Grace Young just laughs when she sees glitzy name-brand woks selling for more than a hundred bucks. The best woks, she says, cost about one-fourth of that.

"You don't need to spend more than $20 or $30. Some of those expensive woks, when you try and stir-fry in them, the food will stick because they're not made from carbon steel," the Chinese food expert and cookbook author explains.

Young's newest book, "The Breath of a Wok: Unlocking the Spirit of Wok Cooking Through Recipes and Lore" (Simon and Schuster), won this year's award for best international cookbook from the International Association of Cooking Professionals. She will be demonstrating her easy techniques for successful stir-fry cooking Sept. 26 at the cookware store Sur La Table in Arlington.

Young has spent years studying wok cooking techniques from Chinese master chefs and cooks. In addition, she was the test kitchen director for 17 years for more than 40 cookbooks published by Time-Life Books. That is clearly why, when it comes to cooking advice, she keeps things direct and simple.

For successful stir-frying, she says, cooks need to know these five basic rules:

* Use a 14-inch, flat-bottom, carbon steel wok. It's the best for Western stoves, whether they're gas or electric. Why carbon steel? It heats quickly and evenly. Stainless steel or anodized aluminum woks will not work as well.

"Target, Kmart, Sur La Table, Martha Stewart, any Asian supermarket -- they all have carbon steel woks," she says. The 14-inch size is ideal; 12 inches is too small and food won't fit, and 16 inches is too large and won't heat fast enough.

And, she warns, "Don't get nonstick. If you do things properly, food won't stick in a regular wok. With nonstick, it doesn't sear the food and you don't get the proper stir-frying effect."

* Hot wok, cold oil. You want to heat the wok until a drop of water on the surface evaporates in one to two seconds. Then add the oil and tilt the wok so the oil coats evenly. If the wok is hot when the oil is added, the food won't stick.

* Add the meat, spread it out, then don't touch it for 30 seconds to a minute. "This is crucial," Young says. "If you let the meat sear this way, it won't stick when you do start stir-frying it."

* Don't add too much. "No more than 3/4 pound of beef or 1 pound of chicken or 4 cups of vegetables. People tend to use way too much" and then the food can't get hot enough to cook quickly, she says.

* Dry your vegetables. "Vegetables have to be bone-dry when they're added to the oil. Any moisture and they'll steam instead of being stir-fried," Young says. After washing the vegetables, use paper towels or a clean kitchen towel to soak up as much moisture as possible before adding them to the wok.

Snow Peas, Tomatoes

and Chili Pepper Stir-Fry

4 servings

This spicy, sauce-free dish originated with Liang Nian Xiu, a farmer who lives in Guangxi province in China. She uses chopped pork belly, but bacon adds a similar richness.

This is among the recipes Grace Young will demonstrate at Sur La Table. Adapted from "The Breath of a Wok," by Grace Young and Alan Richardson (Simon and Schuster, 2004).

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 tablespoons chopped uncooked bacon

2 tablespoons minced ginger root

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 Thai chili pepper, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound snow peas, strings removed

1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped

1/4 teaspoon sugar

Place a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Add the oil and swirl to coat. Add the bacon, ginger, garlic, chili pepper and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the snow peas and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the chopped tomato, sugar and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and stir-fry until vegetables are tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve hot.

Per serving: 141 calories, 6 g protein, 14 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 6 mg cholesterol, 2 g saturated fat, 413 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Marcia Kramer; e-mail questions to

In addition to this stir-fry recipe, Grace Young will demonstrate Rock Sugar Ginger Chicken, Szechwan Beef, Cold Sesame Noodles and Barbecued Spareribs at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at Sur La Table, 1101 S. Joyce St., Arlington. $65 per person. Registration required at 703-414-3580 or online at

One of the basics: Make sure vegetables are dry before they're added to the hot oil in a wok, says author Grace Young, pictured below.