In my mind, I can hear the sound of an 80’s song, but I am not an egyptian. No, but I do like a Wok. Most commonly associated with Chinese cooking, the wok actually has variants found from India to Japan. Billions of people have relied on this simple pan as their main cooking pot for good reasons. The wok represents one of the most efficient means to utilize a fires heat and cook in a variety of ways. This is why we thought it to be a good test at our recent stove party.
In short, a woks shape allows it to provide the best surface area to connect with your heat source, and concentrate it for efficient cooking. Depending on what food you use, you could boil, saute, stir fry, and more. So for our test, I grabbed some of the cheapest stew meat, and frozen veggies to test a stir fry. This cooking method is good in a preparedness sense in that it allows you to take smaller pieces of whatever proteins and vegetables you can get your hands on, and quickly cook them with some flavor for a group. This can be really important in an extended emergency when food fatigue has set in, or if you just are trying to get the most out fo your food budget today.
In our test, we used the Wok on the Volcano stove, as well as the EcoZoom rocket stove. The Quickstove and gas stoves were not used because we were using a rather large Wok that wouldn’t fit on them. Both the Volcano and EcoZoom’s were loaded with charcoal, in cold weather. Before those that know cut in to tell us what we’re doing wrong, let me tell why. We wanted to test this in “poor” conditions. Charcoal, is often considered a less-effective choice in a rocket-type stove, but it’s what many people in our area would likely try to use.
The Volcano Grill seems truly designed for a wok. The one I have fits on the top like a glove, bringing the air in through the vents on the side. The biggest problem with the volcano was that the wide bottom encourages you to add more briquettes than you actually need in this case. With a wok you don’t actually need a wide base of heat, but it does actually work better keeping “just enough” in the center, concentrated. I found that moving them in to a central pile worked perfect, with the bottom of the wok just pushing the stack to the right height.
Even with charcoal the Volcano performed admirably. The wok was kept at a great height, the stove was stable, and the wok could be set right on top and left with no chance of falling over.
We were really mean to this stove for this test. Charcoal is the “less-effective” option for a rocket stove, and we dampened it down hard to maximize the length of the burn, since we wanted to test what else we could do of course (Never be nice to your test subjects, because reality won’t be either). When I first tried cooking with the wok, I thought perhaps we were possibly a little too harsh. The temperature just wasn’t quite high enough to get that good fast sear you want when stir frying. Things were cooking, just slower than desired. So we decided to play around. The first thing I tried was to toss on the included metal ring/windscreen (pictured here) that causes you to hold the pan slightly higher over the ‘jet’. My thought was this would actually lower the temperature giving us poorer results, but I was surprised. The temperature increased notably, and our
food began to cook quicker. Opening the dampers a bit increased the burn rate, and thus the temperature, bringing it to an acceptable, though not ideal str-fry temperature.
Given that we had both of its hands tied behind its back, I gotta say it performed rather well. Using better fuel would probably have gotten it up to the ideal level even on our windy, cold day.
The stove itself is quite stable, though it does have a smaller footprint and isn’t quite as stable as the volcano. The wok holds well enough on it, but if you were really using it long term, build a better platform that just bare ground for safety and sanity.
Woks and you:
If you don’t already have one, do yourself a favor and pick up a wok. Don’t bother going out and spending a lot of money on one, because that would be a waste. People around the world use the cheapest carbon steel ones with great success. Only get a flat bottomed one if you are planning on using it for an electric stove, rounded ones will work better on your gas stove, Volcano Grill, or EcoZoom. Simple to use, they are a very multi-purpose pan that can lead you to use recipes that are better for you, your budget, and for your fuel supplies.