6 Secrets of a Successful Stir-Fry

Secrets to a Successful Stir Fry

Chinese stir fry

Nothing beats a perfectly cooked Chinese stir fry with lots of juicy and tender meat and no soggy vegetables. It's big on taste and with added protein and vegetables, it's a healthy balanced meal. This Chinese cooking technique in which all the ingredients are fried, stirred, and tossed into a very hot skillet is actually easy to make as long as you know the technique.

What This Article Covers This

In this article, I'll share the secrets to successful frying so you can correct common mistakes and serve the perfect meal, every time.

Here are 6 secrets of a successful stir fry:

  • Use a frying pan.
  • Use the right cooking oil.
  • The skillet should be hot.
  • Initial preparation.
  • Cook in batches.
  • Add garlic.

Secret 1: Use Only Carbon Steel Frying Pans

You really need a skillet to cook a good stir fry especially if the sauce is low.

Why a Frying Pan and Not a Frying Pan?

Because the pan with a small bottom and concave sides can distribute heat evenly. So it cooks more evenly. The slanted concave sides also make sauteing easier, preventing food from spilling out, and stirring stir fry is also easy. A larger cooking surface means you can cook more ingredients. Lastly, the pan has a small bottom, so you will need less cooking oil.

We usually use pans with rounded bottoms and in this part of the world, the metal ring to mount the pan on the gas hob comes as a set when you buy the hob. The best size is a 14-inch pan made of carbon steel with a long wooden handle for easier handling.

Alternatively, you can choose a flat pan if it works best on your cooktop.

Why Carbon Steel Frying Pan?

One of the good things about carbon steel is that it is affordable and durable. That is, too

  • Heat resistant and does not emit toxic fumes. Fry in quick bursts of high heat with minimal oil. Carbon steel is perfect for this because it can withstand high temperatures up to 750°F. Other materials will give off toxic fumes as they approach 500°F. Therefore, carbon steel is safer to use in stir-fry dishes.
  • This is a natural nonstick cookware. So you use less oil for cooking and also less oil needed to prevent food from sticking to the cookware. It will 'season' and naturally won't stick as you continue to use it.
  • Added flavor. Once the carbon steel skillet is seasoned, the stir fry acquires a unique sweet and smoky essence that you don't get with non-stick, aluminum, or stainless steel skillets.
  • Disperses heat quickly and evenly. It also keeps the heat while you cook.

However, the downside of a carbon steel skillet is that you need to season it before using it to get a proper nonstick surface (see the link below under Recommended Reading on how to season a carbon steel skillet). It is not dishwasher safe and to make it last longer, avoid cooking acidic foods as this will mess with their non-stick properties.

How to Care for a Carbon Steel Frying Pan

To clean; Soak in hot water for 5 minutes.

Then wash under hot running water.

Do not use detergents or scourers.

If there are leftovers that need scrubbing, use salt and rub with a damp paper towel.

Finally, wipe the pan dry and give a little oil.

Secret 2: Use Cooking Oil With a High Smoke Point

As mentioned earlier, frying uses heat at high temperatures so you need cooking oil that performs well at high temperatures. This is the most important secret to a successful stir fry. So, your favorite olive oil, butter, ghee, camelina oil and coconut oil are not suitable.

High Temperature Cooking Oil

Cooking oils that have a high smoke point are palm fruit oil (one of the highest smoke points among cooking oils), sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, avocado, and almond oils.

Vegetable oil is a mixture of many different refined oils with varying smoke points. Depending on the oil used in the mixture, it can reach 400˚F. Likewise, peanut oil also has a high smoke point and varies greatly in heat tolerance depending on the brand.

Soybean, corn, and canola cooking oils have high smoke points but are usually derived from genetically modified crops. They can be avoided if you are concerned about GMO foods.

Secret 3: Hot Frying Pan

The stir-fry needs to be cooked hot and fast. In restaurants, they use high-power gas stoves that give off gas and oxygen for faster and hotter cooking. You can't get this from your gas stove. So you'll have to adapt to approach a restaurant-quality stir fry.

How to Know If Your Frying Pan is Hot Enough

Set it to the highest heat on your gas stove. Then heat a dry skillet with nothing in it for about 5 to 10 minutes. If the water droplets fizz or evaporate immediately, it's hot enough. Continue to maintain this high heat throughout the frying pan as pans are usually made of thin gauge material and don't have much 'energy or heat stored'. You also want the flame to rise to the side of the pan.

Add cold cooking oil only after the pan is really hot. Roll the oil to coat it well as the ingredients will be pushed aside when frying.

Don't Have a Gas Stove?

If you don't have a gas stove, your outdoor coal-fired grill is actually great or even better for frying food. The heat from this grill is quite close to that of a Chinese restaurant's high-power gas stove. But you will need a removable center grill grille (see photo below) for your coal fired grill. It will be easier to put your pan. I used something similar, which unfortunately isn't listed on Amazon, but the grill grille is just as good.

Removable center grill grate for your coal-fired grill to place your wok over.

Even though a wok is made of a thin gauge material and doesn't have much 'stored heat', it regains its heat significantly faster than a wok. That's why frying pans, which are designed for quick heat, are perfect for stir-frying French fries.

Secret 4: Early Preparation

Remember we said earlier that stir fry needs to be cooked hot and fast? So, preparing all the ingredients in advance is very important. Place them in a bowl near your stove in the order in which they were cooked, so you can fry them quickly in that hot skillet.

Do the following:

Ingredients Must Dry

All ingredients (vegetables, meat, chicken, seafood, etc.) must be completely dry with paper towels. Otherwise, moisture can cause steaming and will kill your stir fry.

Vegetables With High Water Content

Adding vegetables with a high water content will also mess up your stir fry as the moisture will be added to your cooking. Choose only vegetables that contain less water after cooking such as broccoli florets, green beans, broccolini, carrots, celery, peas, sugar peas, etc.

Ice Cold Meat

Do not use cold meat in your stir fry as the cooking temperature will drop. Also, any frozen meat should be completely thawed and the moisture balance should be dried with paper towels.

Cutting Material

All ingredients (vegetables, meat, chicken, etc.) must be cut into pieces of the same size so that they cook evenly.

Prepare Rice or Noodles

If you are serving the stir-fry with rice or noodles, prepare it before you start the stir fry as stir-fry is best served hot.

Slicing the meat against the fibers will shorten the fibers of the meat, which makes the meat tender


Velveting is another important secret to a successful but often overlooked stir fry.

The velvety meat will make the stir-fry taste better. This is a technique that creates a protective barrier that seals in the moisture of the meat and prevents it from overcooking and hence, becoming tough.

So, if you are using beef (or chicken, turkey, shrimp, etc.) for your stir fry, coat the beef in a mixture of 1 egg white, 1 tbsp rice wine (or sesame oil), 2 tbsp cornstarch, and a pinch of salt and soak in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour (for a pound of beef, and thinly sliced ​​beef). This will lock in the juices and keep the meat moist while you cook it over high heat. Then boil the beef in boiling water for 2 minutes, strain, and pat dry with paper towels before frying. Marinating your beef or chicken will make the meat moist and delicious. Now that you know this often-overlooked secret to stir-fry success, apply this technique to all of your stir-fries.

Saute Sauce

If you're using a homemade stir fry sauce instead of a store-bought ready-to-use sauce, prepare it ahead of time before starting your stir fry.

Stir-fry Spatulas

Have your stir fry spatula ready for your stir fry. It has a longer handle compared to the usual spatulas used in western cooking. Since stir fry is very hot, the longer handle prevents your hands from getting burned by the hot air. It also has a larger surface with beveled and sharper edges for easy stirring, scraping and moving ingredients.

Preparing all ingredients in advance is one of the key secret to a successful stir fry

Secret 5: Cook in Batches So Your Pans Don't Get Too Full

When you add too many ingredients and the pan is too full, two things happen:

  1. The temperature of the pan will drop and your 'not too hot' pan will result in uneven cooking.
  2. Your meat and vegetables will ooze, start to foam, get soggy, and eventually steam instead of searing.

The stir-fry should be sizzling and not steaming. So if you have a lot of ingredients, stir-fry them gradually so the pan can be reheated between each addition.

How to Fry in Batch

Since protein and vegetables have different cooking times, cook them separately. Split your protein (beef, chicken, seafood) and vegetables into half-pound portions. Once your pan has reached the 'heat level' as described earlier, pour in the cooking oil. Saute the pieces one by one and let them burn before setting them aside.

Wipe your pan with a paper towel and bring it to high heat as before. Then cook the next part, and so on.

What Vegetables Do You Cook First in a Stir-fry?

It is best to fry the protein portion first before doing the vegetables. For vegetables, start with vegetables that require a longer cooking time, e.g. carrots, before moving on to fast-fried vegetables like mushrooms.

Adding Aromatic

The stir fry is done over high heat, but you must turn it off before adding the aromatics. They should be cooked low and slow. Aromatics add extra flavor to your stir-fry, but should be added only at the very end of cooking, before adding the sauce. You can use finely chopped ginger, garlic, lemon grass, chili, or scallions (scallions).

When to Add Sauce to Stir Fry

Add all the cooked protein and vegetable parts back in and give it all a quick run (you don't reheat it). If you have stir-fry sauce, it's time to add it. Push all the ingredients aside to create an empty space, then pour in the sauce. Once the sauce begins to darken and bubble, do a final whisk until each piece is coated.

Serve with your cooked rice or noodles.

Velveting and Adding Garlic is the Magic Secret to a Successful Chinese Stir Fry

Secret 6: Add Garlic

If you prefer not to add any aroma to your stir fry, consider adding garlic for a better taste. This is an extra step you won't regret. As mentioned earlier, add chopped garlic and/or other aromatics at the very end of cooking, before adding the sauce.

Fried Stir Fry Conclusion

Of course, the secret to a successful stir fry also depends on your goals. Nothing is perfect. So, experiment with the settings above and choose the one that works for you.

If you choose not to use a frying pan but follow the best practices of Chinese stir fry, then you can also make a delicious and satisfying stir fry.

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