How To Choose A Wok For Stir-Frying 

If you love stir-frying and plan to cook at home, a wok is cookware you need to invest in.  In this article, we are going to share some tips on how to choose a wok.

Stir-frying requires high heat to cook every piece of food quickly and evenly in a small amount of oil. This quick-cooking method over high heat can retain color, texture and nutritional value.

Woks are perfect for stir-frying. These pans have a large surface area with deep curved sides that ease the tossing without spilling over. Aside from stir-frying, woks are great for deep frying, steaming, braising and smoking.

So, it’s worth investing in a wok.

How to choose a wok

When you choose a wok, you’ve considered several things – materials, size, type of handle and the shape of the base.

Materials


Carbon Steel

Carbon steel woks are the top choice of most chefs. It’s widely used in making woks today. Remember to choose quality carbon steel woks with two or more layers of carbon steel because a single layer of carbon steel tends to misshape and develop hot spots.


PRO

  • Carbon steel can heat up quickly and evenly, so it can shorten the cooking time.
  • It’s durable and strong.
  • It’s relatively inexpensive compared with other metal woks.
  • Carbon steel woks can develop a non-stick layer after every use if you season them properly.
  • It’s lighter than cast iron so that you can turn, stir and lift the wok much easier.
  • The distinct taste of Wok Hei can develop in your food.
  • Carbon steel responds to heat quickly.

CON

  • You have to clean, dry and season the wok to prevent food from sticking and rusting.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is a good choice of wok other than carbon steel. There are two types of cast iron woks in the market – Chinese and western.  The Chinese woks are very thin and so are relatively lighter. But it is fragile and is likely to break. The western type is thicker but heavier. It takes a long time to heat up. The heavyweight makes it not easy to move which is crucial for stir-frying


PRO

  • Cast iron has excellent heat retention and even heat distribution.
  • Cast iron can develop a natural layer of non-stick coating after seasoning and every cooking can improve the coating.
  • The woks can last forever if you clean, season and maintain them properly.
  • The price is inexpensive compared with other metals.
  • The distinct taste of Wok Hei can develop in your food.

CON

  • Cast iron heats up slowly and responds to heat slowly. It also takes time to cool down. You have to remove your foods quickly from your woks to prevent overcooking.
  • Cast iron cookware stick and rust if you don’t handle them properly.
  • Seasoning is required periodically to maintain its non-stick.
  • It’s highly recommended not to cook acidic food.
  • It’s too heavy to move and stir fry.

Non-stick

Aluminum or stainless steel are coated with non-stick coatings like PFA and Teflon which can’t stand high heat. If you stir fry most of the time, it is better to buy carbon steel or cast iron.


PRO

  • They’re easy to clean.
  • No seasoning is required.
  • The woks require less oil for cooking.
  • They’re non-stick.

CON

  • Non-stick woks can’t stand high heat. The best brands can withstand up to 500 °F only. It’s sufficient to stir fry, but not recommended. High heat can destroy the non-stick coating that will peel off into your food.
  • Metal spatulas and scrapers can scratch the non-stick coating, so use wooden, silicone, or nylon kitchen tools to extend its lifetime.
  • The non-stick coating wears down and usually lasts for 1-3 years.
  • The taste of Wok Hei will not impart to dishes.
  • Non-stick pans make browning and searing difficult.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel woks are getting popular. Their poor heat conductivity and slow response time to temperature changes make them not suitable for stir-frying. They often work with other metals such as aluminum or copper to improve their heat conductivity. But the price is expensive and is not as efficient as carbon steel woks.


PRO

  • Stainless steel is non-reactive, so you can cook any type of food including acidic food.
  • The clean-up is easy and a little maintenance is required. You can clean with soap and metal scrapers to remove any stuck food bits. They’re also dishwasher safe.
  • You have more choices for spatulas including metal.
  • High-quality clad woks are expensive.
  • They are durable.
  • They can withstand high heat and are great for searing.
  • They are great for deglazing.

CON

  • Stainless steel takes time to heat up and cool down which is not suitable for stir-frying.
  • Stainless steel has no non-stick coating and food tends to stick more often. You need to use more oil to prevent food from sticking.
  • You may not taste Wok Hei in your dishes.

Rounded bottom VS Flat bottom

To decide rounded bottom or flat bottom depends on what stove you are equipped with within your kitchen.

Gas stove

Rounded or flat is fine for gas stoves. Traditional woks are characterized by their concave shape with a round bottom. This design perfectly fits the ancient Chinese pit stove, but not the current stoves. You have to place a wok ring to balance the round-bottomed wok.

Round-bottomed woks have a hotter base than flat woks. They create high heat at the bottom and even heat around the sides. This even heat distribution and gentle slope of the sides allow you to toss and stir fry your food easier.

The traditional wok spatulas are designed for round-bottomed woks. Their round edge works better in round-bottomed woks compared with flat-bottomed woks. This allows you to pick the food up from the bottom and toss it easily.

With the flat bottom, it is challenging to stir fry evenly. The flat base sits on the heat source directly and tends to have hot spots at the bottom. You have to toss quickly to avoid overcooking.

Electric stove

A round-bottomed wok can still work on electric stoves by placing a wok ring above the burner. It is best to have your wok ring above the burner no more than 1 inch. Otherwise, your woks are unlikely to get enough heat for stir-frying. Your meals tend to stew or boil.

If you own a coil electric cooktop, I highly recommend buying a flat-bottomed wok that works on all types of heat sources.

The round-bottomed wok even with a wok ring is difficult to sit securely on the cooktop and put yourself in danger.

The flat bottom allows the woks to sit directly on the coil-top and fully contact the heat source. The bottom is much hotter than the sides above it. You have to toss the food quickly to avoid overcooking or burning.

If you own a glass-ceramic stove, a flat-bottomed wok is preferred as the entire bottom can contact the heat source to provide enough high heat for stir-frying. But remember that the glass top is fragile. You have to avoid dragging your wok across your cooktop to cause scratches. The cooktop takes a longer time to cool, so remove your wok immediately to avoid overcooking.

Induction stove

Flat-bottomed woks are the best choice. Induction burners are required to contact the induction-compatible cookware directly to generate heat. When you lift your wok, their connection will be broken and the burner will turn off. This makes tossing difficult. You may not get the tossing as effective as the gas stove does.

You also have to choose the right cookware which is made of ferrous metals for induction stoves. Cast iron, carbon steel and magnetic stainless steel can work on these induction tops.

An aluminum or copper wok can’t work, but they clad in magnetic stainless steel can work well. Or simply buy an induction converter disc for adapting incompatible cookware to induction tops (not recommended).

Size

The size of the woks depends on how many people you need to feed, the size and the power of your cooktop. When you cook for 4 people, 14 inches in diameter is the right size. If you have a larger family, 16 inches will work well for you.

Handle

Woks generally have two types of handles on the market- loop or stick.

Round-bottomed woks usually have a loop handle on both sides and are made of metal. Chefs usually hold one side of the handle to toss with a towel, and they are required to have a strong hand, arm and wrist to withstand vigorous tossing movement.

A stick handle with an opposite small loop is the type of woks that is suitable for households. The long handle can make you toss and stir fry easier. With the helper handle, it is easy to lift the wok.

Final Thoughts

Today, woks come at different materials, sizes and prices. Buying the right wok can be overwhelming. Follow the above guides. You will finally find the right wok.

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