Stir Fry Tips

For every home cook happily tossing together a stir fry at home, there are a dozen would-be-stir-fryers wanting to make Chicken, Broccoli and Sugar Snap Pea Stir Fry…and then sheepishly reaching for the take out menu.  Recipes abound, but the technique of stir frying itself intimidates a lot of home cooks.

chicken stir fry with broccoli and sugar snap peas / Katie Workman /

But if you can slice and stir, you can stir fry.  So, let’s break it on down, review the basic how-to’s, and get everyone on their way to stir fry success.

10 Tips for Great Stir Fries

1. Read the Recipe All the Way Through

The ingredients, the steps, everything.  Getting a sense of the order of events so that you can know what’s coming next will make you much more confident as you cook.

2. Get ALL of your ingredients prepped and ready to go.

When you are making a stir-fry, you want to make sure all of your ingredients are cut and ready to roll before you begin the cooking process, as it goes very quickly.  You don’t want to realize you still need to mince the garlic cloves that are supposed to be sauteeing along with the broccoli.  

3. Make sure your ingredients are of similar size.

Most stir fries involve cooking fairly small-cut ingredients added in stages, sometimes in batches, so that everything is ends up properly cooked at the same time. When chopping broccoli for instance, or cubing chicken, try and make all of the pieces close in size.

Chicken and Spinach Stir-Fry with Ginger and Oyster Sauce

4. Feel Free to Swap Ingredients

If you want to use broccoli instead of sugar snap peas, great!  Again, just make sure the vegetables you sub in are cut comparably and have a similar density, therefore a similar cooking time.  Or adjust the time as needed: sliced carrots will need more cooking time than spinach, for instance, so you may need to add a few minutes to the cooking time,or add them earlier in the recipe.  Cubed pork can be used in place of chicken, tofu can be swapped in for shrimp; most stir-fries are quite flexible.

5. A Skillet May be Better Than a Small Wok

The bowl-shaped pans sold as woks are not always the best answers for a home cook using a home stove in terms of stir-frying. Because there is a lot of sloped side area to the pan, there isn’t a ton of flat bottom area sitting directly on the heat. I tend to feel that I can keep the food in the pan less crowded, and therefore get a better distribution of heat to food, using a very large skillet.   If you do want a wok, get a big one!

6. Make Sure the Pan is Hot

You need high heat to get the best flavor from the ingredients in a stir fry.  And you need the pan to be hot before the ingredients hit the pan, so they have a chance to sear up a bit, and lock in color and flavor.

7. Cook in Layers and Batches 

The secret to great stir-fries (and lots of other cooking methods, like frying and sautéing) is to not crowd the pan, and to leave the food alone between stirs.  Giving the individual pieces of food a chance to come into direct contact with the hot pan on a frequent basis is the difference between nicely browned pieces and a pile of steamed food.  

Simple Stir-Fried Vegetables

So you will see that many stir fry recipes call for cooking some of the ingredients separately, or in small group, or in batches.  In stir frying because the food is cut small the cooking process is super quick, and ultimately you get a better result cooking the food in stages and batches, then combining it all at the end.  And it only adds a handful of extra minutes.

8. Add the Sauce at the End

Only once your ingredients are cooked do you want to add any liquid, because otherwise you won’t really be stir frying, but rather braising or poaching.  A bit of cornstarch mixed into the sauce will allow it to thicken as it simmers.

9. Make Some Rice

Most stir fries have some sauce involved, and it’s really nice to have something to soak up that sauce.  Choose any kind of rice you like: white, brown rice, jasmine, basmati, whichever you prefer.  Noodles, especially Asian noodles, are another nice base for stir fries. If you are following Keto or on another low carb diet, obviously this isn’t for you.

Chicken and Spinach Stir-Fry with Ginger and Oyster Sauce

10. Nothing Beats Doing. 

No amount of studying will make you a better stir-fryer than making a couple.  So, pick a favorite recipe, grab a cutting board and a pan and get to work!

7 Stir Fry Recipes

Here are some stir fry recipes to get you started!

Stir Fried Chicken with Scallions / Katie Workman / / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen

Stir Fried Scallion Chicken

Scallions actually play a significant supporting role in this stir-fry, adding flavor, color, and interest.

Spicy Stir Fried Beef and Vegetables / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen / Katie Workman /

Spicy Stir Fried Beef and Vegetables

Beef, a slew of colorful veggies, and a savory gingery sauce, all piled on a bed of noodles.

Pork and Bok Choy Stir Fry

Pork and Bok Choy Stir Fry

Super simple, but not short on flavor.

Shrimp and Broccoli Stir Fry with Udon Noodles / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen / Katie Workman /

Shrimp and Broccoli Stir Fry with Udon Noodles

Plump shrimp, crisp-tender broccoli, and a tangle of udon noodles.

Chicken and Spinach Stir-Fry with Ginger and Oyster Sauce

Chicken and Spinach Stir-Fry with Ginger and Oyster Sauce

Never too many stir fries. This one features chicken,but is loaded with vegetables.

Mongolian Beef

Mongolian Beef

This 20-minute dish is so easy to make, with a wonderful savory-sweet glaze coating the ultra thin slices of steak.

Orange Tofu

Orange Tofu

A vegetarian or vegan stir-fry recipe that's flavorful and tangy with crispy tofu and a beautiful glaze.

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