A Few Things You Didn’t Know About Buying a Wok


Here is a guide to help you buy the right wok. There are many types of woks and selecting the right one will enhance your cooking experience. It is essential to purchase a wok that fits your requirements, preferences and style of cooking. I’ll bet you don’t know some of the things that I am going to share with you today!

Here are some questions you might ask yourself before you consider purchasing and using a wok.

  1. Can a wok save me time in the kitchen?
  2. What materials are woks made of?
  3. Why should I use a carbon steel wok?
  4. How large a wok should I buy?
  5. Do I need a special stove to use a wok?

Now, here are the answers:

1) Can a Wok Save Me Time in The Kitchen?

If you prepare your food ahead of time and preheat your wok, the time it takes to cook a meal is minimal.  If you have a large family or your time is limited, then using a wok might be the way to go and it could save you an enormous amount of time.

I usually cut up all vegetables ahead of time and put them in the refrigerator, so that they are ready to throw in my wok whenever I am ready to cook.

Meat or fowl can also be cut up in small pieces and refrigerated. Remember to try to cut all your vegetables and meats about the same size. If you cut up all your ingredients to about the same size, then they should all be done cooking about the same time.

When I add vegetables to my wok, I make sure that they are cooked to my liking. Then I push them up the side of the wok, exposing the bottom of the wok. At that point, I add the meat or fowl. I make sure there is enough oil to cook whatever protein I am using, because I do not want it to dry out. I keep turning the meat, until it is completely done to my liking.

When the meat is done, I then mix in the vegetables. If I have prepared rice ahead of time, I add that to the mixture. Then I usually add some sauce that I made ahead.

I should mention that I do add pepper to my ingredients, but hold off on the salt until the food is ready to be served. I only add in salt right before I serve. I do this so that the salt will not suck the moisture from the food and because there are some who believe that adding salt can reduce the heat. You can take that with a grain of salt, if you wish! I have not been able to verify this “salt thingy” yet.

2) What Materials Are Woks Made Of?

Woks are generally made of stainless steel, cast iron or carbon steel.  Some have non-stick surfaces.  Woks usually perform best when used with high-heat.  For food to reach a perfect consistency, it needs to be seared quickly with high heat.

Stainless steel looks great, but it takes too long to heat up and cool down.  Also, it can keep food from browning.

Non-stick surfaces are chemically treated. Most of them degrade at extremely high temperatures and can give off toxic fumes. They also can keep food from browning.

Cast iron is much better than stainless steel.  It can sear perfectly, but cast iron takes a long time to heat up and cool down. Another disadvantage is that they are more fragile than carbon steel or even stainless steel. If you drop them on a hard surface, they can crack.

Carbon steel woks will sear food just as well as cast iron, but they won’t break if dropped and are much lighter in weight.  Carbon steel heats up and cools down very quickly.

You will find that most of your well known Chinese and Asian restaurants use only spun or hand-hammered carbon steel woks. They have been using these types of woks for centuries for a reason. They don’t use stainless steel or non-stick woks.

3) Why Should I Use a Carbon Steel Wok?

Without a doubt, I recommend that you use only a carbon steel wok for the reasons described above.

If you have decided to purchase a carbon steel wok, you will want to look at how the wok is manufactured.  Some are spun and some are hand-hammered.

If you look closely at “spun” carbon steel woks, you will see very subtle, concentric circles on the sides of the wok. These concentric circles help hold cooked food up on the sides, preventing that food from becoming overcooked while allowing other foods like chicken, pork, beef, etc. to be cooked on the bottom surface.

Some types of woks are hand-hammered. These hand-hammered carbon steel woks also help to hold food on the sides, just like the spun type. Either one of these woks will be perfectly adequate for your needs.

Stay far away from smooth, polished, stainless steel, or slippery machined surfaces.

You will need to PRE-HEAT your carbon steel wok to prevent warping.  Be careful to slowly heat your wok and bring it up to a high temperature gradually. This slow elevation of temperature to a cold wok will help the bottom on a flat-bottomed wok to stay flat.  This slow heating applies to all carbon steel cookware.

4) How Large a Wok Should I Buy?

The size of the wok you are considering will be determined by the quantity of food that you will be cooking. 

If you live by yourself and only cook one meal at a time, you could get away with a 12-inch wok.  If you have a large family, you might consider a 14-inch wok or larger.

Usually, most people start with a 14-inch wok, and then either move up to a larger size or down to a smaller size.

5) Do I Need a Special Stove to Use a Wok?

No.  You can use a wok on almost any stove.

Gas stoves will usually get hot enough to use a wok effectively. Make sure you use the highest heat possible, after you pre-heat your wok. On my stove below,  I usually use a heat setting of high, after my wok has been pre-heated.

carbonsteelcookware.com

The wok I like to use is shown below.

This wok is the Sur La Table Professional Carbon Steel Wok, model 21-9969. It is available from Amazon. Check for availability.

The flat portion of the wok is the perfect size for my burners, and it has two wood handles. The main handle has a hook on the end, so that you can hang it on a rack if you wish. The other handle, called a helper handle, is steel covered with wood. This comes in handy, when you are tossing food around.

If you are going to use an electric stove, then you need to choose the size of the wok carefully. With electric flat top burners, make sure that the flat part of the wok is about the same size as the burner. A 12-inch wok is preferable.  The maximum size when using an electric stove is 14-inches.  You will need to use a flat-bottomed wok.  Do not use a round-bottomed wok. You will never be able to get enough heat under it to cook correctly.

Rocket stoves are very portable, depending on model and make. The amount of wood or coal they burn is only a fraction of what an open fire burns. Rocket stoves can use small twigs for burning and will keep a fire going for hours.

These stoves really get hot, and that is perfect for using a wok. The air is pulled into the bottom opening, via convection, and this provides a powerful updraft that gets the fuel burning hot.  You can use any size wok on a rocket stove.

If you intend to use your wok on a gas grill (using propane), it may not get hot enough, unless you make sure the flame is directly under the bottom of the wok. Always make sure you have enough propane gas, so you don’t run out of gas halfway through your cooking.

This is a picture of my gas grill.  I often use a wok with grapeseed oil to fry milkfish from the Philippines or pompano from Florida. Before I cook the fish, I clean it and lightly score the sides. For flavoring, I  stuff the fish with chopped onions, chopped green and red peppers, diced tomatoes, garlic, salt, and pepper. Once the oil gets hot, I add the fish for about 5 minutes a side, and it is ready to eat.  With the burner on this grill, the flame touches the bottom of the wok, which is exactly what I want.

The wok I use is about 12 years old and is well seasoned. It no longer looks shiny and new, but it gets the job done.

If you place your wok on one of those grills you see in your local parks, make sure that the fire under it gets hot. It is best to use charcoal briquettes, because they get hot and stay hot. It is probably not a good idea to use wood, when utilizing these park grills. Wood will not get hot enough, unless there is a lot of it and there is air helping to flame it.

If you use an open fire, and the wok touches the coals or burning wood, you should be ok. I would recommend that you get your fire going, making sure that the wood or coals in the fire are almost red hot. Then place your wok directly on top of the hot coals. By coals, I mean charcoaled wood, charcoaled briquettes or logs. Using a round-bottomed wok is recommended, because its construction will resist warping under the application of such high heat. Do not use a wok with wooden handles or plastic handles, because they will burn.

Additional Questions

What is the best wok for a gas stove? The best wok for a gas stove is a flat-bottomed wok. If you are considering a flat-bottomed wok for your cooking needs, take a look at this carbon steel wok. They are the best!

Can I use a cast iron wok on my induction stove? Yes, you can use your cast iron wok on your induction stove. Caveat:  do not drop cast iron woks on your induction stove or your foot. Both could break. OUCH!

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