Wok – The Best 2020 Guide to Cooking Woks

COOKING WOKS

2020 GUIDE

Once you’ve cooked with a wok, adding one to your kitchen will be something you’ll wish you had done a long time ago. Many home chefs feel intimidated by the seasoning process required to maintain a wok, but you will be pleasantly surprised to find how simple caring for a wok really is. 

Its ease of use, quick cook time and delightful flavoring make the wok a kitchen essential that gives back. Join us as we explore this iconic pan and discover how it can make your daily meal preparation more enjoyable.

What Are Woks?

Woks are wide and deep cooking pans with a flared shape. They are designed to withstand high heat and can sear ingredients quickly to create a satisfying charred flavor. Chinese cooking relies heavily on woks.

Why Are Woks So Popular?

Though the wok was first contrived in China, it has gained popularity across multiple continents because of its versatility. These are just some of the reasons this innovative pan is stealing hearts worldwide:

  • Built to withstand high heat, only a small amount of oil is needed to sear your food for a healthy, low-fat meal.

  • A wok cooks food quickly. Crank the heat up and have yourself a full meal in 10 minutes or less.

  • Just because you’re cooking with minimal fat, doesn’t mean you can’t have flavor. The oxidized seasoning oil that rests in the pores across the surface of the wok imparts a luxurious smoky flavor called wok hei to anything prepared in the wok.

  • Just because you’re cooking with minimal fat, doesn’t mean you can’t have flavor. The oxidized seasoning oil that rests in the pores across the surface of the wok imparts a luxurious smoky flavor called wok hei to anything prepared in the wok.

  • When seasoned properly with high-smoke point oil, a wok becomes nonstick–even without a Teflon factory coating.

  • Eggs, stir-fry, noodles, fish, meat, rice, curries–you can cook such a wide variety of dishes in the wok that it’s the only pan you really need in the kitchen.

Where Did Woks Originate From and Why Are They Shaped the Way They Are?

The word “wok” has Cantonese roots. Yet the wok as we know it today may have been in existence long before it emerged in Chinese culture. What we do know is that the Chinese helped popularize the wok across Asia.

In the tombs of the Han Dynasty royals, researchers discovered miniature replicas of wok-like pans, suggesting the wok may date back as far as 200 BC. Historians also believe the Mongols, a nomadic group that lived on the continent of Asia, may have carried the wok with them and shared it with the people they encountered in their travels. 

With limited access to fuel, the wok was considered an attractive food preparation tool. It heated quickly, cooked efficiently and retained heat for longer than other styles of pans. Overall, less fuel and time was needed to prepare meals with a wok.

Traditional Chinese woks have a round bottom, which likely originated from food preparation over open fire. The deep, wide design maximized the cooking surface available and kept food from spilling out. 

Some things have changed since the very first wok. Upon the advent of flat stovetops, flat-bottomed wok alternatives were developed. And while conserving fuel is no longer a top priority for most cooks, the speed at which a meal can be prepared makes the wok as attractive as ever. 

What’s the Best Wok Overall ?

Carbon steel really is the ideal material for a wok. You’ll find most carbon steel options to be affordable, great at conducting heat and hardwearing. If you invest in a superior quality carbon steel wok, it will last for a lifetime.

If you’re looking for a wok made with the modern kitchen in mind, the Made In Blue Carbon Steel Wok is for you. This flat-bottomed wok is ideal for electric cooktops and gas ranges alike. No wok ring is needed. Instead, the Made In Wok sits directly against the heat source to facilitate optimal heat transference. 

Often, round-bottomed woks are superior when it comes to evenly heating the sides of a wok. But the thin-walled carbon steel design of the Made In enables maximum heat distribution, so you can stir-fry across every inch of its surface.

Home kitchen cooks, industry professionals and the media have all been captivated by this reliable wok. The New York Times praised the Made In’s ability to heat quickly while providing safety to the cook with its extended handle. And Good Housekeeping awarded this Blue Carbon Steel Wok with the title of “Best Heavy Duty Wok”. 

Take a look at the specs that make the Made In Blue Carbon Steel Wok stand out:

  • A reasonable diameter of 12.5” means it is large enough for a full meal but still fits nicely on a domestic stovetop.
  • Weighing 4.6 lbs., it is light enough to lift with one arm and maneuver while cooking.
  • A complimentary container with a mix of canola, beeswax and grapeseed oil come with your wok for optimal seasoning.
  • The small pores on this carbon steel wok make for a more polished finish than traditional cast iron.
  • Seasoning the Made In is easy, so you can enjoy the benefits of a nonstick surface with minimal effort.
  • A long, “stay cool” handle keeps your hand away from the heat of the wok as you stir the food.

The Made In Blue Carbon Steel Wok will make both professional and amateur cooks swoon. Dare we say, this carbon steel wok will outperform even the best traditional cast iron wok. 

Dishes You Can Make In a Wok

There are endless possibilities when it comes to cooking with a wok. Here are a few kitchen favorites sure to be hit at your next meal:

Chow Mein : With a mix of noodles, veggies and a protein, chow mein is the dish that has it all. You’ll be surprised how little time it takes to sauté the ingredients to perfection.

Moo Goo Gai Pan : This combo of mushrooms, forest vegetables and chicken is ideal for wok cooking. The flavorful sauce thickens quickly when added to the wok.

Stir-Fry : Perhaps the best-known wok recipe, stir-fry can be served on a bed of rice or with noodles. Tweak this recipe by food blogger Small Town Woman by adding your own selection of favorite veggies and a protein of your choice:

Stir-Fry Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ lbs. Diced Chicken Breast
  • 2 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
  • 1 tsp. Chopped Ginger
  • 1 ½ Tbsp. Cornstarch
  • 2-3 Tbsp. Canola Oil
  • 1 Small Diced Onion
  • 1 Diced Bell Pepper (Any Color)
  • 2 Large Carrots
  • 2 to 3 Cups of Broccoli
  • ½ lb. Asparagus

Stir-Fry Sauce

  • 1 Cup Chicken Broth
  • 2 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
  • ½ tsp. Sesame Oil
  • 1 Tbsp. Sugar
  • 2 tsp. Rice Vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. Cornstarch
  • Optional: 1 Tbsp Chopped Ginger, 1 Tbsp. Sambel Oleck

Types of Woks

Nowadays, there is a wok for every occasion. Take a look at this comprehensive list of wok options to get an idea of where to start your search for the perfect wok:

  • Electric Wok
  • Carbon Steel Wok
  • Thin Cast Iron Wok
  • Thick-Walled Wok
  • Flat-Bottomed Wok
  • Round-Bottomed Wok
  • Dual-Handle Wok
  • Miniature 8” Wok

Which Woks Are Right for Which People? 

Depending on your living situation or lifestyle, some woks will suit you better than others. Are you searching for a wok to match any of the circumstances below?

Electric Stovetops : A flat-bottomed wok is best for cooking on a flat surface such as an electric stovetop. Although you could use a wok ring or Chinese stovetop grate to accommodate a round-bottomed wok, this will reduce the efficiency of heat distribution and prevent the wok from reaching maximum temperatures. 

No Stove : If you don’t have a stovetop or find your stove doesn’t produce high enough heat, try an electric wok. Since everything from eggs to veggies to noodles can be prepared in a wok, it can replace a stove in its own right.

Simply plug your wok in when needed. You can adjust the temperature settings to match the desired style of cooking, whether that be steaming, smoking or stir-frying. After the wok is cool and clean, stash it in your cupboard until the next meal. 

Small Kitchens : Miniature woks are available in 8” and 9” diameters, which is a great option if your kitchen is cramped. But if you go smaller than this, you may struggle to cook properly in the wok. 

Opt for a pan that has a loop on the handle so you can hang the wok on the wall. This will save storage space in a cupboard or on the stovetop. 

Traveling : Small woks in durable, light materials are ideal for traveling. Look for a wok made of a lightweight material such as carbon steel with a diameter of about 8”. Anything larger than this and you may not have space for it in your travel kitchen or luggage. 

Make sure the small wok is deep enough to allow for proper stir-frying. Note that traveling with an aluminum wok is not recommended since it is a softer metal that is prone to surface damage.

What Are Woks Made Out Of?

You’ll find woks made of everything from cast iron to aluminized steel. The best material for a wok is one which conducts and holds heat relatively well. 

Durable metals are ideal as a wok must withstand high heat, acidic foods and the use of metal cooking utensils. Carbon steel has become one of the most common metals for woks because it meets all of these standards.

The Best Carbon Steel Wok

The Made In Blue Carbon Steel Wok plays on all the best features of a traditional wok, but with a twist. Designed for use on flat-top electric and gas stoves, its lightweight French carbon steel construction makes it easy to toss your ingredients.

The Made In heats quickly and thoroughly, maintaining its seasoned nonstick surface during cooking. A kitchen essential of exceptional quality, this wok will be with you for life.

The Best Cast Iron Wok

Take it from cooks and customers, the best cast iron wok out there is the Lodge P14W3 Pro-Logic Cast Iron Wok. You’ll get the best of both worlds with its round-bottomed interior mounted on a thick, flat base that allows for efficient heat distribution, even on an electric stovetop.

Weighing just short of 12 lbs., this is a sturdy, solid wok. The porous cast iron material holds its seasoning well, preventing food from sticking. Your food will have a slightly crispy texture when cooked in the Pro-Logic Cast Iron Wok.

The Pro-Logic Cast Iron Wok has two side handles rather than one long-armed handle. When moving the wok, you may wish to cover each handle with a heat-resistant silicone cover such as the Lodge Hot Handle Holder, but oven mitts will work, too.

The Best Electric Wok

The Aroma Housewares AEW-306 5-Quart Electric Wok is a bit different than the other woks we have discussed so far. Its nonstick coating is more like that of a Teflon pan than a traditional wok, which means the Aroma Electric Wok is dishwasher safe (just remove the detachable electric base first). 

It heats fast, so your meal can be done in five minutes or less. The Aroma Electric Wok also comes with ten different heat settings and a couple of steam/smoke racks, so you won’t be restricted to stir-fry dishes alone. There is also a 7-quart and a 3-quart size available .

Note that its nonstick coating can be damaged by metal utensils. Opt for wood or silicon tools instead.

The Best Overall Wok

Carbon steel is recognized as one of the best materials for woks because of its durability, thermal conduction and manageable weight. That’s why we had to go with the Made In Blue Carbon Steel Wok as our top wok recommendation. 

The Made In Wok consistently delivers excellent results, making it a sure thing when you want a great meal. Try seasoning the pan with grapeseed oil or avocado oil for the best nonstick effect.

Accessories for Woks

You don’t really need much to make the most of your wok, but you will find the wok accessories below to be very helpful. For safety reasons, convenience or practicality, the right accessory will seal the deal and take your cooking experience from great to perfect.

Wok Cooking Utensils

Your wok must be kept very hot throughout cooking for optimal results. To protect your hands and arms from burns, using cooking utensils with longer handles is best. 

Many kitchen companies carry extra-long metal and wooden utensils designed specifically for use with a wok. You’ll find it much easier to reach ingredients at the bottom of a deep wok with these cooking tools.

Metal utensils cannot be used on pans such as the Aroma Housewares AEW-306 5-Quart Electric Wok, since it has a factory nonstick coating. But you should have no problem finding silicon or wood alternatives to make your cooking experience safe and fun.

Hot Handle Holders

Some woks do not have a long handle. Instead, they have sturdy side handles like the Lodge P14W3 Pro-Logic Cast Iron Wok

You will need a set of silicone hot handle holders to pick up the hot wok safely. These fit over each of the handles and can be left on, even when cooking, so you can pick the wok up at a moment’s notice. Alternatively, a nice set of oven mitts or heat-resistant pot holders can do the trick.

Wok Ring

A round-bottomed wok can be used on an electric or flat-top gas stove by setting the wok on a wok ring. The ring prevents the rounded wok from moving about during the cooking process. It also holds the wok squarely over the heat source to improve heat conduction. 

If you have a gas stove, there is always the option to go for something more authentic. Remove your regular grate and switch in a Chinese range grate like the Bosch Slide-In Range Wok Ring. This allows the bottom of your wok to dip into the gas flame and creates a sizzling hot cook surface. 

Tips and Tricks When Cooking with a Wok

  • Let your wok cool before cleaning it to prevent warping.
  • Never use soap to clean your wok. Detergents will strip away the protective nonstick layer of oil from the wok, making the surface sticky and vulnerable to rusting.
    *Dishwasher-safe woks are an exception to this rule.
  • Use a damp cloth, steel wool or salt to scrub food from the wok’s surface if necessary.
  • If you use water to clean your wok, place it on the stovetop immediately after and dry it on high heat to prevent rusting.
  • To keep your wok from losing its nonstick layer, you need to season it pan after every single use. But don’t worry–it only takes a minute. Once the wok is clean and dry, splash a small amount of seasoning oil into the pan. Wipe it across the entire interior surface of the wok to create a very thin layer. Done!

The Next Steps: From Buying a Wok to Cooking

  1. Shopping: Assess your kitchen and consider your personal preferences before choosing a wok. Do you have space for a traditional wok or only a small wok? Do you need a wok that you can take camping or will it never leave your home kitchen? Would you prefer a dishwasher safe wok or do you want to wash and season by hand?
  2. Once you’ve decided on your ideal wok, it is time to order online. We recommend the tried and true Made In Blue Carbon Steel Wok because of its indestructibility and carefully considered design.
  3.  When your wok arrives and is removed from its packaging, you may notice a dark, oily sheen on its surface. This is a temporary coating used to prevent the formation of rust before the pan can be properly seasoned. Fully remove this oil by washing the wok with soap and warm water. This will be the only time you ever use soap on your wok. The factory oil can be difficult to remove and may take several rounds of washing.
  4. Seasoning: Now that your wok is cleaned, it’s time to season it. Make sure it is completely dry by first heating it up on the stove on high heat for a full 10 minutes. Tilt the wok to ensure that the sides are being dried as well.
  5. If you’re seasoning a carbon steel wok like the Made In Blue Carbon Steel, the heat of the stove will turn its surface from black to silver. This means it is ready to be seasoned. Use a folded paper towel to apply a thin layer of high smoke point oil such as grapeseed, avocado or safflower oil. 
  6. Heat the wok again on high for another 10 minutes. This will polymerize the oil on the surface of the wok to create a nonstick effect. The pan will acquire a brown, black or blue color during this process. A properly seasoned wok will also be protected from the effects of moisture, so you won’t lose your pan to rust. Now your wok is ready for its first cooking task. 
  7. Cooking: Place your wok on the stove and crank the heat to high. It is best to heat your wok until it smokes a bit before adding any oil or ingredients. 
  8. Once the wok is hot, add cold cooking oil and the ingredients to be prepared. If needed, add a bit of water at a time to create steam. Keep in mind that too much water will cool the wok and prevent the ingredients from getting a nice, smoky sear.
  9.  Let your ingredients begin to brown before you toss or flip them over. Since you have seasoned your wok well, you won’t need to worry about food sticking to the surface of the pan.
  10. Once your food is cooked to your liking (look for those crispy edges), remove the wok from the stovetop. If you have a cast iron wok, it is best to transfer the food to a dish immediately. Cast iron holds heat for a long time, so your food will keep cooking in the wok long after removal from the heat source.
  11. Clean Up: After you are done cooking, let the wok cool before cleaning it to prevent warping. Wipe the wok clean with a paper towel and apply a very thin layer of oil for seasoning. That’s it!
  12. If scrubbing is required, use a damp sponge, steel wool or oil and salt to create an abrasive scrub, but do not use soap. 
  13. If you have used a damp sponge to clean the wok,  immediately heat it on the stove to evaporate any moisture; it should only take a couple minutes. This will keep the surface of the wok free of rust. 
  14. Once dry, sweep a thin layer of oil across the entire inner surface of the wok with a paper towel. Now it is seasoned and ready to go for the next meal.

Is a Wok the Best Option for You? 

Anyone can experience the joy of cooking with a wok. The simple heating and oil application process needed to season the wok is nothing to be intimidated by. After getting into a routine of seasoning, caring for your wok will become second nature.

Wok cooking opens up a world of possibilities in your kitchen. Try your hand at meal prep with a wok today and see what you’ve been missing.

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