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Are you trying to impress your guests for the holidays with a wonderful Asian meal? Or maybe you’re just looking for a great way to setup your kitchen for any occasion. Well, choosing the best carbon steel wok can be the best present you could make to yourself and your family, especially if you like Asian food.
So, read on, as the detailed guide below aims to point you in the right direction and will help you make the perfect choice for your new carbon steel wok.
While you don’t necessarily need a wok to create the best Chinese meals (or any other dish), it can integrate seamlessly into the cooking process and save you time, giving you optimal and most importantly, delicious results.
Not only do carbon steel woks distribute heat more evenly throughout the food while you cook, but they are also great for deep frying and steaming vegetables too.
In this guide, we will explain why there is absolutely no substitute for a good carbon steel wok when it comes to preparing satisfying and healthy Asian food. Fortunately, they are quite affordable and mostly of good quality, though there are some low quality brands, so make sure you do your research beforehand.
After many hours of research, we analyzed the best woks based on their price, material and main features.
In our In-depth guide below, we’ll go through a comparison of the best woks, detailed reviews of each product and a shopping guide to help you choose the right one for your kitchen.
What is a wok?
Yeah, it may seem like a dumb question, but you may be surprised by the number of people asking this same question. So, what actually does a Wok mean?
As its Cantonese name suggests (basically meaning a “pan”), the wok is a cooking utensil, resembling a bigger and wider type of a normal cooking pan. Asians really love it (well, they invented it), because it allows for quite some versatility in terms of cooking methods. Thanks to the wok, you can fry, simmer, sauté or steam cook your food.
Not sure which wok to buy or how to choose the right one? Follow our guide below.
History Of The Wok
Wok is a Chinese (Cantonese) word, meaning “cauldron” or “pan”, and in Chinese is written like this 镬.
The first wok dates way back from the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) in China. They were presumably made of cast iron and had two handles on the sides. The wok had such an important role in the everyday life of Chinese people back then, that they made reproductions for the tombs of the royals and the emperor, so they can use them in their afterlife.
The wok design has changed very little since that time. The Chinese wok is traditionally made of carbon steel, and is still made with the traditional methods in some remote Chinese villages by a blacksmith, from a steel disc, which is hammered for a long time in order to acquire its specific round shape.
The typical Chinese Wok often has two specific handles on each side, while the woks used in the Chinese North (Pao wok, or Peking pan) carries a long stick handle, which makes them perfect for the typical Asian cooking method.
The traditional Wok has a rounded bottom, which requires the use of gas stove, and a ring-shaped stand to support the Wok on the stove. Today there are flat-bottomed Woks too, which are more suitable for modern non gas stoves.
Recommended utensils you would need to use with your wok for cooking Asian meals
Best Japanese style Carbon Steel Wok
The Japanese style wok is slightly different than the Chinese wok. It’s more evenly round and has thicker shorter handle, while Chinese woks are mostly wider and shallower, but could widely vary in form and appearance.
Based on our research we found the Best Japanese style carbon steel wok to be the 14″ Japanese Style Steel Wok.
- Recommended for restaurant or commercial use, but is suitable for home cooking too.
- 1.2 mm thickness which makes is really thin for a wok
- Welded Joints with round bottom. (wok ring holder necessary for home use)
- Protective coating must be burned off / removed before use. See the wok seasoning/cleaning guide below
- Because of the nature of carbon steel, the wok needs to be seasoned each time after cooking. Otherwise it would rust eventually and you really don’t want that.
For notable Japanese carbon steel woks that are 100% Made in Japan you can check out:
If you don’t really want to deal with seasoning for your wok you can just buy a pre-seasoned wok, which won’t need burning and scrubbing the factory coating.
The Best Practical Budget Carbon Steel Wok
Craft Traditional Chinese Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Wok-Budget Pick
- Made of 1.8 mm carbon steel, commercial grade, heavy wok (2.1 kg)
- Traditional Chinese wok. Don’t forget to heat season before using it!
- Hammered by Chinese professionals in the Canton province
- Favorite choice of many Chinese professional chefs
- No risk of the long steel base handle burning when cooking over high heat
You don’t really need to spend a fortune to get quality. The Craft Wok traditional hand hammered carbon steel Pow Wok is our budget choice for the best wok on the market, which is also offered at an affordable price. The pan has a round bottom, like most traditional woks, with a long stick wooden handle and a convenient gripping handle on the other side.
You can also use the gripping handle to hang the wok for storage. Craft wok’s traditional hand hammered carbon steel wok definitely for the perfect choice when comes to picking a sturdy traditional carbon steel wok.
You can use this wok for frying vegetables or sea food in hot oil and is also suitable for the preparation of various Asian soups and noodle recipes. You would probably also appreciate the fact that craft wok’s traditional carbon steel wok is perfectly usable over open fire stoves too.
You will have to season this carbon steel wok yourself. Unfortunately, it is also not suitable for flat electric or induction stoves. However, all the disadvantages aside, if you want the traditional look and feel to be covered by Chinese professionals, craft Wok’s traditional hand hammered carbon steel wok is one of the most popular among experienced chefs. So, make sure to check it out.
Benefits Of Cooking With A Wok
One of the advantages of this cooking utensil is that it eliminates clutter in the kitchen – the wok does all this and can reduce the need to cook with a number of different pots and pans. You can also do many types of cooking at the same time, whether it’s frying, steaming or sautéing. Especially if you want to continue to cook healthy, the wok is perfect because it uses very little oil, especially for the preparation of meat, seafood and vegetables. Reducing the amount of oil also helps to improve the texture of food.
If Asians have adopted wok cooking for a long time, it is because it has many advantages. Namely:
- Thanks to its round and often higher edges with fairly thin, highly conductive material, the wok makes it possible to cook quickly: the heat is well distributed and the cooking is homogeneous thru all the food;
- The wok is easy to maintain, just clean it with a sponge and fresh water;
- Modern woks don’t get the nasty layer of sticky burned food residue thanks to non-stick coatings;
- Cooking in a wok is natural and healthy, because there is no need to use a lot of oil and food keeps its nutritional qualities better;
- Small and large quantities can be easily prepared in a wok;
- Thanks to the wok one can cook in several different methods and thus vary the recipes quite often;
- The wok is usually not expensive. Though there are really pricey woks like this one for example.
How To Cook In A Carbon Steel Wok
If you’ve never cooked with a wok before, you might feel a little intimidated at first. It is basically a large bowl that is usually made of carbon steel, aluminum or cast iron. But really, there are so many different ways to cook with a wok, and this is not just limited to Asian foods.
Whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian or carnivorous eater, there are so many different recipes you can make with a wok. So, to help you cook a healthy food(especially if you’ve never used a wok before), here are some tips:
Do your research beforehand or consult the manufacturer for how to do it correctly. Also, keep in mind that most woks will need to be seasoned before using them.
Cleaning a carbon steel wok only with soap water can destroy the work you just bought. So, seasoning your wok is an important step, so make sure you know the proper cleaning instructions and preheat your wok before you start cooking. So, before you start cooking, be sure to preheat your wok.
To make sure your new wok is ready, just add a drop of water into the hot wok – it should evaporate almost immediately – and the oil should be cold when you add it to the pan. Cut your ingredients about the same size so they cook evenly. You should also cook your high protein food (like meat) before vegetables – all ingredients also should be relatively dry when you put them in the wok!
Methods for Cooking with a wok
The main use of the wok is to sauté the food of your recipes (meats and vegetables mostly) by reserving them once cooked on the semicircular grid. In addition to speed, the advantage of this method of cooking is that it preserves most of the nutritional and organoleptic ( taste, color, odor and overall feel) qualities and requires the addition of very little fat or cooking oil.
In most recipes, especially Asian, the preparation is finished off by pouring the food into the wok on a lower heat and then binding the different elements with sesame oil, soy sauce, honey, etc.
But the success of the wok is largely due to the many other cooking possibilities it offers. The flared shape of the wok makes it possible to fry in much less oil. It is ideal for nems(spring rolls) or tempuras but also meat fritters. Then we drain them on a semicircular grate.
The wok is also used to steam by boiling water at the bottom of the utensil and placing a grill to raise the steamer basket. By covering the wok with a lid, you can cook Chinese ravioli as well as fried pieces of lamb shoulder or beef tenderloin.
How to season, clean and care for your carbon steel wok
It is essential to “season” your wok in order to prevent it from rusting. The methods differ according to the brands, so it is better to refer to the instructions manual when you buy your wok.
In general :
- Wash the wok in order to get rid it of the coating film that protects it.
- Then place on low heat for about fifteen minutes
- Let it cool
- Smear it with vegetable oil using a paper towel
- Heat it up again
- Remove the black residue with paper towel
The operation should be repeated until the wok starts to shine and has a glossy look.
Which Wok To Choose?
There are two main types of woks: the semi-spherical wok with a round bottom, which is suitable for gas stoves. The flat-bottomed wok is more suitable for electric or glass-ceramic hob stoves.
It is generally recommended to opt for rather heavy woks (cast iron or steel for example), which can conduct and distribute heat very well, but these are also rather bigger in size generally.
Before buying, make sure you check out the different functions and choices available to you:
The material in which the wok is made can make all the difference. There are different types of materials used. The most common are carbon steel, but the material can also be aluminum and stainless steel.
Carbon steel woks are extremely lightweight, making it easy to maneuver in the kitchen and on the stove while cooking. Cast iron is also of high quality with regard to heat retention, but it is normally quite heavy.
Fortunately, most cast iron stoves are already seasoned, which means less work for you ;-).
Stainless steel woks are often a mixture of cast iron and carbon steel materials. Although they are much lighter than cast iron, they take much longer to heat than carbon steel.
Aluminum woks are also very good at heat conduction, but since they are generally thinner, they are likely to get damaged much more than other types of woks.
Size and weight
The size and weight of your wok makes a huge difference in your cooking experience. Before buying, keep in mind the number of people for whom you will cook. If you’re interested in a light frying pan, you’ll definitely be more inclined to buy a carbon steel wok.
Flat bottom wok or round bottomed wok: Which one and how to choose?
One of the most important aspects when choosing your wok is their bottom shape. You’ll probably have to choose between a flat-bottomed wok and a round ring-bottomed wok, but you can’t necessarily go wrong in both cases.
However, to know what kind of wok to choose, it is necessary to know whether you use electricity or gas stove. Direct heating by placing the wok on an electric stove is usually the ideal solution, but you need to choose carefully before picking the type of wok that would best suit your kitchen.
Non-Stick Wok Coating – Is It Really Necessary?
Most of the woks that are on the market nowadays are non-stick. Whether the coating is made of hard anodized aluminum or with beeswax protective coating added, you can easily achieve the same results by seasoning the wok.
Choosing a wok with a non-stick coating can make it difficult to get the high temperature you are looking for. If the wok you want to buy has a non-stick coating, then most likely it will not be able to withstand the high heating temperatures that you will need for stir-frying.
When you look at the woks from a traditional point of view, most of them had two handles – since they were usually very heavy – like the Le Creuset of America Signature enameled cast iron wok.
As we mentioned earlier, there are two types of wok designs for handles – double and single, which are very useful especially if you want to make stir-fries.
The choice of one or the other type of handle design will not make too much of a difference – unless you are looking to master a particular type of traditional Chinese cooking. If you want to sauté, stir and create yummy meals in your wok, you’ll mostly want to pick a single handle wok. If you want to cook in large quantities, double handles are the most effective.
Cover/Lid Of The Wok
The lid is also very important feature that you will need to consider. Whether you are looking for a ventilated lid like the one on the Stone & Beam Wok for steaming and stewing or you need a tempered glass lid like the one on the VonShef Electric wok, you will also need to pay attention to this feature to make sure you make the right choice.
Electric woks have an almost immediate advantage over stove woks: they do not need to be seasoned.
Check The Warranty Of The Wok
From the short, but common 2-year warranty to a lifetime warranty with most of the woks found on the market, you’ll want to look at what guarantee or warranty you’ll get before buying your wok. A quality product will most likely come with a lifetime warranty, so keep that in mind when shopping.
Which type of Stove is best suited for wok cooking: gas or electric?
The choice between gas and electric stove is a personal preference, but you can still asses the different characteristics, such as the variety of metals it can withstand when cooking. A traditional gas stove friendly wok is able to absorb high heat to cook the food very quickly.
Electric woks do not need to be seasoned, which is certainly a great feature when you look for fast meal preparation.
A traditional wok must go through a rather elaborate process of seasoning its metal protective coating to avoid future sticking problems. Non-stick electric woks allow cooks to avoid this process. The electric wok also comes with its own stand, so you don’t have to worry about choosing between a round bottom or a flat bottom. Electric woks are also much easier to maintain too.
Are Woks Likely To Rust? If So, How Can I Prevent It?
Unfortunately, woks are definitely susceptible to rust over time. You can avoid this by seasoning it before the first use, cleaning it over time, and then seasoning it again once in a while will keep your wok in good shape for a long time.
Our Final Verdict For The Best Carbon Steel Wok
If you’ve decided to skip over the entire lengthy guide and head straight here to our final recommendation for the best wok you can buy, here it is: the Calphalon Nonstick flat bottom wok is our editor’s choice for the best wok on the market today.
Designed with high grade hard-anodized aluminum, this wok weighs only 7 pounds and is backed by a lifetime warranty.
With features like non-stick coating, flat bottom, additional metal tools, brushed stainless steel handle, tempered glass lid and being dishwasher safe, it is hard to have a bad experience with it.
This wok also has eight different colors options to choose from.
This wok is our economical choice, which means you don’t need to brake the bank to find a quality wok today.
We hope this guide has helped you choose the best wok on the market for you and your kitchen.
Whichever type of wok you choose, it will surely be a nice addition to your kitchen. And you will be able to bring that wonderful exotic touch by making Asian meals, which will definitely delight your guests.