Looking for the best way to make your next Asian meal? For the easiest and most authentic cookware, you need to get yourself a wok.
Woks are a traditional cooking utensil that has been used for centuries to make delicious and flavorful dishes across East and Southeast Asia.
While you probably won’t be tossing your food above a giant fire pit as they do at street fairs and restaurants, purchasing a wok will get you one step closer to creating the perfect Chow Mein.
Traditionally, woks were designed to be cooked over large fire pits. But, as most of us live in the U.S., we will be cooking over electric, gas or induction stoves.
Luckily, even the best woks have been westernized and are now available for our kitchen needs.
Woks can be made of different materials, come in all sizes, need different accessories, and have different care requirements so it can be hard to know what suits your needs the best.
As with any cookware, there are many options available. Read on to find out all you need to know about woks to make the best purchase for your kitchen.
Types of Woks
What material your wok is made of will define your cooking experience. Woks are a great asset to your kitchen and will widen your cooking horizons.
Carbon Steel Wok
This is the most common wok that is used by both novices and professionals. Its light weight makes it the ideal material for tossing and easy maneuvering.
If you are after a more traditional-style wok, this is definitely the one to aim for. Also, they are induction-ready, whether or not that is the stove you have.
Stainless Steel Wok
These are often used as the carbon steel alternative. We recommend seasoning the stainless steel wok properly to avoid any food sticking to the bottom.
Stainless steel woks tend to be heavier with a longer heat-up time as the material is a poor heat conductor.
If not maintained properly, the material can warp, damaging the wok before you can get your money’s worth.
That said, stainless steel cookware has many advantages such as the ability to garner more flavor, last longer, and offer safer cooking to name a few.
As copper in itself is not safe for cooking due to the harmful chemicals it omits upon contact with food, these woks are lined with a stainless steel interior.
As mentioned previously, the wok will need proper seasoning to avoid any food sticking to the bottom.
While the shiny copper exterior can be a nice aesthetic touch to your kitchen, without maintenance it’s going to start looking rusty and turn a greenish color.
Aluminum also has a shiny and clean look to it and these woks are nontoxic and scratch-resistant. The material is great for searing and browning. However, they tend to stick faster than other pans.
If you are accustomed to using non-stick pans in your kitchen, this might be an option for you.
Non-stick pans tend to be easier to clean and require less oil for the food, yet the material is more delicate.
If maintained properly, it avoids any sticking of foods, especially chicken and beef.
There’s always an electric version available when it comes to cookware (electric skillet, anyone?), and woks aren’t any different. For anyone who has limited cooking space or who wants a portable wok, the electric wok is the type for you.
Rather than having to use a stovetop, you can simply plug it in anywhere you go and get cooking.
Our Picks for the Best Woks
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Factors to Consider When Buying a Wok
Like any investment in a new cookware pot or pan there a few things to consider before you bring home your brand new wok. After figuring out what type you are after, the next step is to take the following factors into consideration.
There are two bottoms that woks can have; round, and flat. Which bottom you choose will mostly depend on the stove that you will be cooking on.
- Flat bottom woks are the best-suited option for electric stoves for balance and stability.
- Rounded bottoms are more traditional and the most common style. They are ideal for gas stoves and provide a more even distribution of heat.
When it comes to woks, size matters. Using a small wok to whip up a giant feast just isn’t feasible.
You want to avoid overcrowding and for the food to cook evenly without steaming. Woks can range from 10” all the way to 26” in size.
Obviously, the larger ones are typically used at restaurants and by chefs who are accustomed to such large cookware.
The right size for you will depend on how much food you are looking to cook, the depth, and your stovetop.
One of the great aspects of cooking with a wok is that your food can be easily tossed. But getting those nice tosses in will be difficult if you can’t even lift the pan without being out of breath.
The wok needs to be maneuverable yet made of strong and durable material.
Yes, there are even more features to be considered before making your purchase! We know this might seem overwhelming but they are important to avoid any post-buying regrets.
While woks are rather simple to use, there are a few elements that need to be taken into account. That way you can be sure you are buying the best product for your kitchen.
With a Lid or Without?
Not all woks will come with lids, however, having one can make simmering and overall cooking much easier.
It can speed up the cooking time and help create different cooking styles, depending on what recipe you are following.
An extra tip is to make sure the lid is made of transparent material, that way you can keep an eye on your food!
The Handle type
There are two handle types available on woks:
A Long handle
This handle-style is most common for flat-bottomed woks. Similar to a skillet, woks can come with a long wooden or metal handle that makes it easier to move and tilt as needed.
Additionally, woks can also come with an additional “helper” handle on the opposite side for more support.
Traditional woks tend to have two handles. One on each side of the wok, the small metal or wooden handles are typically seen on round-bottomed woks.
Depending on the brand and style of wok that you are buying, they can come with a bonus wok spatula, a lid, or other helpful accessories.
You can generally use any spatula or stirring instrument you have on simple meals, however, for more complex dishes that could cause food to stick to the bottom, you need to think about the type wok spatula you want to use.
If you have decided to go with a round-bottomed wok, a wok ring might be a good purchase. It keeps your wok balanced and in place, especially over flat cooking surfaces.
Your stovetop will also define the type of wok ring you will need to purchase.
A Little Background
The literal translation of “wok” in Cantonese is “cooking pot”, however, it has different names for it in different Asian languages.
It is believed that the wok originated in China and the reason for it being used in so many other Asian countries is thanks to traveling monks.
Because of the cookware’s easy portability and versatility, it quickly became a kitchen staple across East and Southeast Asia.
Tips for Making Your New Wok Last Longer
Season a wok
Now, we’ve mentioned seasoning a few times but at this stage, and you might be wondering what it is and how to do it.
Seasoning a wok means removing the preservative oils that build up every time you cook.
It prevents rust and corrosion to your wok. Clean your wok fully, dry it completely, then treat the pan with a seasoning oil of your choice.
Best Seasoning Oils
The following oils are recommended for seasoning as they have a high smoking point. This means that they can be used at very high temperatures and won’t burn.
- Peanut oil
- Canola oil
- Grape Seed oil
- Sunflower oil
It is difficult to give a one-size-fits-all answer because the seasoning method will depend on the type of wok you have purchased and your stove.
Therefore, you will need to read the instructions on the box to get the seasoning instructions for your particular wok.
However, we don’t want to leave you in suspense and have provided you with a video that explains different ways to season your woks and pans:
Cooking with a Wok
As you would have noticed, woks have more to them than meets the eye. To make sure you are using your new cookware right, we have provided you with some cooking tips:
- Make sure the pan is hot before adding your oil
- It’s a wok, so don’t use too much oil
- Keep the wok hot at all times while you are cooking
- Stir-fry your proteins first and drain any excess oils and fats
You want to make sure that your wok is hot at all times but if you notice that it starts to get too hot, cool it down with some broth, water, or even rice wine!
Best Wok Brands
Joyce Chen Products
Joyce Chen came to America in 1949 where she eventually opened up a Chinese restaurant and upon realizing that the Asian cookware available did not meet her standards, she invented her own.
The beauty of Joyce Chen Products is that they not only specialize in cookware but also utensils, cookbooks, sauces, food, and even contemporary Asian tableware.
This brand has made Eastern cookware suitable for Western kitchens and produces high-quality products that can provide an authentic Asian cooking experience.
Offering between 25 years to lifetime warranty on their woks, Joyce Chen Products guarantees customers great products.
In the market for over 25 years, as the name suggests, Ecolution is eco-friendly.
With their motto “Cook Well, Do Good”, their products are made durable as well as non-toxic, and safe for both the environment and their customers’ health.
Ecolution offers clients a limited lifetime warranty as long as the product’s damage isn’t aesthetic or from misuse and wear.
FAQs about Woks
Why do I need a wok?
While you can absolutely cook all kinds of Asian meals in a regular pan, if you are looking to include them more at home, then buying a wok is a great investment.
Some benefits of using a wok are;
- More even heat distribution
- They require less oil (making the food healthier!)
- You can toss the food more easily
What kind of food can I make with a wok?
The beauty of a wok is its versatility. It can be used for stir-frying, poaching, braising, stewing, steaming, pan-frying, deep-frying, searing, smoking, roasting nuts and even for making soups.
Your options are endless!
What size should my wok be?
Choosing your wok size depends on how many people you are feeding and/or how much leftover food you want.
Between 12” and 14” is a good size to feed up to four people or to have enough for lunch tomorrow.
Anything above this will most likely just take up too much space on both your stovetop and when it comes to storage.
What wok handles are best?
Most woks made for western kitchens come with a single handle unless you buy an electric one, in which case two handles are more common.
We recommend the single skillet-style with the helper handle for maximum movement but with that extra bit of support when carrying the wok from one place to another (especially when it’s full of food!).
Can I use a wok in the oven?
Yes and no. If there are no wooden or plastic handles, then you are more than welcome to put the wok in the oven and get cooking.
But be sure of the handle’s material before attempting to put it in the oven to avoid any accidents.
What material should my wok be made from?
The most common type of wok used by chefs is made of carbon steel as it combines even heating and quick cooking.
Meanwhile, other materials such as copper are high-heat conductors and often won’t cook your food evenly.
How do I clean my wok properly?
To get the most out of your wok, it goes without saying that maintenance is key.
- Make sure you season it before your first use and every so often to get the most out of it.
- Get in the habit of cleaning your wok immediately after use and make sure to use hot water.
- Avoid using abrasive sponges as they damage the protective layers that are built up on a wok.
- Rather than leaving it to air dry, we recommend drying it off with a soft kitchen towel to preserve the protective layers we already mentioned.
Get to Wok!
We hope that you now have a broader understanding of the different types and best woks available along with which style would best suit your needs.
Whether it is a gas-stove, aluminum, or a small wok, having one in your kitchen is essential for whipping up the ultimate stir fry. Now get out there and buy yourself a wok.