How To Stir Fry Garlic Without Burning It (When To Add It)

Most cooks have experienced the bitter taste of burnt garlic while stir-frying it. Burning garlic is easy to do but luckily, there are a few ways to avoid it. Here’s how.

If you prefer adding the garlic at the start of your recipe to infuse the flavors into the oil, make sure to only cook it for a few seconds on its own before adding other ingredients. You can also add the garlic later, after other ingredients, so that there’s less chance of it burning.

I personally like to add the garlic later so it becomes more of a “seasoning” to the other ingredients, as it barely needs any cooking.

In this article, I’ll compare the different times to add garlic to avoid burning it. I’ll also tell you the best ways to cut it up and some tips on what to do when it does burn, as sometimes all is not lost.

So whether you’re a beginner cook or an experienced chef, read on for some helpful advice.

When To Add Garlic To Stir Fry

The key to avoiding burnt garlic is knowing when and how to add it. Since garlic burns easily, most would advise adding it towards the middle part of cooking or at least once there are a few ingredients already in the pan as this will help stop it from catching direct heat. 

Some prefer just to add it as more of a seasoning right at the end so that there is no chance of it burning at all. Adding garlic at the end of cooking will also help retain more of its own pungent, individual flavor and texture. 

However, if you want to add it with the oil right at the start (which infuses the oil with an aromatic flavor and helps soften the taste), make sure to only cook the garlic just long enough to release some of its flavor. Then either remove it from the wok so it can be added back in later or move it up the side and out of the heat. 

Just remember that if you add the minced garlic too early, or if the heat is too high, it can overcook quickly, get burnt, and become bitter. So experiment with timing to get the best results for your dish.

Adding Garlic First Vs Last Ingredient

There is debate among cooks about adding garlic first vs last, with differing views. But there are some subtle pros and cons.

Some recipes call for adding the garlic first with hot oil. While this method can add a nice aromatic flavor to the ingredients in your dish, it’s also more likely to result in it burning. There are ways to avoid this problem, such as adding it with other ingredients or only cooking it for a short time (I have some further tips below).

Adding garlic at the end of cooking is generally a safer choice and helps it keep its fresh flavor better. Of course, this will result in it having less time to soften and really infuse those delicious flavors into the oil and other ingredients.

So ultimately it depends if you want a more mellow, infused flavor or a more punchy, fresher garlic flavor. You can of course do both methods to get the best of both ways.

How To Cut Garlic For A Stir Fry

It may seem a simple thing, but the way you cut garlic for your stir fry can make all the difference in how it ends up tasting. Think of it the same as using potatoes. One that’s been cut up for roasting tastes different from the one that’s been mashed or one that’s been left whole for baking. It really does matter.

For stir-fries, there are differing opinions, but for me, I find it’s best to chop the cloves into small, even pieces – this will help them cook more quickly and evenly. There are several ways to do this but probably the easiest method is to

First lightly crush and peel the bulb. Then finely slice the garlic lengthways, and then rotate 90 degrees to dice up the other way in even cubes.

You can also use your knife in a rocking motion to chop the slices into tiny pieces. Try to get the garlic uniform sizes as they will cook evenly rather than the smaller pieces burning.

You can also now buy jars of pre-chopped garlic to keep in your fridge. This is certainly worth considering in a pinch, but will never have the flavor of something that’s freshly prepared.

If you want a delicate garlic flavor, you can simply crush the bulb with the side of a knife and add it to the stir fry whole. It imparts some of its oil and gives a hint of garlic without overpowering other flavors. It can be removed or kept in once the dish is cooked.

Tips To Avoid Garlic Burning In The Wok

As I mentioned earlier there are several tricks you can use to avoid your garlic burning in the wok if the recipe instructs you to add it early on or if you just prefer to use it that way.

Here is my list of tips and tricks that I’ve found to be very useful:

  • Make sure you have all your ingredients prepared and ready to go. Stir-frying is all about cooking quickly over high heat so you have to move fast.
  • Keep it moving! Many cooks make the mistake of adding the garlic and then letting it sit in the hot oil for too long. This is a sure way for it to get burnt so start moving it around immediately with your spatula.
  • Only cook the chopped garlic for around 10-20 seconds if frying it on its own and as mentioned above, keep moving it around to prevent burning. 
  • After that initial 10 seconds of sauteing, add some of the other ingredients such as diced vegetables to lower the temperature of the oil and continue stir-frying.
  • Add the garlic with another aromatic such as some chopped ginger or onion as it will then not burn quite so easily.
  • Move the cooked garlic up the side of the wok and away from the intense heat if you want to keep it separate from the other ingredients initially. If you’re using a shallow pan for your stir-fry, remove the garlic completely and add it back in later.
  • Stir fry the whole bulb instead of mincing it. Remember to crush it lightly first with a knife – the larger piece won’t burn but still infuses the oil with flavor.

What To Do If Garlic Gets Burnt

Unlike many other vegetables that can actually take on a nice charred flavor when they’re slightly burnt, garlic instead takes on a horrible, acrid, bitter taste that will completely ruin your stir-fry. 

It’s essential that you remove the pieces if this happens as they become very unpleasant to bite into.

You could try adding some extra spices or strong-tasting sauces to mask the burnt flavor, but sometimes there is nothing to do but throw it away, wash out the wok and start again.

If you’re further into cooking the meal before noticing the garlic is burnt, you may be able to scoop out as much of the dish as you can while trying to remove any of the burnt garlic. Put the good bits into another pan to continue cooking. 

Work from the top down as the small burnt bits are often at the bottom. You may lose some of your meal that way but at least you will have salvaged some of it!

Make sure not to scrape out the original wok as you’re doing this as you will most likely pick up more of the burnt taste if you do.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you’ve learned some tips in this post on how to stir-fry garlic without burning it and avoid ruining your stir-fry.

As you will now know the best advice is to avoid the situation altogether by either adding it later on in your recipe or only cooking it for a very short time on its own.

Always have everything prepared before starting your stir-fry and remember to keep it moving! That way there’s less risk of the garlic getting too much heat.

Tom Hambly

Hey, I'm Tom. I set up Boss The Kitchen to start answering the thousands of questions people have while cooking. For me, the kitchen is my happy place and I hope to help other people with the knowledge I've gained along the way. More about me.

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