How To Prevent Food Sticking To A Wok

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Food getting stuck to your wok or even getting burnt in some cases can be a very frustrating experience that often leads to food wasting. We’ve all been there; whether it’s fish, rice, noodles, or fried eggs are impossible to scratch off from wok pans. I will get right to it and tell you what to do to stop this from happening.

The best way to prevent food from sticking to a wok is seasoning the wok, placing a barrier, drying your food before cooking, and ensuring the wok is hot by preheating before putting food inside. Even if you don’t have a non-stick pan, these methods will make cooking a breeze.

Continue reading this guide to find out why food sticks to woks and how to use the methods mentioned above to stop it.

Why Does Food Stick To A Wok?

Tiny Grooves in the Wok

Most pans, including woks, have little cracks and crevices on them, even the very expensive and top-shelf ones. When you heat these woks, and the metal expands, the food you’re cooking can get trapped in these small cracks making them stick to the wok and eventually burn.

Also, every time you wash your pan, these small grooves trap moisture that may not be visible. So, putting your food in the wok and cooking without drying this moisture is another catalyst that makes food stick to the surface. This is why sticking is usually more problematic when dealing with delicate foods like fish and eggs.

Chemical Bonds Between the Food and Surface

Food sticks when there is a chemical bond or form of attraction between the food you’re cooking and the wok material. Sometimes, these bonds could be weak covalent bonds or Van der Waals forces depending on the type of food you’re cooking and the type of wok you’re using.

Protein-rich and carbohydrate foods are more prone to sticking because of the strong bonds they form with the wok surface in high heat. These protein and carbohydrate foods could form complexities with metal atoms like the iron in the pan.

Apart from eggs and fish, even sturdier food like meat, especially chicken, is prone to sticking because of their high protein content with low-fat content.

How To Stop Food Sticking To A Wok

Preheat Your Pan Properly

Many people often make mistakes in the preheating process and wrongly assume they’ve done it properly. It is important to start with a clean wok of high-quality carbon steel, cast iron or stainless steel. Place it on the burner for 2-3 minutes or until it starts to smoke before adding your oil of choice.

Keep your eye on the pan throughout the process as you’re heating it to smoke, not to start a fire.

This method is excellent for seasoned woks but will not work for non-stick wok pans as you cannot heat them safely above specific temperatures. If you have a stainless-steel wok, seeing the smoke might be difficult when it starts to form, so you might need to put a few drops of water to see when it is hot enough.

You should see the water drops roll around the pan, similar to pearls.  

Putting a Barrier Between the Food and Wok

The easiest way to prevent your food from sticking to the wok is by putting a barrier between the wok and what you’re cooking. Usually, this is any cooking fat like butter or oil.

Since this oil is a liquid, it will fill the tiny grooves on the pan surface so that the food does not touch or enter it directly.

Hot oil has a lower viscosity than cold oil and will easily fill the gaps on the wok.

It is recommended that you heat the pan before adding the barrier (butter or oil). After adding it to the wok, let it get hot but not to the point of burning. When you then add the food to the pan, the reaction between the natural moisture in the food and hot oil causes a steam-like effect that pushes the food away from the pan to prevent sticking.

From our experience, butter performs better while frying eggs as they have anti-sticking emulsifiers.

Seasoning the Wok

Woks made of porous metals such as carbon steel and cast iron must be seasoned to prevent stick and rust. Select oils that have a neutral flavour and avoid unrefined oils with low smoking points at all costs.

Canola oil, Sunflower oil, Peanut oil, Grapeseed oil, Lard or lark fat are great options.

You need paper towels, a range top burner, and any recommended oils to season the wok.

Preheat the wok in high heat to open up the pores and tilt, so the heat gets to all parts of the wok. You should see the effect as the colour should change on heat exposure as the wok should change. Put a drop of water in the wok to see how hot it depends on how fast it evaporates.

Wait for the wok to cool down, and it is safe to touch. Coat the wok with a paper towel at the high smoke point oil. 

Put your wok back on the burner over medium-high heat, and once you notice the oil is no longer smoking, it means that part is seasoned. Tilt the wok and apply the heat to all the sides until it is completely seasoned.

The colour of your wok should be a matte finish and dark hue throughout the surface to show the seasoning is complete.

Rinse the wok in hot water and use a bamboo wok brush to clean it. Place the wok back on a stovetop in high heat to dry up the remaining water molecules.

Dry Your Food

Cold or wet food combats heat the same way water does. Putting cold or wet food in a wok pan would work against the heat you have built. Even if you are putting it in hot oil, this will bring the temperature of the oil down and make your food more susceptible to sticking.

It will also take more heat and time for the wok pan to successfully evaporate the water from the surface and get the steam buffer.

You can blot foods like sausage dry before putting them in the pan and cooking. You can use a paper towel to pat down meat and vegetables to remove any surface moisture. Ensure all your foods are at least close to room temperature before cooking.

You can also perform a little test by dropping a small morsel of food into the wok. The sound “Tss” typically means your wok is ready, and you can proceed with cooking.

What Foods Are Likely To Stick To A Wok?

The following foods are the most likely to stick to a wok:

  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Noodles
  • Rice

They aren’t limited to the above as other foods not mentioned have a chance to stick.

Generally, any food that is soft or delicate tends to stick to wok pans. This chance increases greatly when the food is damp or has any liquid in it. Also, protein and carbohydrate foods can easily form a bond with the metals of the pan faster than other foods.

Eggs, in particular, is liquid which means it is far easier to get stuck in the crevices on the wok surface.

How You Can Prevent Them from Sticking

Season the wok every time you cook.
Before you cook your food, make sure to season it according to the methods described above.

Use the Correct Oil
Ideally, you should use oils with a high smoke point when using a material as a barrier while cooking these foods.

Dry up Before Cooking
Pat your meat to dry before placing it in the wok, so it dries up faster, and the heat starts breaking up the protein as fast as possible.

Coating the Food
Covering the food in flour or breading is a great way to make it drier and create a barrier between the food and the pan. We often do this for fishes, and it comes out excellently.

Don’t Remove the Food Too Soon
Some foods such as meat need enough time to cook before removing them from the pan. If you try to remove them from the wok too soon, it will stick, and the browning will sometimes make the meat detach from the pan.

Conclusion

All of the above methods will help prevent food from sticking while you’re cooking in your wok. It is important to know the type of wok pan you have and its material before you apply any of these techniques. 

We’ve noticed that sometimes eggs still stick to woks and are perhaps the most stubborn food when it comes to sticking. We recommend using non-stick pans to prepare eggs if the above methods do not work for you.

Remember, these methods aren’t a one and done thing as the more you practice it, and the more your wok pan grows a resistance to sticking.