Your Guide to Types of Woks (and Which Is Right for You)
Looking to add a wok to your kitchen? Discover the type of wok that's best for your stir-fry needs.
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These deep, round-bottomed pans are essential Chinese cooking tools, though you can use them for all sorts of Asian-inspired meals. These are the best woks for your kitchen, according to our experts. There are lots of types of woks on the market, so before you pick up one of our favorite Asian cookbooks, make sure you’re grabbing the pan that suits you best.
Why You Need a Wok
Taste of Home
We’ve all made stir-fry or fried rice in a frying pan or saute pan before: It’s passable, but neither pan is ideal.
Many Asian recipes call for a fast, high-heat cooking method. You want every piece of food to cook quickly, using dry heat to brown rather than soften, and to allow the vegetables and meats to cook simultaneously. Woks are the right tool for the job for several reasons:
- They have high sides that make it easy to toss and flip every bite of food.
- Their flared sides also allow steam to escape rather than remain in the pan and soften the food.
- They are made from a thin material compared to most everyday pans, which allows heat to conduct quickly and efficiently.
All types of woks should have those three elements—the high sides, flared design, and thin conductive material.
Types of Woks and Important Features
Taste of Home
Now, you may know that you want to add a wok to your kitchen, but you may not know what type of wok is right for you. Consider these criteria before you click “add to cart.” You can, however, bookmark these Chinese recipes in the meantime.
Woks should be made with a very conductive metal, and preferably one that’s also lightweight. Carbon steel is a popular choice. Aluminum is another lighter-weight option.
Cast-iron woks will be heavier, but if you enjoy cooking with your cast-iron skillet, you’ll likely love a cast-iron wok just as much. You can even get a Lodge cast-iron wok to match your Lodge skillet.
Nonstick vs. Seasoned
You definitely don’t want food to stick to the pan in a high-heat situation. A material like carbon steel can be seasoned with oil, just like your best cast-iron pan, which creates a naturally nonstick surface that will improve with every use.
Many woks come with a nonstick coating, like this GreenPan wok. It’s easy to clean and lets food glide over the surface. On the other hand, a nonstick coating usually can’t handle a cooking temperature over medium heat, which means your stir-fry won’t be as crisp as it could be over a hotter temp. Nonstick pans also don’t last as long as carbon steel or cast-iron woks since the coating does wear away over time.
Flat vs. Curved Base
Many woks have a curved base, which makes for easy food tossing and lets heat travel up the curved sides most efficiently. Curved-bottom woks work best when placed in a wok ring: a round collar that holds the wok over a burner (typically a gas burner).
Cooking directly on a gas or electric burner? You want to look for a wok with a flat base, which will allow it to sit directly over the burner and conduct heat.
Typically, woks either have two small metal handles (like ears) or one long one—often made of wood like this Joyce Chen wok.
If you want to shake and toss your ingredients like a pro, a wok with a long handle is the model for you. If you’d rather just stir the contents of your wok, one with small handles will work better.
Cooking for a big family? Go ahead and get a big wok (some are as large as six or eight quarts).
If you mostly cook for two or three, seek out a smaller model. Cooking a small amount of food in a too-large pan makes it easy to burn the food and scorch the cooking oil, which gives food a bitter taste.
Stand-alone electric woks have a built-in heat element, which lets cooks plug in anywhere and get cooking. They offer a high, consistent heat that’s ideal for stir-frying.
Electric woks like the Breville Hot Wok Pro, offer you flexibility in the kitchen. You can set up an electric wok anywhere there’s an outlet and get to work. This can give your sous chef some room to make rice on the stovetop. These types of woks, however, tend to be more expensive than their classic counterparts.