David Blunkett told the head of the Prison Service to call in the Army and "machine-gun" rioting inmates to regain control of a jail in 2002, reports say.
Mr Blunkett denies the machine gun accusation
Martin Narey, then director general, said the then home secretary told him he did not care about possible deaths during bids to retake Lincoln prison.
Mr Narey's comments in The Times are in response to Mr Blunkett's diaries which accuse him of dithering over the riots.
Mr Blunkett denies the charge: "I think Martin's got slightly carried away."
The diaries, which record Mr Blunkett's eight years in Cabinet, were published on Monday.
Mr Narey said when he read Mr Blunkett's account of the riot he was "very angry".
"And on behalf of all those who worked so bravely that night - particularly my deputy, Phil Wheatley - I was determined to put the record straight," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
He said that, during a telephone conversation in October 2002, he told Mr Blunkett he would not rush into ordering staff back into jail if it put lives at risk.
He told The Times: "[Mr Blunkett] shrieked at me that he didn't care about lives, told me to call in the Army and 'machine-gun' the prisoners and - still shrieking - again ordered me to take the prison back immediately.
"I refused. David hung up."
Mr Narey acknowledged that the comments were not meant literally.
"He surely cannot have intended us to take (them) seriously," he wrote in The Times.
Mr Narey described Mr Blunkett as being "reckless" during the crisis.
"What you are looking for is calm guidance, it's leadership from a secretary of state, and that was sadly lacking on that occasion."
Martin Narey claimed Mr Blunkett was "reckless"
He added: "I don't think David was decisive that evening; I think he was reckless."
Mr Narey said he "was well aware of the capacity for riots to spread" because of his experience of the riots at Strangeways prison in 1990.
But the ex-Cabinet minister has stood by his account of the Lincoln prison riot and denied Mr Narey's account.
Asked if he had mentioned machine guns, Mr Blunkett said: "Well, I didn't. I mean I told him to get on with the job. I told him, frankly, that if the prison service and the police couldn't go in and take the prison back, then the armed services should.
"But...how the hell could I tell somebody to machine gun? Come on. It's a good story. It's made a good headline."
A spokesman for Mr Blunkett told the Times that any such phone call to Mr Narey "would have been monitored by Mr Blunkett's private office".
Mr Narey said he would be "delighted" to hear such a recording.
"I promise you my account is absolutely true."
At his monthly news conference, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Mr Blunkett had been an "excellent" education secretary, home secretary and work and pensions secretary.
Asked if he was dismayed at any damage to the government caused by the diaries, or if he had felt personally let down or had sought to delay their publication, Mr Blair replied "no, no, no and no".
"I have got other things to think about."