Look for a 14 to 16-inch wok with a reasonable thickness. The handles should be riveted or welded securely.
Your wok should have two handles in order to help to stabilize your wok and to make it easier to lift. Here are two types of handles:
- One long handle, sometimes inserted with wood or bamboo, and one smaller steel handle
- Two steel handles
Most professional chefs choose traditional rounded-bottom carbon steel woks over flat-bottom woks because of the even heat distribution.
Carbon steel woks are relatively inexpensive and conduct heat evenly, making them a popular choice. I recommend carbon steel for its relatively light weight, quick heat conduction, and excellent heat retention.
Non-stick aluminum wok will be easier to clean, but it does not retain heat as well as carbon steel, making it less effective in stir-frying. Cast iron retains heat better than carbon steel, but the weight of a cast iron wok may make it difficult to handle.
To create an authentic Asian meal, I suggest you use a carbon steel wok in order to create the perfect stir-fry. If you have a choice, I recommend that you purchase a round-bottomed wok over a flat-bottomed wok. Information on round-bottomed woks can be found here. Information on flat-bottomed woks can be found here.
Cantonese-style woks have two small handles on either side, while Northern-style has a single long handle and sometimes a smaller helper-handle on the opposite side. The long handle on a Northern wok can be made of wood, bamboo, steel or carbon steel. The large handle facilitates flipping and stir-frying, while the short handle makes it easy to lift. Interestingly anything other than a Cantonese wok is considered a ‘Northern wok’.
A Northern Chinese wok is a wok that has a long handle. These long handles can be made of wood, bamboo, stainless steel or carbon steel. Northern Chinese woks are deeper than Southern Chinese woks. These longer wok handles are also known as “pao woks” or “Peking pans”. These Northern woks are easier to heat to a higher temperature than the lower-sided Southern Chinese woks.
A Southern Chinese wok is shallower than the Northern Chinese wok. The Southern Chinese wok usually has two metal loop handles of the same size on either side of the wok.