How To Choose The Best WOK

If you enjoy the taste and simplicity of a stir fry, having a wok will facilitate the quick frying action needed, and the wonderful flavors that come from it.

How to Choose the Best Wok | Foodal.com

But, in today’s marketplace, there’s a lot of variety to choose from. There are traditional woks that require seasoning and will develop their own flavor with each use, and there are those of a more contemporary nature, suitable for people who prefer to clean their pans after each use, or who enjoy the aesthetics of a polished collection of cookware.

So, to help with the decision process, let’s have a brief look at the history of the wok and its characteristics. Then we’ll go over some product reviews, covering both customary and modern versions of this superb cooking pan.

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT: OUR 9 BEST REVIEWED WOKS

  • Lodge Pro-Logic 14-inch P14W3 Cast Iron Wok
  • Wok Shop’s 14 Inch Flat Bottom Carbon Steel Wok w/ Helper Handle
  • All-Clad  Stainless Steel Tri-Ply 5-Quart Open Stir Fry Pan
  • Helen Chen’s Asian Kitchen 14-inch Carbon Steel Flat Bottom Lidded Wok Set
  • Wok’s Shop’s 14″ Carbon Steel Pow Model
  • Joyce Chen 14 inch Lightweight Cast Iron Model
  • ExcelSteel 13-Inch Super Lightweight Cast Iron Model
  • Cooks Standard Multi-Ply Clad Stainless-Steel 13-Inch Wok with Dome Lid
  • Calphalon Contemporary Stainless 13-Inch Flat-Bottom Stir Fry Pan

Note: the links above lead to pricing, customer reviews, and more information and specifications on Amazon or other major retailers.

Contents

  • Bottom Line Up Front: Our 9 Best Reviewed Woks
  • Wok History
  • Wok Hei
  • Construction
  • Shape
  • Accessories and Utensils
  • Wok Reviews
    • Lodge: Best Rated Cast Iron Model
    • Wok Shop’s 14″ Flat Bottom: Best Rated Carbon Steel Wok
    • All-Clad Tri-Ply Bonded Stir Fry Pan: Best Stainless Clad Model
    • Helen Chen’s Asian Kitchen
    • 14” Carbon Steel “Pow” Model by the Wok Shop
    • Joyce Chen’s 14” Lightweight Cast Iron Model
    • Excel 13” Lightweight Cast Iron
    • Cook’s Standard Multi-ply Clad Stainless Steel with Lid
    • Calphalon Stainless Steel Flat Bottom Stir Fry Pan

WOK HISTORY

The wok is considered to be one of the most versatile cooking pans, perfect for stir frying and to use in recipes like our lemon chicken quinoa bowls. A fairly recent development in cookware, its use can be verified in China some 2,000 years ago. However, historians and metallurgists can’t agree if it was invented there, or if the wok is a utensil originally borrowed from other cultures.

Regardless of its country of origin, it is one of the most common cooking pans used today throughout Asia, and is now well known and loved in the western hemisphere as well.

The earliest evidence of woks were pottery models in found in Chinese tombs equipped with ovens for the afterlife, and archeology records the first metal woks as dating from the Han Dynasty, circa 200 BC-200 AD.

As pans of a similar shape and size were used in in India and Southeast Asia as well, archeologists speculate that the Chinese wok is an idea that was adopted from neighboring regions. These people used metal buckets turned upside down to serve as braziers for the quick frying of foods – the origins of stir frying.

Its first purpose was for drying grains, and much later farmers adapted it for the spreading and drying of tea leaves. Evidence of the thin slicing of foods, a preparation technique used in stir frying, is first found in the mid-1200s.

It was during the 13th century that tribes of central Asian nomads were expanding their territories.

Most were very open to adopting and adapting the technologies of the surrounding cultures that they traveled through.

Among these nomads were the Mongols, who were unifying these divergent, migrating clans and their cooking methods. For the Mongols, cooking utensils needed to be lightweight and easily transported to suit their nomadic lifestyle, and the wok fit the bill perfectly.

For the traveler, the wok heated fast and food could be cooked quickly, requiring very little cooking oil or fuel for heating. And, being steel, it could be transported with little damage and needed even less maintenance.

The Food of China by E. N. Anderson

As these nomads conquered and expanded their territory, the wok was introduced to many more cultures and its popularity grew in new realms – particularly in regions of harsh geography and uncertain political climates. In his book, The Food of China, author and anthropologist E. N. Anderson makes this intriguing observation:

“Chinese cooking is the cooking of scarcity. Whatever the emperors and warlords may have had, the vast majority of Chinese spent their lives short of fuel, cooking oil, utensils, and even water.”

The wok was the ideal cooking pot for these times and circumstances.

WOK HEI

The translation of wok hei into English means “wok thermal radiation,” but that explanation falls a bit short. Metaphorically, it’s the “breath of the wok,” or a characteristic the pan takes on when certain conditions are met, almost like a personality trait.

Wok Hei - The Breath of Wok | Foodal.com

It refers to the richly blended, smoky taste imparted when food is stir fried over high heat, with just the right amount of oil in a wok with a well-seasoned patina. And it’s of significant importance for those Chinese dishes that require searing at high heat.

Creating wok hei can be an elusive endeavor, and its attainment is often used to measure the skill of Chinese chefs who may spend years perfecting their art.

However, if you don’t have the time or inclination to develop your wok hei skill set, very satisfactory results can still be obtained with a standard stir fry pan in your own kitchen.

CONSTRUCTION

Today, woks are available in a wide variety of materials, but the traditional model made of uncoated carbon steel is still the most popular choice. This material heats quickly, transfers the heat well, will form its own nonstick coating, and is one of the most economical to produce (and therefore, to purchase).

Choosing the Best Wok for Your Needs | Foodal.com
Carbon steel remains one of the best choices in construction.

Cast iron is another popular choice because of its superior heat retention and conductivity, and it too will form a nonstick surface if care is taken in seasoning and maintenance. With both carbon steel and cast iron, washing with soap and water isn’t recommended, as this may remove the patina of seasoning.

If the idea of not washing your pans after cooking is problematic, consider using stainless steel with a disk bottom or tri-ply construction for stir frying instead. Your dishes won’t have the same wok hei as the heritage materials, but your food will be delicious nonetheless. And cleaning won’t be a problem.

Other materials to select from include electric, ceramic coated cast iron, anodized aluminum, and those with Teflon or other nonstick surface treatments. However, those materials do have the usual drawbacks: nonstick treatments may release toxic chemicals at high heat and aren’t suitable for use with metal utensils, and ceramic coatings can chip and crack.

The Best Woks Reviewed | Foodal.com
Round-bottomed woks work best on stoves that can accommodate them – in China and some other Asian countries, both commercial and residential stoves are equipped with a high-BTU wok burner.

When deciding what type of wok to select, consideration should be given to the type of stove you’ll be using. Historically, Chinese ovens where made of brick with openings in the top for a wok to sit in, directly over the flame. And even today, a Chinese gas range will have larger burners than in the west, facilitating the use of round-bottomed pans.

If you have a gas stovetop, either a round-bottomed or flat-bottomed stir fry pan will work. But, if you have an electric or induction range, the flat-bottomed style works best because it will sit directly on the element, eliminating the need for a ring stand.

Home versions range in sizes from 10″ to 16″, with the 14″ size considered to be adequate for the preparation of most dishes for an average family.

SHAPE

Regardless of the material used in construction, the shape, diameter and height should be considered – i.e. its concave properties. One that is too deep will retain the heat in the well, or bottom, and heat transfer to the sides will be inadequate.

If it’s too shallow, you’ll lose the ability to toss and move foods up the sides, losing workable surface areas. So, look for the Goldilocks properties of a minimum of 5” for the flat bottom, with a 4” depth for a pan that’s 14” in diameter.

ACCESSORIES AND UTENSILS

Some woks are sold as an individual unit, while others come in a set with a lid, burner rings, a thin metal spatula (chuan), ladle, steamer tray, etc.

VERTI Stainless Steel Asian Turner (Chuan)

Determine the most common uses in your home before making your selection – besides stir frying, steaming, smoking or deep frying are all options, and will require extra pieces for culinary success.

WOK REVIEWS

LODGE: BEST RATED CAST IRON MODEL

Pre-seasoned and ready for use, this one-piece construction cast iron wok features two loop handles, making it oven safe, and the sturdy flat bottom is good on all stove tops. Cast iron is well known for its superior heating and heat retention properties, and this pan has a large surface area.

Lodge Pro-Logic 14-inch P14W3 Cast Iron Wok

Made in the US by Lodge, one of the best known manufacturers of cast iron cookware, this pan should be washed by hand only.

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING

Fantastic, heavy duty performance, the cast iron gets blazing hot and holds the heat for outstanding performance. There’s a lot of rave reviews about it being a great investment. The customers with complaints report it’s too heavy with a rough interior surface.

See more customer reviews and prices on Amazon now!

 

WOK SHOP’S 14″ FLAT BOTTOM: BEST RATED CARBON STEEL WOK

This pan is made of 14-gauge carbon steel with a blond wood stick and helper handles, and it is made in the US. The 6” bottom and 4” depth are a good match for the 14” diameter, and the flat bottom works well for gas and electric stoves.

14 Inch Flat Bottom Carbon Steel Wok w/ Helper Handle

Hand wash only, season before using, and re-season as needed.

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING

The sturdy, padded bottom heats quickly and holds heat well, and it is made for durability. It’s easy to season, and has a nice shape for moving food while stir frying. On the negative side, there were a couple of complaints about it not sitting flat on glass top ranges – but, as it’s not recommended for glass tops, perhaps the problem was more in the selection. Another few complaints are about rusting after the first use, but again, I think this is due to a lack of understanding that the seasoning process may require more than one application.

See more customer reviews and prices on Amazon now!

 

ALL-CLAD TRI-PLY BONDED STIR FRY PAN: BEST STAINLESS CLAD MODEL

At 14” with 18/10 stainless steel and an aluminum clad base, this stir fry pan boasts superior heat conductivity with its 6” flat bottom. The stay cool stainless steel stick and loop handles are riveted in place, and this pan has the All-Clad reputation for quality.

All-Clad 4414 Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded Dishwasher Safe 5-Quart Open Stir Fry Pan

Made in the US, it’s good for all range types and is oven and dishwasher safe as well, although hand washing is recommended.

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING

The All-Clad fans report this pan to be sturdy with solid construction, it has a nice balance and good heft, the entire cooking surface heats quickly, and it’s easy to clean. There are a couple of comments from earlier purchasers about sharp edges on the lip of the pan, but none recently.

See more customer reviews and get prices on Amazon now!

 

HELEN CHEN’S ASIAN KITCHEN

This pan is made of traditional carbon steel of 1.6 mm depth for rapid and even heating, and it is made in China. The heat-resistant stick handle and helper handle are made of natural bamboo, and the stick has a loop for vertical storage. It requires an initial scouring and seasoning plus re-seasoning to prevent rust formation.

Helen Chen’s Asian Kitchen 14-inch Carbon Steel Flat Bottom Lidded Wok Set

It comes with a lightweight aluminum lid, and the flat bottom is suitable for use on gas and electric ranges. Hand wash only.

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING

The positive reviews indicate a well-constructed pan with good conductivity, and even heating throughout the surface areas. On the negative side, a number of reviewers remarked that the lacquer coating took a lot of scrubbing to remove, and there were several complaints about the wok rusting.

Some of these complaints seem to come from those that aren’t aware carbon steel may require more than one seasoning treatment, but adequate seasoning does seem to take a long time with this model.

Read all of the customer reviews on Amazon now!

 

14” CARBON STEEL “POW” MODEL BY THE WOK SHOP

This flat-bottomed pan is make of 14-gauge carbon steel with a metal handle in one piece construction, typical of the Pow style. The measurements of 14” in diameter and 4” deep with a 5” bottom work well for holding and moving ingredients with ease.

Wok’s Shop’s 14″ Carbon Steel Pow Model

Made in the US, this pan is suitable for gas and electric ranges. It must be seasoned before using and hand washing is recommended.

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING

A fairly new product on the market, there aren’t a lot of reviews yet, but customers report a nice shape for stir frying with good conductivity and heat retention. It also seasons well and has a nice heft. One complaint so far about a warped bottom after heating.

Check prices and read all the reviews on Amazon now!

 

JOYCE CHEN’S 14” LIGHTWEIGHT CAST IRON MODEL

This lightweight cast iron stir fry pan is pre-seasoned and ready to cook. It features an easy to clean silicone exterior surface with maple stick and helper handles. The bottom measures 6.5” and is suitable to use on all range tops. Hand wash only.

Joyce Chen 23-0001, 14 inch Lightweight Cast Iron Wok

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING

Lightweight for cast iron with durable construction, this pan gets “super” hot and is easy to clean. There are two complaints about the nonstick coating peeling off, even though it’s not nonstick – they probably just needed to be re-seasoned.

Find more details and prices on Amazon now!

 

EXCEL 13” LIGHTWEIGHT CAST IRON

50% lighter than traditional cast iron, this wok comes with stainless steel riveted stick and helper handles, and a slot in the stick for vertical storage. The flat 7” bottom is good on all stove tops and is oven safe as well. Hand wash only.

ExcelSteel 13-Inch Super Lightweight Cast Iron Wok

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING

Lightweight for cast iron, this pan heats evenly and holds the heat well. With a large surface area, it shows good performance, is well constructed and cleans well. The main complaints are that it comes unseasoned, and has a rough interior surface.

Get prices and more customer reviews on Amazon now!

 

COOK’S STANDARD MULTI-PLY CLAD STAINLESS STEEL WITH LID

This pan is 13” with premium 18/10 stainless steel and has an aluminum clad disk bottom for fast and even heating, with V-shaped solid stainless riveted handles for stay cool air flow. It comes with a stainless dome lid with loop handle and has a 5” bottom.

Cooks Standard Multi-Ply Clad Stainless-Steel 13-Inch Wok with Dome Lid

Good for use on all stove tops, it’s also oven safe to 500°F, and can be washed in the dishwasher. Made in China.

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING

Satisfied customers report this is a good product of sturdy construction, the handles stay cool, and it heats evenly with easy clean up. Some naysayers report poor quality construction and that the interior stains easily.

Get more details on Amazon now!

 

CALPHALON STAINLESS STEEL FLAT BOTTOM STIR FRY PAN

13” stainless with aluminum core that extends up the sides for superior conductivity, with a 5” base and a depth of 4.5”, and stainless stick and loop handles. It comes with a deep, tempered glass lid, and is both oven and dishwasher safe.

Calphalon Contemporary Stainless 13-Inch Flat-Bottom Stir Fry Pan

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING

The rating system used on Amazon for this product is misleading, as they include reviews for the entire Calphalon line of cookware. However, there are a number of complaints that this wok is not fully clad as advertised, but rather is a disk bottom only with hot spots, sticking food and interior staining. The positive reviewers report that it heats well, has a nice shape for stir frying, and is easy to clean.

Get prices and more information on Amazon now!

 

And that concludes our look at the amazing wok. Before making a purchase, decide how you’re going to use it and what type of stove you’ll be cooking on to get the best pan for the job.

Kashish Manchanda

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *