Several properties distinguish wats from stews of other cultures. Perhaps the most obvious is an unusual cooking technique: the preparation of a wat begins with chopped onions cooked in a dry skillet or pot until much of their moisture has been driven away. Fat (usually niter kibbeh) is then added, often in quantities that might seem excessive by modern Western standards, and the onions and other aromatics are sautéed before the addition of other ingredients. This method causes the onions to break down and thicken the stew.
Wats are traditionally eaten with injera, a spongy flat bread made from the millet-like grain known as teff. Doro wat is one such stew, made from chicken and sometimes hard-boiled eggs; the ethnologist Donald Levine records that doro wat was the most popular traditional food in Ethiopia, often eaten as part of a group who share a communcal bowl and basket of injera. Another is sega wat, made with beef.