Quick Guide to Woks
CHOOSING the best wok for stir-frying is simple: Go for one made from carbon steel with a flat bottom that can sit on the stove. You'll get great seared flavor and aroma, referred to as wok hei, using high heat and little oil.
Eating healthy should still be delicious.
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SEASONING a new wok is important for removing any metallic taste and creating a seal: Stir chives or green onions and a little oil in the pan over high heat until a mahogany patina develops. (Discard food and oil.)
PURCHASING this stir-fry essential won't put a big dent in your wallet. Wok Shop's 14-inch, flat-bottomed, carbon-steel wok (above) can be ordered online or picked up at their San Francisco store. $25, wokshop.com
A Beginner’s Guide to Superb Stir-Fry: Quick, Healthy Meals from a Wok
This week we’ve been bringing you a series of lessons and recipes that show you how to stir-fry. Why? Besides the delicious results, stir-frying also offers something that our readers frequently request: Fast, healthy, seasonal meals. Stir-frying in a wok gives you a meal that can express these things beautifully, and it’s also a method well-suited to those of you cooking for just one or two people. It can feed more too, though — the wok is a kitchen implement of great practicality and swift, delicious food.
Here’s a look back at what we’ve covered. From scrumptious fried rice to the perfect chicken stir-fry and a lesson on stir-frying any kind of vegetable, everything you need to make superb stir-fried meals is here!
I have to admit, I never was enamored of the wok. I always saw it as one more big pan to clutter up my small city kitchen cupboards. It even seemed vaguely pretentious was I really so “authentic” of a cook that I needed this giant pan?
But then I visited Grace Young a few weeks ago and she walked us through the essentials of stir-frying. I was hooked! The results were so incredibly delicious, and for much less work and delicate, painstaking technique than I expected. It was a method that was easy to learn quickly.
Grace very kindly gifted me with a new carbon steel wok, which we seasoned and prepped for cooking. Two nights ago I was inspired to try out my new skills, and I whipped up the chicken stir-fry we have here for me and my husband. Wow! In 20 minutes I went from no dinner to a delicious, gorgeous plate of chicken and vegetables. It was the perfect meal for an early summer evening, and it required me to stand over the stove for less than 5 minutes.
So, take the word of a (now converted) wok-aholic — this tool and this method of cooking are very much worth knowing, especially if you want to teach yourself to get fast, healthy weeknight dinners on the table.
A few more notes:
• While you can stir-fry some dishes in a deep sauté pan, a carbon steel wok is worth buying. They are very inexpensive ($20 to $25) and versatile.
• Carbon steel woks need to be seasoned, but this isn’t hard (we show you how) and it’s not difficult to keep them looking good and feeling nonstick.
• These lessons have lots of steps and photos, but don’t be intimidated. We wanted to show you every piece of the stir-fry process, but know that this all happens in a matter of minutes! Memorize and learn these recipes by heart, and once you learn them they’ll fly by in a flash.
Best Woks at a Glance
- Best Value Round Bottom Wok:The Wok Shop Carbon Steel Wok With Metal Side Handle, Round Bottom, 14-inch
- Best Splurge Round Bottom Wok:Craft Wok Traditional Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Pow Wok, Round Bottom, 14-inch
- Best Value Flat Bottom Wok:KYTD Carbon Steel Wok, 12.5-inch
- Best Splurge Flat Bottom Wok:Yosukata Carbon Steel Wok Pan, 13.5-inch
Carbon Steel Wok Buying Guide
When looking for a good wok, you want to make sure that it is well-balanced, lightweight, solidly built, and can withstand the high temperatures needed for stir-frying. This is why we highly recommend a carbon steel wok for everyday use.
These are safe, effective, durable, and versatile pans that can be used for far more than just stir-frying and making Asian-inspired dishes. They come in a variety of sizes and styles and some come with accessories like lids for added utility.
When looking for the best carbon steel wok for your needs, you will want to consider the size of the pan, the weight and balance, and any accessories you may wish to have.
The size of the pan you need will depend on the amount of food you plan on making. If you are cooking for just one or two people, a smaller wok will be suitable. For larger families, you will want to look for a larger wok, at least 10-inches in diameter.
Weight and Balance
You want a pan that you can easily move around, so a lightweight pan will be the easiest to work with. But you also want a pan that is well balanced. You don’t want a pan with a handle so heavy that the pan won’t sit flat on the stove.
Some woks come with accessories like lids or rice paddles. If this is important to you, you will want to look for this when shopping.
5 Essential Tools in the Korean Kitchen
Discover the essential kitchen tools that make Korean cooking unique.
Korean cuisine is among the most distinctive cuisines on the planet, but cooking such unique food requires some specific kitchen gear and gadgets.
So if you&aposre planning on cooking Korean food—whether that means trying out a quick andꃪsy bulgolgi recipe or putting together the perfect bowl ofibimbap—there are a few basic tools you&aposll want to have on hand to help you master any meal.
Here are five items you&aposll find in most Korean kitchens—plus tips and ideas on how to use them.
Rice Cooker and Spatula
Rice has been a staple of the Korean diet for centuries. The little grain makes a great base for a variety of different meal types and flavors while providing the body with filling carbs.
You&aposll want a rice cooker in order to properly and easily prepare your rice. This machine will allow you to cook as large a quantity as you want at any given time. You can use a spatula to easy control and corral your rice, as well as maneuver it within your bowls and rice cooker.
Pro tip: Put individual portions into zip-top bags and freeze them, then just pop them in the microwave for a couple of minutes to defrost, so you don&apost have to cook rice quite as often.
It may seem odd to western audiences, but Korean chefs use cooking scissors to cut their massive cuts of Korean BBQ meat. The scissors are also used to cut noodles. Although noodles are served in bite-size, manageable portions in restaurants and even some supermarkets, noodles actually come in massive quantities and fantastically large lengths. Cooking scissors help cut these noodles down to size and keep them manageable on plates and in bowls. Scissors are highly durable and easy to use, unlike overly large knives and other Western cooking utensils.
Woks serve a variety of needs. First and foremost, woks are used to mix vegetables together in a way that is both easier to manage and helps retain the flavors of the vegetables and meats being mixed. Woks are deeper than ordinary pots and pans, allowing the juices of the dish to gather and mix to create a unique and delicious culinary delight. Bulgolgi, japchae, and other iconic Korean dishes are cooked using a wok. The cooked food is naturally moved to the sides of the wok while the raw food stays at the bottom, where it meets the heat.
For making kimbap, a rolling mat is essential. The preparation of kimbap is similar to that of a traditional sushi roll. Rolling mats may seem like an item you could skip, but they&aposre crucial to cooking Korean like a pro. They&aposre inexpensive, too, and make rolling kimbap into a nice tight roll considerably easier.
Stone bowls are just that𠅋owls made of stone. Called Dolsots, these bowls are used extensively in Korean cooking because of their durability and ability to retain heat without hassle or harm. The texture of the bowls also produces perfectly cooked rice, helping develop just the right balance between softness and an almost crunchy texture.
Some of the most delicate and delicious Korean dishes, such as bibimbap and dol sot bi bim bap, use stone bowls to bring their rice to a perfect consistency. While heavy and sometimes immobile, you&aposll want to invest in a stone bowl or two if you&aposre serious about creating great and authentic Korean dishes.
Lodge Pro-Logic Wok With Flat Base and Loop Handles, 14-inch, Black
arrow_forwardOne Lodge Pre-Seasoned 14 Inch Cast Iron Wok
arrow_forwardLarge handles and flat base for easier handling
arrow_forwardUnparalleled heat retention and even heating
arrow_forwardPre-seasoned with 100% natural vegetable oil
arrow_forwardUse to sear, sauté, bake, broil, braise, fry, or grill
Best Overall: Calphalon Premier Flat-Bottom Wok with Helper Handle
No seasoning or special maintenance required
Specially textured surface for searing
Triple-coated nonstick finish
Not compatible with induction cooktops
Helper handle can get very hot
Food can get stuck on the rivets
This exemplary modern wok is a fantastic bridge for those trying to master wok cooking techniques, bolstered by the peace of mind of working with a nonstick surface. In this elite partnership collection between Calphalon and Williams Sonoma, you get all of the familiarity, ease, and quality of hard-anodized cookware—and then some. Its triple-layer interior is a significant upgrade from its already excellent other lines it’s remarkable for being able to bear the use of metal spatulas, whisks, and spoons (but not knives or forks), which is typically a no-no for nonstick. Plus, this wok boasts a specially textured surface designed to sear, which can imitate the coveted wok hei effect of char-kissed food. The fact that its core material is fast-heating aluminum also helps you capture every critical degree.
Another technical, tradition-minded aspect that makes this wok such a winner is the relatively small size of the flat bottom paired with the wide 13-inch overall diameter. This dramatic expansion means your food is less likely to sit at the bottom and burn, nor pile up and steam, collecting crisp-killing moisture. You’ll have plenty of side-area cooking surface to cook your ingredients on without any risk of veggies getting soaked from the bottom. But if your goal is to steam, more good news: This version comes with a low-profile tempered glass lid, which allows you to peek without losing any heat. Plus, a long, ergonomic riveted handle allows you to toss this 6.5-pound pan with ease if you’re feeling ambitious about showmanship.
Material: Hard-anodized aluminum | Max Heat Capacity: 450 degrees | Induction Ready: No
The common and poetic definition for wok hei is "breath of the wok," but that doesn’t tell you much. Scientifically, it’s when screaming hot temperatures, agitated fat molecules, and vaporizing water molecules combine in mini combustions to imbue the hint of char, smoke, and fire in your food. You’ve seen it in action if you’ve ever watched traditional wok cooking, the moment clearly identifiable as small flare-ups burst up like quick kisses and small celebrations in and around the dish. Most importantly, it’s the vital, critical difference between limply sautéed and briskly wok-fried—an immeasurable quality that adds unplaceable depth and gorgeous warmth to stir-fried dishes.
The Best Salmon Recipes For Quick And Easy Dinners
People get intimidated when they think about cooking fish. It's delicate, very easy to overcook (or undercook), and it runs the risk of making your whole kitchen smell for days. This is to say nothing of the fact that you might not get the fish you think you're buying because of rampant mislabeling.
Fear not, fish fans. Some seafood is hard to screw up, and one of our favorite kinds of fish falls into that category: salmon. Salmon is one of the most forgiving fish out there. In fact, it's almost idiot-proof.
Its oily flesh and skin keep it moist, and its meaty texture will satisfy even the most carnivorous dinner guest. Salmon gets extra bonus points for being filled with omega-3 fatty acids, which soothe inflammation and are good for cardiovascular health. Do you hear what we're saying, everyone? Eating this delicious thing is actually good for you!
One other note: don’t be afraid of the skin. Crisp salmon skin is one of the singular delights of this world. It is like a potato chip from the sea. Eat it. It’s good for you. Just make sure there aren’t any scales on it.
Still not sure? Allow us to convince you with our 32 easy ways to cook salmon:
The best woks to transform your stir fry
We tested a selection of woks in search of the ultimate "wok hei" (wok's air)
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A good wok can transform your stir fry game. It's all down to an effect known as 'wok hei' (meaning 'wok's air' or 'wok's breath'), whereby the pan reaches a fierce heat, and then transfers it in a flash to your sliced and diced ingredients. Buy a good wok and its 'hei' will ensure you can quickly char the outside of your meat and vegetables while keeping the crunch of a firmer middle. In other words, it will give you that characteristically delicious stir-fry taste.
As someone who counts on this fast, furious method of cooking to whip up the majority of mid-week meals at home, an upgrade on my old pan – which had long lost its non-stick shtick – was long overdue. But what to choose –standard non-stick, non-stick ceramic or traditional carbon steel? Round bottom, or flat bottom?
Non-stick pans will need replacing if the non-stick coating wears off, but they're easier to maintain and wash up. Metal utensils can scratch the coating off, and they're not entirely resistant to high heat: hot fats and oils can also damage the coating (which defeats the object somewhat).
Meanwhile, uncoated carbon steel is preferred by chefs because it generates smokier, tastier dishes, and can last a lifetime if cared for properly. It's renowned for being pretty much indestructible by heat. The only problem? Well, you have to care for it properly – which means seasoning the wok continuously so that it builds up a natural, non-stick patina. (I've explained how to do so at the bottom of this article).
Y ou can use metal utensils with a carbon steel wok, not just wood and silicone, but it must always be thoroughly dried, to prevent rusting.
In terms of metal, other options include cast iron (quite heavy), or even stainless steel, but these are a little more niche, so I stuck to standard non-stick, non-stick ceramic and traditional carbon steel.
Round bottom woks are said to be better at circulating heat evenly to create wok hei, but they don't balance easily on certain types of hob (induction, electric). "Flat bottom woks were invented for flat top hobs, and if the edges are nicely rounded, then you can still get good circulation of heat," says Jeremy Pang, founder of the School of Wok, a cookery school located in London's Covent Garden. "However, they're not great if the edges are very angular – things stick to the edges of the base and it acts more like a frying pan than a wok."
With this in mind, in my attempt to determine the very best, I reviewed a selection of woks, judging them for durability, weight, aesthetic, ease of use and maintenance, the feel of the handles when cooking, and depth of flavour (you really can tell the difference on this front).
Here's what I learned, starting with the very best wok, and ending with a beginner's guide to wok wisdom, including cooking tips and advice from the experts.
8 Best Woks, According to Kitchen Experts and Reviewers
Woks date back 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty in China. The word "wok" means "cooking pot" in Chinese, and the pans are used for a variety of cooking tasks. While woks are best associated with making stir-fries in the U.S., any food that benefits from a centralized heat source and large, consistent cooking area can (and should!) be cooked in a wok. That means woks can be used for braising, making sauces, soups, deep frying, steaming and more.
Woks traditionally have rounded bottoms and very smooth, rounded edges, perfect for heating quickly and evenly over a small flame. They typically have long handles that allow them to be shaken during cooking, sometimes eliminating the need to stir at all. Some contemporary styles come with lids which help with steaming and gently finishing food. While many woks are carbon steel, there are also cast iron, non-stick, aluminum, electric and stainless steel woks.
The experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute Kitchen Appliances Lab rounded up the best woks based on user reviews, our favorite brands and our categorical expertise on cooking tools. We chose an assorted variety to catering to every type of chef, from the novice home cook to the professional. Our favorite woks are easy to clean and feature flat bottoms so they can be used on the average home stove. Here are our picks for the best woks:
- Best Overall Wok:Calphalon Signature 12-Inch Wok
- Best Value Wok:Joyce Chen Classic Series Nonstick 14-Inch Wok
- Most Versatile Wok: HexClad 12-Inch Wok
- Best Carbon Steel Wok: Made In Blue Carbon Steel Wok
- Best Non-Traditional Wok: Anolon 12-inch Ultimate Pan
- Best Nonstick Wok:Scanpan Classic 12 ½-Inch Wok
- Best Cast Iron Wok: Staub Perfect Pan
- Best Electric Wok: Presto Stainless-Steel Electric Wok
Made from heavy-gauge, hard-anodized aluminum, this nonstick wok is durable, but still easy enough to transport. It features a flat bottom so it won't move around on your stove. We like the extra-sloped edges and comfortable handle, which make tossing foods easy. The Calphalon wok can be used with metal utensils and is dishwasher safe.
- Flat bottom design is easy to use
- Hard-anodized aluminum is durable, dishwasher-safe and can be used with metal utensils
This nonstick wok is made from carbon steel and has a nonstick coating, which means it heats up fast and responds to changes in temperature well, but you don't need to worry about seasoning it or caring for it a particular way. The wooden handle is designed to stay cool during cooking, while the helper handle makes transporting to the table easy.
- Carbon steel heats fast
- Doesn't need to be seasoned due to nonstick coating
- Wooden handles stay cool through use
This wok is very versatile thanks to the patented laser-etched hexagon design. It can be cleaned like stainless steel while still being nonstick and delivers heavy-duty heat like a carbon steel wok. When road-testing this pan at home, it got very hot quickly.
The wok can be used with metal utensils and tossed in the dishwasher. The nonstick finish appears on the outside of the pan, as well, to add to the aesthetic and help prevent any blemishes that come along with stainless steel's natural wear and tear. HexClad's wok is sturdy, but relatively lightweight and easy to handle. It offers a large surface area.
This Made In wok is 2 millimeters thick, while most woks are 1.5 or 1.25 millimeters, and 12 inches in diameter. It's designed for the highest heat and can be used on any stovetop. It's also oven safe up to 1,200°F! This wok does not arrive seasoned, so you have to put in a little work before using.
While this Ultimate Pan from Anolon might not look like a wok, it can be used for everything a wok is used for. It's made of hard anodized aluminum, which means it heats up quickly and is lighter than carbon steel and cast iron &mdash while still being durable. It can also be used with metal utensils. We love that the large surface that reminds us of the pans we're used to, but also that we can easily shake it around: The handle is slip resistant and comfortable to hold.
- Utilitarian design can be used across kitchen tasks
- Hard anodized aluminum is durable yet lightweight
In previous cookware tests, we found that Scanpan's nonstick quality is very good, so we feel confident recommending this nonstick wok. It has a ceramic-titanium coating, which prevents food from sticking , and the titanium makes it very strong and long-lasting. We love how versatile Scanpan is with its ability to brown, braise, sear and deglaze.
The wok is made of pressure-cast aluminum, which can be used with metal utensils and placed in the oven up to 500°F. It's also dishwasher safe with a lifetime warranty. The pictured wok is 12.5 inches, but it also comes in a smaller, 11-inch size.
Although Staub does not technically call this a wok, its high sloped sides and heat retention ability make it ideal for stir frying, searing, sautéing, browning and deep frying. It also has gorgeous chip-resistant enamel which comes in five colors and can be used on all heat sources, including outdoor grills and induction.
It has a clear glass lid and also a half-moon stainless steel rack that attaches to the pan so you can set items on it while you cook. It has hundreds of reviews online with a 4.8 star rating, and many shoppers say they use it for stir-fry, heating soup, making risotto and deep frying.
Add more cooking surface to your kitchen with this electric, stainless steel wok that lives on your countertop instead of your stove. It can be heated to 400ºF, and it comes with a spatula for cooking. The lid is made of tempered glass and can withstand high temperatures. You can use the wok to stir fry, make soups, sauces or anything that needs to keep warm for serving.
Before cooking with a carbon steel or cast iron wok, you'll need to season it to make sure food doesn't stick. To season:
- Scrub the wok with soap and water the first time you unpack it to remove any machine oils. (These oils help prevent rusting in transit.)
- Heat the wok over high heat for 10 minutes. During this time, the color may change, but this is normal!
- Once the entire wok is very hot, use a dry paper or hand towel to rub it with a high-smoke point oil, such as canola or vegetable oil.
- Wipe away any extra residue and allow the wok to continue heating for five minutes. During this time, it'll likely change more color, but again, this is normal.
- Let the seasoned wok cool completely.
&bullCarbon steel is the most traditional material used for making woks. It heats up quickly and evenly, and if cleaned and treated properly, becomes non-stick over time. Carbon steel woks aren't as popular as they once were since they require seasoning before use. Be careful with washing: they can't be used with soap or thrown in the dishwasher. Carbon steel also flavors the food a little, which some people find unpleasant, though other say this means it's properly seasoned.
&bullCast iron requires a bit more time to heat, but it retains heat very well. Like a carbon steel wok, a cast iron wok also needs to be seasoned before first use to help prevent sticking, though some are sold pre-seasoned. Like a carbon steel wok, it too will become non-stick over time if treated properly. Cast iron tends to be heavy, which may make moving the wok difficult. In such cases, a wok spatula may be used to stir the food it has a shovel-like design, ideal for moving food around quickly and easily.
&bullStainless steel woks are gaining more popularity. While stainless steel takes some time to heat, it has good, even heat distribution. Traditionalists are opposed to stainless steel woks because they can be heavy and don't respond quickly to temperature changes the way carbon steel woks do. They're durable, however, and don't need to be seasoned. Stainless steel woks are often combined with other types of metal, like an aluminum core, which help them heat up quicker. They're also usually dishwasher safe.
&bullNonstick woks are a no-brainer for the entry level cook: They don't need to be seasoned, and they're easy to clean &mdash just don't use a scouring pad or anything abrasive. Nonstick woks also can't be heated too hot, so it's hard to get a sear on meats and veggies. Low and steady wins the race with nonstick, which some might argue defeats the purpose of using a wok, which are traditionally used at super high heats.
Woks are a cooking vessel that seem to have this sort of enigmatic quality surrounding them, so I figured it might be helpful to do a quick run-down of what sort of woks there are, how to maintain them, and so forth.
We made a video to go along with this, but it’s basically a shortened version of everything here in a video essay sort of format. So if you happen to like poorly edited video essays with crap audio, there it is lol
How important is it to have a quality wok set-up?
Before we get into it talking about different woks and the like, I just wanted to address what I feel is an absolute obsession that a lot of English language sources seem to have with equipment.
See, there’s this undercurrent of bloggers and the like that’ll insist that the only possible way to make a good stir-fry is to have an old, perfectly seasoned carbon steel wok with some sort of a 30k+ BTU jet-engine gas burner. Take, for example, this article on woks and this article on burners from SeriousEats. Apparently, we learn, the best way to stir-fry is to buy a specialty hinged cooking grate and load up a grill with a small mountain of charcoals. And heaven forbid you use a non-stick wok!
I love SeriousEats as much as the next guy, and I can already hear your objections: who am I to contradict an experienced chef like Kenji? Allow me to make my case.
This is Wantanmein, one of the best Chinese cooking channels on YouTube (in Cantonese but with English subs). It’s an old school Cantonese grandmother whipping up some wonderful classic southern dishes… and honestly, wherever there’s an overlap, personally I feel her recipes are better than their SeriousEats counterparts. So what’s her wok set-up there? Non-stick, a Western electric stove.
This is a video of a shop owner at my local market in Shenzhen doing some cooking. Every day around noon the market workers’ll pull out their electric heatplates (gas burners are illegal in the market due to fire safety rules) and whip up some lunch. These guys’re great, they’ve got a ton of food knowledge – I even got the basics for our recipe for spring pancakes from an old northeastern woman that has a shop there. Notice, they're using absurdly weak stoves and Teflon non-stick woks… and they still whip up some great Chinese food. I absolutely love meandering around the market at lunchtime, checking out what everyone's cooking.
Furthermore, even though we personally use a gas stove and carbon steel wok set-up, whenever we make a recipe video we go outside and use a 9k BTU camp burner. That’s only a hair more powerful than a standard 7k BTU Western style gas stove, and hey, I like to think we make some tasty food.
And it makes sense that you wouldn’t need some sort of ridiculous stove set-up, right? You think the average Chinese-American grandmother’s going outside, breaking out a chimney starter and precipitously balancing their wok over it every time they stir-fry?
It’s not about your equipment, it’s about your technique. Someone with good technique and crap equipment’s gunna make better food every time than someone with good equipment and crap technique. The secret to your favorite dish at your local Chinese or Asian restaurant’s ain’t hiding behind their wok. It’s like any other cuisine – it’s about the right ingredients, skillfully combined.
But I hear you asking, what about wok hei? The poetically translated ‘breath of the wok’ (cheers to Grace Young for that beautiful translation, as an aside) must require the right set-up, no?
Wok hei is a thing, though if you wanted a less romantic translation you could perhaps opt for “the maillard reaction” instead – it’s a concept in Cantonese cooking where you’ll use less oil and a large flame to impart a nice bit of browning to the ingredient. If you translated ‘wok hei’ to Mandarin and went to other places in China, many people might not have even heard of the term! An example of a dish where wok hei would be quite important might be ganchao niuhe (“dry-fried beef hor fun”) – outside of specific dishes where you need wok hei, a Western stove’ll should present no (unconquerable) problems for you.
Type of Woks
Now all of that said, we do think that some woks are better to use than others. We, like almost everyone else out there, greatly prefer carbon steel. If you just want a wok recommendation and don’t feel like reading the rest of this novella, what we’d suggest is: (1) carbon steel (2) 14 inches (3) round bottom, depending on your preferences (4) with a handle, depending on your preferences.
Carbon steel woks (熟铁锅). There’s a reason why carbon steel woks’re the most popular – they’re light, quick to heat up and cool down, and with a good season get reasonably non-stick.
Wrought iron woks (生铁锅). These’re probably the second-most common woks in China, but from what I can tell wrought iron woks seem to be quite difficult to source in the West. To add to the confusion, it seems like at times they’re sloppily translated as ‘cast iron’. They function real similar to carbon steel and are another solid choice - this is what wrought iron woks look like if you’re curious.
Cast iron woks (铸铁锅). Super uncommon in China, but seems to be an option in the West. I’ve never cooked with a cast iron wok personally, but we have other sorts of cast iron cookware and I don’t think it’d be the best option. A seasoned cast iron pan’ll give ya the same sort of non-stick surface as a carbon steel… but if you got one that’d actually be big enough for a large stir-fry, that’d be one heavy fucking pot. And besides, cast iron takes a good bit longer to heat up and cool down. So while you could totally use cast iron if you already have one, it’d be making your life a bit difficult.
Non-stick woks (不粘锅). So in fairness to the legion of bloggers and the like that insist to never use a non-stick wok, I agree that they’d be far from my first choice. You can still make a solid stir-fry using a non-stick wok, but (1) you have to be real careful with Teflon at high heat and (2) they’re not good for deep frying. The advantage with non-stick is that they’re real easy to get started with – if you wanna try your hand at Chinese food and don’t yet own a wok, you could use a large non-stick pan in a pinch. It’s what I personally use to cook with when I’m in my parent’s kitchen in the US (they don’t own a wok).
Stainless steel woks. This is probably the only type of wok that I would unequivocally not recommend. I honestly wasn’t even sure what stainless steel woks were for – someone on YT was saying that they’re used specifically for braises, which makes sense to me. For every day stir-frying, a stick surface is like precisely the opposite of what you want – avoid, unless you want a wok specifically to handle your braises.
Copper woks (铜锅). These seem to be a bit more common in Southeast Asia, though IIRC you can also find them in the Yunnan province of China. I don’t know too much about them so I don’t wanna definitively say ‘don’t use one’, but from what I can tell they’re finicky as all hell. They heat up super fast so you don’t wanna pre-heat it else it might damage the wok, you have to be careful to make sure flames don’t enter the wok, you can’t deep fry with them, they rust easily, and apparently there might be some health concerns to boot. I’d avoid them, but someone more educated than me on the topic of copper cookware is free to correct any misunderstandings I might have.
So besides material, you got a lot of choices on size. IMO, the sweet spot for woks is somewhere around 14-16 inches – big enough that you won’t crowd your wok when stir-frying, small enough that’ll fit on a home stove. Smaller than that can work, but can be a bit annoying as you sometimes would need to work in batches.
Flat bottomed or round bottomed?
So we personally use a round bottomed wok, as round bottomed woks have the advantage of having different sorts of ‘heat zones’. The very bottom of the wok gets quite a bit hotter than the sides, so it can be a bit more flexible when you’re cooking. Plus, round bottomed woks use less oil when deep frying.
On the other hand, if you’re used to cooking Western food and are new to Chinese cooking, a flat bottomed wok can be a bit of an easier adjustment – the relatively even heat distribution’ll make the wok feel much more closer to what you’d expect from a western style pan.
Either one is great, although if you’re cooking on electric (bless you, you poor soul…) your hands’ll be tied – you’ll obviously have to opt for flat bottomed.
Honestly, whether you want a handle or not is just plain personal preference. Handles are more common in the north of China, and seem to be more popular in the West. I also prefer handles, as you can pick up the wok and jiggle things around without having to reach for a dish cloth or an oven mitt.
How to Season a Carbon Steel Wok:
So for the unaware, ‘seasoning’ is a process whereby oil’ll burn onto the metal to create a polymerized and plasticized surface. Think of it as sort of the ‘varnish’ of your wok. It basically morphs the carbon steel to something relatively non-stick.
I’m gunna assume that you’re working with a carbon steel wok. When you first take your wok home, it’ll be covered in a sort of industrial grease. First things first, you gotta do a bang up job scrubbing that stuff off. From there, there’s a few different methods for seasoning:
The traditional method. The traditional method requires a chunk of pork fat. What you’ll do is heat your wok over medium heat and start to liberally rub that pork fat over the wok (a pair of chopsticks is helpful here). The advantage pork fat has over oil is that it’ll melt quite slowly, so you don’t need to repeat the process a few times like you would with the oil+paper towel method below. The bottom of the wok’ll begin to change color, and once you’re done just give the wok a solid wash and dry it over a flame. Visual's here if you like (warning: from our crappy video)
The oil+paper towel method. So if you don’t happen to live in a place where you can easily source a big chunk of pork fat, you can do the same thing with oil rubbed into a paper towel. The downside is that you’ll need to go at it a few times. Adam Liaw has a nice video illustrating this method.
The oven method. So while I’ve never done this myself, I’ve heard of people seasoning their woks using an oven. Makes sense to me. This is a guide over on SeriousEats on how to season cast iron using the oven method… I’m sure something like that’d work (tldr oiled pan in 450F oven for 30 minutes, repeat 3-4 times).
Now most tutorials online’ll make ya keep on seasoning the carbon steel wok til it’s almost completely black. If you wanna go all out like that that’s obviously best, but I’m personally not that anal - a simple ten minutes of seasoning should be enough to get started. The rest of the job’ll get done through consistent use.
As an aside, I’ve read that the ideal oil for seasoning’s a food-grade flax seed oil. If you got some on hand that’s awesome, but honestly any oil’ll do the job.
Maintaining a wok doesn’t have to be a headache. Just like the Cult of Cast Iron, some people’ll give you a laundry list of rules with what you should and should not do with a wok. I mean, listen… it’s a pot, not your first-born child. Carbon steel woks’re cheap, you’re not dealing with like a Le Creuset or something. You got leeway with the thing. That said:
Try not to go too hard on the thing when washing it. Yes, use detergent. But try to stay away from steel wool if you possibly can. A scrub’s fine, a natural loofah’s like this is what most people in China use.
Wash and dry it right after cooking. Basically best practice with any pot anyhow.
Don’t just use a towel to dry it… put the wok on your stove, turn on the flame, and let it dry itself. Woks, like cast iron, have this nasty tendency to rust – drying over a flame’ll completely get rid of any moisture. It’s also a nice lazy way to dry a pot anyhow.
Try not to use the wok for lengthy braises. I say ‘try’ because sometimes if you’re doing a braise where you stir-fry something then let it cook, I know having to transfer to another pot’s a bit of a pain. I don’t always follow that rule myself, but transferring it would be best practice.
I want to say atleast for the flat vs round,it depends on what your heat source is.
as you said electric heat sources flat wok.
But if your open burner that can nestle in the gap or stand alone burner round is a go
but a closed burner might benefit from more of a flatish wok with more heat transfer from the burner since your woks are designed to not hold temperature but regen temperature quickly.
Ah I see what you're saying. I forgot that some Western stoves have closed burners - something like this, yeah? Apologies, I'm super used to burners that look more like this. In that case, obviously a flat bottom wokɽ be needed :)
I own a couple of cast iron woks from China. They are nothing like American cast iron. The metal is much lighter than what companies like Lodge put out. Thinner too. Tap it with a spoon and it rings like a bell. Of all of the woks in my kitchen my 14" cast iron is my favorite. Like American/European cast iron it has better heat retention than carbon steel so it keeps a more constant temperature when adding liquids or other ingredients. This is a plus for those of us working with burners that peak at 7k BTU or less. My cast iron woks are no more difficult to maintain than carbon steel. I've never seen a spot of rust. All I do is dry them before putting them away.
You might also mention that the wok isn't a one trick pony. It is an excellent vessel for deep frying, smoking, steaming, braising and more. The wok is a remarkable achievement.
Amazing write up dude. I'm sorry it didn't get much recognition here on Reddit, it's seriously some of the best information of Woks I've seen.
Anyways, I posted this on one of your videos but I have a few questions about wok cooking that I'm still confused about.
Should I really get my wok as hot as I possibly can for stir fry? I have heard of people pre-heating their woks for 20 minutes to prepare for a stir fry but isn't this a bit dangerous? I kind of feel that that kind of extreme heat could reach the oil's flash point and cause a grease fire and possibly even warp the wok. You don't really need to get the wok that hot right? You guys say to get the wok "piping hot" but I'm still a little confused to as too how hot lol.
Also for longyau, why do you shut off the flame when you add the oil to the wok? Initially I was going to go with how I traditionally preheat my skillets for cooking by putting the oil into the cold wok and then heating until the oil smokes but I see you advise against this.
Thank you for your amazing videos and posts. I really want to make stir fry foods well but there's so much misinformation and bad advice on the internet.
Hey, so I replied to your comment over on YT but there's one question you didn't seem to ask over there:
Also for longyau, why do you shut off the flame when you add the oil to the wok?
We talk a little about this in the 'stir fry vs sautee' video, but really what we're doing is adding the oil with the wok off the heat. In kitchens they'll generally just pick up the wok up and off the burner to do the swirl but we think teaching people to shut the stove off (1) communicates the technique better and (2) is also way more convenient for us to film lol
The reason you shouldn't add the oil while the wok's on the heat is two-fold: (1) the oil could very easily start to smoke (won't be hot enough to catch fire or anything but slightly smoking oil = an unpleasant taste) and (2) when stir-frying you don't wanna get the oil hot first, else your initial ingredients would just scorch and burn. This technique is called reguoliangyou ('hot pot, cool oil').
Initially I was going to go with how I traditionally preheat my skillets for cooking by putting the oil into the cold wok and then heating until the oil smokes but I see you advise against this.
Yep, the whole 'oil adding ritual' is the biggest thing to re-learn for stir-fry. Besides that, you're basically just sauteeing at an (on average) slightly higher heat. Side note though, no matter the cuisines you're cooking. it not a good idea to get the oil up to smoke point!
3. Cast iron woks (铸铁锅). Super uncommon in China, but seems to be an option in the West. . but if you got one that’d actually be big enough for a large stir-fry, that’d be one heavy fucking pot.
Traditionally very common in China, and still used. Cheap and effective.
The Chinese cast iron ones are thin. 16"/40cm of wok would be about 1.5kg, about the same as a typical steel wok of the same size.
Yes, a Western cast iron wok is usually 3 to 4 times heavier. Don't lump them together in your list - have separate entries for Chinese cast iron woks and Western cast iron woks - they're very different.
They are somewhat brittle, though. If dropped on a hard floor, they can break.
Excellent traditional carbon steel wok. BUT -- and I emphasize this -- it MUST be properly tempered before use. None of the YouTube videos or comments I have seen understand this process, and you probably will not either. So read on.
This process of preparing the wok is NOT really a "seasoning" -- that implies some sort of cooking process. What is need is very high temperature tempering of the bare steel surface. This is metallurgy, not cooking! It is an ancient process used on steel to "blue" it. It is the same process used on old steel swords and gun barrels, to give them a protective non-rusting black-blue coating. Let me explain the "bluing process" you need to perform on your new wok.
Carbon steel is chemically very reactive. It rusts -- it reacts with oxygen and forms red iron oxide, Fe2O3, when exposed to oxygen, such as the oxygen in H20 water. Rusting, or red iron oxide, will form quickly on naked steel that is not properly prepared. The naked iron is also reactive with food moisture, and food will stick to it. BUT black iron oxide, formed on a steel surface that has been heated to HIGH temperatures, is less reactive, more stable, and adheres extremely well with oils. When well-oiled, the oil incorporates in the black iron oxide surface on the steel this provides a non-reactive coating that protects the steel.
So what you need to do is BLUE the steel -- heat it to a very high temperature, and let the surface steel oxidize to black iron, Fe3O4, also called magnetite. Again this is not cooking. This is metallurgy!!
Let me repeat: If clean carbon steel is heated to above 550 degrees F. it reacts with the oxygen in the air, and the surface steel will oxidize to black iron oxide, Fe3O4. This black surface gives the steel a beautiful black-blue to aqua-blue patina. This blued steel, or black iron oxide surface, adheres quickly to oils. When coated with oil, the oiled blued steel is very rust resistant, it is also a non-stick surface for cooking. And it has been used by blacksmiths (and Chinese cooks) for millennia to treat steel surfaces.
The instructions that come with the wok tell you what to do. Do it. But they are brief. Here are the details.
FIRST STEP, you must clean the steel. It comes covered with oils to prevent rusting. You MUST strip all this oil off, to expose the bare steel surface. As instructed, use a scouring pad and go at it with detergent. Plan on working 30 minutes at this. Scrub, and rinse. Scrub and rinse. Take a white paper towel and rub the surface dry. If you are still getting black staining on the paper towel, then scrub some more. You want NAKED steel, without any oil residue on it. If there is oil on it, the oxygen cannot reach the surface when it is heated and oxidize the surface steel to black iron oxide, the beautiful blue magnetite surface you want.
SECOND step is heating to HIGH temperature. The instructions say put the wok on high heat until the steel turns BLUE. Few people understand what that means. It means REALLY heat the steel, really really really heat the steel -- all of it, all of the wok.
This requires a very hot gas flame. Use a 12,000 to 15,000 BTU (or higher) burner to do this. A BBQ is not hot enough, your oven is not hot enough. This is big flame on bare steel hot. Most modern stoves have at least one big high output burner. On my stove, I can take off the top diffuser plate from the big burner and and get a single huge gas jet -- this is what I use both for the bluing and for wok cooking. So get going. You might want to wear some heavy gloves while doing this. This is blacksmith work, not cooking. Keep animals and children away. If you touch that hot steel, it will not just burn you, it will brand you. Over a 15,000 BTU jet flame, it took my about 30 to 45 minutes to totally blue the entire wok.
Turn the heat on high. Put the wok on the hot flame, and wait. And wait. And wait. You must heat the steel to over 550 F. (around 300 C.) before the steel will begin oxidizing properly. First you will see orange yellow steel, then suddenly it will start to look "blue." That blue is the black iron oxide surface forming -- the black iron on top of the silvery steel underneath gives a bluish color. If you have properly cleaned the wok, there will be very little to NO smoke. Smoking indicates you did not properly clean off the oils, which are burning and smoking, and probably contaminating your steel surface. If you are getting lots of smoke, STOP. Go back to step one and get the steel cleaned of oils.
Now watch the blue surface expand. Carefully turn the wok over the hottest portion of the flame, move the wok very slowly so the blue transformation moves all the way to the edge. Slowly, very slowly, move up and down and around over the fire, working outward from the hottest blue edge, from center to top, expanding the blue area. When you are done, the ENTIRE surface of the wok should be beautiful blue steel. This is the the black iron oxide coat to the steel called "bluing." If there are orange or yellow-orange areas on the wok, then you did not fully heat and transform them. Heat them again until they turn blue.
Okay, blacksmith work done. The factory could do this I suppose, but none do. Chinese cooks know how to do it on a hot fire -- and a wok lasts a lifetime, so one only needs to do it once in a life!
STEP THREE. We are following the instructions that came with the wok. I am just explaining. Let the wok cool. If you put oil on that 550 degree F. steel, you will have a kitchen of smoke! When it cools quite a bit, put it back on medium flame. Now oil it, following instructions. This part may cause some smoke. It you are getting lots of smoke, turn the heat down. Use a high-temperature tolerant cooking oil, like Safflower oil, refined Light Olive Oil (NOT regular olive oil), or Peanut oil. Canola oil also works, but I hate the smell of hot Canola oil.
The black iron oxide surface you have created on your "blued" carbon steel wok loves oil. It combines with oil quickly, it hugs and bonds with oil. And when coated with oil, it is a surface that is both non-stick, and non-reactive to rusting. Look at the color! It will be shimmering with an agua-blue hue, not a really black color.
Cool the wok a bit. Turn it over. Look at that beautiful blue-black surface of magnetite you have created by proper tempering. It will be darker and thicker on the outside surface, which got hotter. Coat the outside with a thin coat of oil. Marvel at the pretty color. Coat it with more oil occasionally.
There you have it. Your are now ready to use the wok. It is properly tempered, blued you have created a traditional non-rusting, and non-sticking surface. Traditionally, now start the wok by cooking onions and ginger. This "seasons" the surface. This is the only part of the process properly called "seasoning a wok"!
Attached are a few photos. In the first one, I added a faded blue sink cloth to help show the color. Notice the aqua-blue hue of the metal? This is blued steel color. (I have cooked a few dishes in this pan, so there is some brown oil gunk at the bottom.) At the top of wok, by the handle rivets, you will see an area that is orangish to silver -- well, that is an area I did not get properly blued. It was hard to get that area hot enough. So it goes, the job was less than perfect. But you should not have many areas like this on your perfectly blued steel wok.
The second photo shows the outside surface, and its beautiful blue-black iron oxide surface. This is what you are shooting to obtain in this process.
The third photo shows my stove burner on high flame, with the top diffusion plate remove. This gives a real jet flame, and I use it this way for wok cooking. I used this flame for the bluing process. Is that safe, you ask? Well, so far, both I and the stove are doing well, thank you. But I can offer no further guarantees. I added a photo of the wok on the jet gas flame, with the diffuser plater removed. Believe me, it is perfect for wok cooking.
Addendum: Someone asked me about the handle wrap. I added another photo. The lower metal section of the handle gets very hot while cooking, and it is easy to slide your hand on to it. Ouch. I do what our cook in Taiwan did when I was a kid fifty years ago. I wrap it tightly with cotton fabric. Take an old t-shirt, cut a three inch wide and fairly long piece. Wrap the metal very tightly with several wraps of the cotton strip. Then put on a wrap of old-fashion friction tape over that to hold the wrap tight. Tuck the top and bottom ends of the cotton under the wrap. Coat the friction tape with some corn starch or flour to take away its sticky surface. This lasts a long time, and is easy to redo if needed.
How to maintain: Simple. Never use abrasives (like a steel scrub) on the surface doing so will remove the finish. Never use a detergent on the pan doing so will remove the oil finish on the bluing, and detergent may contaminate the oil coating. One can usually clean the surface with very hot water and a kitchen dish brush. It really is a non-stick surface, when properly prepared and used. After washing, dry well and wipe a few drops of cooking oil over the inside and outside. And of course, don't store it in a wet place.