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 needs, requirements, and style of cooking. I’ll bet you didn’t know some of the things about buying a wok 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.
- Can a wok save me time in the kitchen?
- Why choose a wok over other cookware?
- How large of a wok should I buy?
- Why should I use a carbon steel wok?
- Do I need a special stove to use a wok?
Let us investigate these questions a bit further.
1) Can a Wok Save Me Time in The Kitchen?
This depends. If you prepare your food ahead of time and preheat your wok, the time it takes to cook a meal can be very fast and will save you time. If you have a large family or time is of the essence then using a wok might be the way to go. Choosing a Wok can save you an enormous amount of time.
To save 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 when I am ready to cook.
Meat or fowl like pork or chicken can also be cut up in smaller 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, chicken, or pork. I make sure there is enough oil to cook the chicken or pork 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, pork, or chicken is done, I then mix in the vegetables. If I have prepared rice ahead of time, I add that to the mixture. I usually add some sauce that I made ahead of time to my stir-fry.
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 will add in salt right before I serve it. 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) Why Choose a Wok Over Other Cookware?
First off, understand that carbon steel is the way to go. Woks usually perform best when used with high-heat when stir-frying. For food to reach a perfect consistency, it needs to be seared with quickly with high heat. Carbon steel allows for this. It heats up and cools down quickly.
You will find that most of your well know Chinese and Asian restaurants use only spun or ham-hammered carbon steel woks. They have been using these types of woks for centuries for a reason. They don’t use stainless steel or manufactured non-stick woks.
You don’t want to use stainless steel or anything with a chemically treated nonstick surface. Stainless steel looks great, but it takes too long to heat up and cool down. You will find that most nonstick surfaces degrade at extremely high temperatures and can give off toxic fumes. Stainless steel and these manufactured non-stick woks can also keep food from browning.
Cast iron is much better than stainless steel, and it can sear perfectly, but these woks still take 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, on the other hand, will not break if dropped. Carbon steel woks will sear food just as well as cast iron woks. Another advantage of carbon steel is that they are a lot lighter in weight as compared to carbon steel.
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. Beyond this, you want to look at how the wok is manufactured. If you look closely at a lot of “spun” carbon steel woks, you will see very subtle concentric circles on the sides of the wok. These concentric circles help hold the food up on the sides, once they are pushed there, to allow the bottom of the wok to cook other foods like chicken, pork, beef, etc.
Many other types of woks are hand-hammered. These hand-hammered carbon steel woks also help to hold food on the sides as just like the spun type of carbon steel woks. Either one of these types of manufactured woks will be perfectly adequate for your needs.
Stay far away from smooth, polished, stainless steel, or slippery machined surfaces.
4) How Large of a Wok Should I Buy?
The size of the wok you are considering is based really on just two things.
- What kind of food do you expect to cook in your wok?
- What is the quantity of food you will be cooking?
If you are going to use your wok to cook a lot of food and refrigerate it, then I would suggest buying a wok about 14 inches. You could get away with a 12-inch wok if you live by yourself and only cook one meal at a time.
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 a smaller size.
5) Do I Need a Special Stove to Use a Wok?
You want to slowly heat your wok and bring it up to a higher temperature. This gradual elevation of temperature to a cold wok will help the bottom to stay flat on a flat-bottomed wok. It will help to prevent warping. This slow heating applies to all carbon steel cookware.
If you are using a gas stove, then they 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 for my Wok after I pre-heat it.
The wok I like to use on my stove above is shown below.
This wok is the Sur La Table Professional Carbon Steel Wok, model 21-9969 and 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. One handle is the main handle with a hook on the end so that you can hang it on a rack if you wish. The other handle is steel covered with wood, and it is called a helper handle. This comes in handy when you need to hold onto the wok when you are tossing food around.
If you are going to use an electric stove, then I would choose the size of my wok carefully. With electric flat top burners, make sure that the flat part of the wok is about the same size as the burner. Do not use a round-bottomed wok. You will never be able to get enough heat under it to cook correctly. The maximum size, when used with an electric stove, would be a 14-inch wok but preferably a 12-inch wok.
If you are camping and using a rocket stove, then any size wok should suffice.
Rocket stoves can get hot, and that is what you want when “woking.” Rocket stoves are very portable, depending on model and make. The amount of wood or coals 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, of the rocket stove and this provides a powerful updraft that gets the fuel burning hot.
If you intend to use your wok of 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.
The picture to the left is my gas grill, and I use a wok with grapeseed oil to fry Milkfish from the Philippines or Pampano from Florida. Once the oil gets hot in the wok, I add the fish for about 5 minutes a side, and it is ready to eat. Before I cook the fish, I clean it and lightly score the sides of fish. For flavoring, I stuff the fish with chopped onions, chopped green and red peppers, diced tomatoes, garlic, salt, and pepper. 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 and stay hot. It is probably not a good idea to use wood in 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 good, 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. I would recommend that you use a round-bottomed wok because it will resist warping with high heat applied to the bottom of the wok. By coals, I mean charcoaled wood, charcoaled briquettes or logs. Do not use a wok with wooden handles or plastic handles because they will burn.
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 wok for your stove look at carbon steel woks. 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!