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How Do I Make a Restaurant-Quality Stir-Fry?

Photo: Hector Sanchez

Why order take-out? Kenji proves it's possible to whip up this classic in the comfort of your own home, without losing all the flavors you love.

Q: Can I make a restaurant-quality stir-fry?

A: Yes, it's simple: Don't do what they do at the restaurants. Sounds counterintuitive, but the equipment you're cooking on is vastly different from theirs.

A restaurant-quality wok range gets roughly 10 times hotter than even the best home range. But rapid cooking is vitally important to a stir-fry. Meat in a good stir-fry should be tender but well browned, while vegetables should have blistered and seared surfaces but still retain a bright crunch. At home, you often end up steaming: Meat becomes tough, vegetables limp and overcooked, sauces watery and bland.

I know of two easy fixes. The first is to take your stir-fry outside and cook over a coal fire. Weber makes a grate for their kettle grill with a removable center, allowing you to place a large rounded wok on the grill for high-heat outdoor cooking.

Indoors, use a carbon steel or cast-iron flat-bottomed wok (rounded woks don't sit on stovetops), and cook in batches. (A great pick: Joyce Chen Classic Series 14-inch carbon steel wok, $30)

Start with all ingredients prepped, and put them in small bowls near the stove; once a stir-fry starts, there's no stopping until it's done.

Heat a small film of oil over the highest possible heat until it's lightly smoking; then add no more than a half pound of meat, spreading it into a single layer and cooking without moving until it's very well browned, about 45 seconds. Stir until it's cooked through, and then transfer to a bowl.

Repeat with small batches until all meat and veggies are cooked. Return wok to high heat, stir-fry aromatics, and then return all cooked meat and vegetables to wok along with your sauce. A few quick tosses to reduce the sauce and coat everything, and you've got a restaurant-grade stir-fry, no high-output stovetop required.