How to Use a Wok on a Campfire and What Is the Best Wok for Outdoors?


Cooking with a wok over an open flame

One of the many benefits of a wok is the diverse range of foods you can cook in them. They can be used outdoors for just about any of your cooking needs including stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming food, or even make stews. But what is the best wok for outdoors and how do you cook with it?

Woks with a long handle, such as mandarin or BBQ woks, are the best kind to use on a campfire. The cooking process is similar to how it is done on a stove. First, preheat your choice of oil, then over direct heat continuously rock the wok back and forth to mix the food. It should take 5–10 minutes to fully cook.

A wok might just be the perfect “pan” to either take camping or keep in your outdoor survival kit. They are generally lightweight and multi-purpose. Read on to learn more about how to cook on a campfire with them as well as the best type of wok to invest in.

Quick Step-By-Step Guide to Using a Wok on a Campfire

Cooking on a campfire with a wok can be divided into 5 steps. Although these steps are fairly uncomplicated, it’s important to remember what to do and the order in which to do them.

Here is the simplest way to use a wok over a campfire, and will work well for most outdoor and survival situations:

Step 1: Clean Your Wok

Before doing anything else, it’s always a good idea to wipe your pan out. This will take care of any dust, dirt, or remnants from your last meal which distort the taste of your meal or cause your food to get stuck to the pan as you cook.

When out camping or in a survival situation, the best thing to use for this is disinfectant wipes if you don’t have access to soap or water. However, if you don’t have any disinfectant wipes than even wiping out your pan with a relatively clean or just water and your hand is better than nothing.

Step 2: Add Non-Stick Coating

Once your pan has been cleaned, coat it in some form of non-stick substance if possible. When cooking with a wok, you’re essentially frying your food quickly at very high temperatures. Without treating the pan, you significantly increase your chances of much of your meal sticking to the wok.

  • When using a Mandarin wok, your normal type of oil will work fine if you brought it with you. Vegetable oil, olive oil, butter, or Pam can all be used to prevent sticking.
  • When using a BBQ wok, the holes in the pan will likely cause you to lose most of the oil or butter before you even put in the food, so it’s best just to stick with Pam.

Step 3: Preheat the wok

By preheating your wok before you put the food in, you help your non-stick substance to disperse throughout the entire pan and shorten the amount of time it will take for your food to cook.

To preheat the wok, just hold it over the campfire so that it gets direct heat from the flame, preferably towards the middle of the fire. In roughly 1-2 minutes, your wok will begin to smoke, which will be the signal that it is ready to cook with.

Step 4: Load It Up

Once your wok is preheated, you’re ready to put your food in.

If your meal is simple and only consists of one type of food, then you don’t need to be particular about how you put your food in. However, if your meal consists of multiple types of food, like meat and vegetable stir-fry, then it is best to cook each type of food in a certain order for the most optimal result.

Order of Food

  1. Spices first – If you’re adding aromatic spices to your meal, such as garlic, chile, or onions, put these ingredients in first as this will allow them to break up in the pan so they can soak into the other ingredients when you add them.
  2. Meat second – If you’re cooking any meat for this meal, these go in next. When you add the meat, let it sear for about a minute before stirring so that the heat can thoroughly cook the insides as well. Make sure that the meat is cooked so that it is brown inside-out.
  3. Veggies next– Any vegetables you want to add to the mix would go next. These need to be stirred consistently as soon as they go into the wok, as they are the most at risk for burning. They should be cooked until the edges start to turn brown.
  4. Rice or noodles last – If you have any rice or pasta that you want to add, these should go in last as it won’t take them very long to cook. Make sure that rice or pasta is cooked until it is completely soft before you eat.

Step 5: Keep the food moving

Aside from making sure that you’ve put non-stick on your wok before you cook, one of the most important aspects of successfully using a wok on a campfire is to keep the food moving as you cook.

Once you’ve put your food into the wok, gently rock the wok back and forth without spilling any of the food over the sides. This rocking motion will sift the food as it fries, which will allow it the heat from the campfire to disperse to all of the food inside the wok and prevent it from sticking to the pan.

You can also intermittently stir it as well, although it usually isn’t necessary. The rocking motion will sift the food sufficiently most of the time, but sometimes you will need to stir your food as well to ensure that all of it cooks properly.

When using a wok over the direct heat of the campfire, it should take between 5–10 minutes to fully cook your food. Once finished cooking, the food will be ready to eat as soon as it cools down.

Be careful as the wok will be extremely hot. You may want to set it down for a bit to let it cool before you try either eating directly out of it or transferring into another container.

What Is the Best Type of Wok for Campfires?

Most woks either come with one long handle and one short handle or two short handles. In general, there are three basic types of woks:

  1. Mandarin woks have one long handle on one side of the pan and one short handle on the other side.
  2. Cantonese woks have two small handles on either side of the pan.
  3. BBQ woks are similar to Mandarin woks because they have one long and one short handle. The difference is that there are multiple holes in the pan. They are sometimes called grill woks.

Of the three types of woks, mandarin woks and BBQ woks are the best ones to use on an open campfire. They are similar in how they can be used since both types just need to be held directly over the fire.

BBQ woks do cook faster due to the perforations in the pan that allow heat to come into contact with the food more directly with more air circulation as you cook. As such, BBQ woks will likely require more tending to than a Mandarin wok to ensure that your meal doesn’t burn.

Unless you have a way to suspend it over the fire, I don’t recommend using a Cantonese wok because of the lack of handle length. They are really awkward to maneuver over an open flame without burning the heck out of yourself.

If you plan to only do traditional campfire foods, such as hot dogs, hamburger, etc. then I recommend a BBQ wok. They are generally easy to use over a fire, lighter due to the holes in them, and will cook food faster. You will also get a smoky flavor in the meat.

The exception would be if you plan to make elaborate Asian means on a camping trip. In that case, you will want to use a Mandarin wok.

What Type of Metal Should an Outdoor Wok Be Made Of?

Along with knowing how to use a wok on a campfire, it’s always good to know the best types of woks to be used outdoors and on open-fire cooking.

Woks tend to be made with three different metals

  1. Stainless steel woks don’t rust as fast as carbon steel but is much softer and is prone to be damaged more easily.
  2. Carbon steel woks are much better heat conductor than stainless steel versions and are thus easier to cook with. They are also usually lighter than stainless and won’t weigh you down as much when you’re on the go.
  3. Cast iron woks are much better heat conductors than their stainless steel counterparts but they also tend to take longer to heat up and cool down than a carbon steel woks. This means they will take longer to cook food in. They also rust much faster than carbon steel and tend to be less durable.

Overall, the best type of wok to use on a campfire would be made of carbon steel. If you’re looking for a wok that will cook your food fast and last you awhile, carbon steel is definitely the way to go.

What Size Wok Should I Use?

The size of your wok mostly depends on how many people you want to cook for:

  • The standard size of a wok is about 14 inches, which can between 1-4 people.
  • If you want to feed a larger group of people, a 22-inch wok can feed up to 20 people at a time.
  • If you want to have a more personal wok for just yourself, you can downsize to a 12-inch wok, which will easily feed 1 or 2 people.

Widthwise, you want to have a wok that is at least 1.8 mm. Woks that are smaller in width are designed for indoor cooking and will be far less likely to hold up.

For me, weight is a big issue. If I were carrying it in a backpack, I would never want to carry a 22-inch wok. A 12″ wok will be about all you need for most circumstances.

Does the Handle Matter?

You typically have three choices when it comes to wok handles:

  1. Metal – Metal handles will heat up as the wok does, so you won’t be able to hold the handle without some type of cover to protect yourself from getting burned.
  2. Plastic or Rubber – While plastic or rubber handles will prevent your hand from getting hurt as you’re cooking, these materials tend to be less durable outdoors.
  3. Wood – Wooden handles will let you hold the wok as it heats up and will be able to endure exposure to the elements better.

Based on this information, wooden handles are the superior choice for outdoor cooking.

Recommended Woks

In case you’re wondering, my favorite wok for outdoor use is the Red Cat Limited 14″ Craft Wok (Click the link to see Amazon listing).

Or, if you prefer to go the BBQ wok route, check out the Tablecraft 11″ Nonstick wok.

Bottom Line

A wok is a viable alternative to a traditional pot due to its versatility, low weight, and ease of use. You don’t need to bother suspending a wok over a fire since it can easily be held by hand. How cool is that?

Related Questions

What is a cowboy wok? Originally made from cultivator discs, cowboy woks usually have one disc mounted on legs and a second disc mounted above the bottom disc with space in between. Coals can be put between the discs to provide a heat source so that cooking can be done on the top disc.

Can a wok be used on a grill? A wok can be used on an outdoor grill just like you are cooking on an indoor stove. As long as the heat is sufficient, any pot, pan, or wok can be used to cook on either a gas or charcoal grill.

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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