Alton Brown's Pro Tip For Restaurant-Worthy Wok Cooking

Alton Brown has no shortage of cooking tips. Whether it's armor-plating your Thanksgiving turkey with aluminum foil or melting butter on the stove in a metal measuring cup, Brown's cooking ideas are always geared toward making tasty food as easily as possible. When it comes to cooking with woks, however, a conundrum is presented. Normal home cooktops, either gas or electric, don't reach nearly high enough heat to allow for proper wok cooking. Brown's solution to this problem? Using a chimney starter.

A chimney starter is an excellent grilling tool for those who like to work with natural charcoal, as it doesn't require any chemical additives and produces incredibly high temperatures. The process is simple. Fill the chimney with newspaper or natural lighter cubes and charcoal. Once you light the starters, the airflow from the strategically placed vents forces the heat upwards creating, essentially, a controlled towering inferno. The heat is directed up toward the chimney hole, which also happens to be the perfect size to hold a standard-sized wok.

The heat generated by the glowing embers reaches in excess of a thousand degrees, which is more than enough to get the wok hot for stir fry, fried rice, or pad thai. It's an easily achievable trick that, with the right execution, will have you cooking up restaurant-worthy wok dishes in no time.

How to wok cook on a chimney starter

The key to great wok cooking is to get the pan and cooking oil insanely hot. Searing, charring, and sizzling is the goal with a wok, which is why you need the concentrated heat of the chimney starter to achieve the right temperatures. Before you begin, you will need to place the chimney starter on a heat-proof surface. Grill grates are a good option, as are cinder blocks, bricks, or flat stones. It should go without saying that you should do this outside.

Once the charcoal is starting to burn hot in the chimney starter, you can place your wok atop it, allow it to heat, and then cook as you normally would. If you've never cooked with a wok before, it can be a little tricky to get the hang of. The key is to work quickly and build in layers. Go from protein to aromatics to vegetables to starch. Add sauce to the sides of the pan, allowing it to coat the ingredients easily when everything is tossed together. 

This is flash cooking at its finest, and that high heat is the key to getting those great, restaurant-style flavors. Brown's trick is a fantastic alternative to buying specialized wok equipment. Chimney starters are cheap and, as a bonus, can be used for far more than just wok cooking. Once you get used to working with a wok, you might not want to cook any other way.