Troubleshoot your stir-fry

This article was originally published in April 2013

Stir-frying seems deceptively easy. Yet so often the vegetables turn limp, the meat tough, the flavors muddled. Here are solutions to three common dilemmas.


Why is my stir-fry so watery?

Solution: Start with dry ingredients

Damp vegetables drop the temperature of your wok or skillet and can turn your stir-fry into a soupy braise. Pat vegetables dry or run leafy greens through a salad spinner until dry to the touch. Otherwise, they will steam and braise in the pan and lose their crispness.


Why won’t my beef brown? Instead, it turns gray.

Solution: Don’t overcrowd the pan

Avoid covering the bottom of the preheated pan with more than one layer of beef. Then, leave it undisturbed for at least a minute so that it gets a chance to sear. To avoid overcooking, remove beef (or other protein) when about 80 percent cooked and return to pan when vegetables are nearly done.


Why are my vegetables not evenly cooked?

Solution: Cook in batches

Cook your sturdiest vegetables first (broccoli, carrots, etc.) and your delicate vegetables last (such as bok choy). When in doubt, stir-fry each type of vegetable separately, then combine at the end. You might even blanch them first.



  • Choose ingredients that will hold up to high heat and frequent stirring (e.g., firm tofu, sturdy vegetables or firm-fleshed fish).
  • Use a spoon to gently scrape the skin from fresh ginger. You’ll waste less of the root than with a knife.
  • Choose a cooking oil with a high smoke point, such as grapeseed, coconut or peanut.
  • Have your ingredients ready to go. Stir-fry should move quickly.

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