The best part of it was I was cooking with it for the neighbor girl. She looked at me like I was crazy, until she tasted it.

What did you cook, TheTInCook? Pictures?

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What did you cook, TheTInCook? Pictures?

Asparagus and minced pork. Aromatics were the usual ginger, garlic, scallion. The sauce was shao hsing wine, huang dou jiang and some hoisin for sweetness and spice, and a touch of water to thin it out. I would have used tian mian jiang instead, had I had some.

Edited by TheTInCook (log)
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