How to Select a Wok for College Students

When I went to an engineering college in Wisconsin, I roomed in a dorm with 4-5 other students. I can remember that each of us took turns cooking. Sometimes it was a struggle to see what we could bring to the table. One thing was for sure, we all loved Chinese food. On the weekends, we would all chip in, go shopping, and buy groceries for the week. Since we all loved Chinese food, we decided on cooking most of our meals in a wok. There were hundreds of recipes available for wok cooking, so this was a plus.

A wok is probably the most efficient piece of cookware in anyone’s kitchen. Most students do not have large kitchens to store a lot of pots and pans, so a wok is a perfect solution for kitchens with limited space.

After doing some research, these are a list of the desired features I wanted in a wok.

  1. A carbon steel wok
  2. A wok large enough to cook for five people
  3. A wok for gas stoves would be perfect
  4. A wok that had helper handles
  5. A wok that would be reasonably priced
  6. A wok that could withstand abuse

Carbon Steel Woks:

  • Carbon steel consists of about 1% carbon and 98% to 99% iron.
  • Carbon steel is usually heavier than stainless steel.
  • Carbon steel cookware can leach iron into your food. Iron is a healthy mineral that our body needs this can be a great benefit.
  • Carbon steel needs to be seasoned.
  • Putting your carbon steel wok in your dishwasher is not recommended.
  • If you cook acid or alkaline foods, the seasoning may come off.
  • Re-seasoning a carbon steel wok is easy.
  • Carbon steel woks are good at retaining heat, better than stainless steel.
  • Carbon steel woks will last a lifetime if cared for properly.
  • Some carbon steel woks have helper handles, which helps when lifting or controlling your wok.
  • Carbon steel woks cost less than stainless steel.
  • Carbon steel woks are Non-Stick if appropriately seasoned.
  • Carbon steel woks sear meat perfectly.
  • Most Asian restaurants use carbon steel woks for a reason.

Woks of aluminum, cast iron, stainless steel, and carbon steel are the usual metals used. The health risks with aluminum canceled out the idea of buying an aluminum wok, even though they were inexpensive.

It was important to eat as healthy as possible, so I had to make sure that the wok would be safe. I next investigated stainless steel as a candidate for a wok.

Facts about Stainless Steel Woks

Stainless steel woks were too expensive and difficult to clean. The reviews I read on stainless steel woks showed that food would stick to the bottom of the wok. Stainless steel woks contain iron, carbon, chromium, nickel, and molybdenum.

  • Stainless steel is a metal alloy consisting of around 10.5% chromium and varying percentages of several other metals, like nickel, molybdenum (Molybdenum increases the corrosion resistance of this chromium-nickel alloy to withstand attack by many industrial chemicals and solvents, and, in particular, inhibits pitting caused by chlorides. Molybdenum is one of the single most useful alloying additives in the fight against corrosion. Chromium enhances durability and protects against rust by forming when exposed to air, a non-toxic, passive film of chromium oxide.
  • The presence of a minimum of 10.5 % chromium in the stainless steel gives it the property of corrosion resistance. When chromium reacts with oxygen, it forms chromium oxide automatically.
  • Stainless steel can allow other metals to leach into the foods.
  • Stainless steel does not sear meat well.
  • Generally, stainless cookware does not need to be seasoned.
  • Stainless steel can be seasoned, but my understanding is that it must be re-seasoned frequently.
  • Stainless steel can be challenging to make non-stick.
  • Cooking eggs with stainless steel is not non-stick.
  • Stainless steel cookware is lighter than carbon steel.
  • Dishwasher cleaning of Stainless steel is permitted.
  • Some stainless steel is non-magnetic which means you cannot use it on induction cooking stoves.
  • Stainless steel does not conduct heat well, so cookware is usually made with an aluminum or copper core. A sheet of aluminum or copper sandwiched between the stainless steel improves the pot’s heating ability.
  • If the aluminum or copper core becomes scratched, grooved or worn and is exposed then it would be a good idea to replace your cookware. If your pot is rusting (stainless can rust) or if there are signs that the core is wearing through, replace the wok because it’s most likely leaching those metals into your food.
  • Nickle can leach into your food if the stainless pan is scratched.

Here is my recommendation for any student or parent buying a wok for there son or daughter. I suggest you only consider a flat-bottomed wok made out of carbon steel. Flat-bottomed woks will work great on electric stoves, induction stoves and gas stoves.

Utensils such as Chinese spatulas and strainers would also be a great addition. Cooking with a wok is very healthy. Fresh vegetables along with chicken, shrimp or other fish, and rice would be a very balanced, tasty, and healthy meal.

  • One wok I would recommend is the Sur La Table Professional Carbon Steel Wok 21-9969. You can get the 14-inch carbon steel version. This wok has a flat bottom and comes with a couple of helper handles. Check Amazon for availability and price. This wok has excellent reviews. This wok will need to be seasoned.

Another carbon steel flat-bottomed wok I recommend is the USA Made 14 Inches Carbon Steel Wok with Helper Handle (Flat Bottom), 14 Gauge Thickness. Welding of all the handles to the wok is a nice feature. This wok is very well made and will serve you well for years to come. Both handles are wood designed, which makes it a bit easier to handle. Check Amazon for availability and price. This wok also has excellent reviews. This wok will need to be seasoned.

Wok Accessories 

Here are some other accessories that would compliment your wok cooking experience.

Wok Spatula

High on the list would be a wok spatula. Here is the spatula that I would recommend. TableCraft 32405 Bamboo Handle Wok Spatula, 14.5-Inch. This wok comes with great Amazon reviews. Check it out.

This stainless steel wok spatula is 14.5 inches in length and has a bamboo handle which is cooler than a wood handle.

Wok Domes (Lids)

This Joyce Chen 31-0066, 13.5-Inch Nonstick Steel Dome Lid for 14-Inch Wok. This wok has a birch knob and is non-stick inside and out. The diameter of this dome will fit perfectly on your 14-inch wok. The rolled edges on this wok dome will help add strength and prevent cutting yourself on the sides of the dome. The non-stick surfaces of this dome make cleaning a breeze.

Another wok dome choice would be this USA MADE Aluminum Dome Wok Lid / Wok Cover, 13-Inches, (For 14″ Wok), 18 Gauge.

My final choice for wok domes (lids) is the USA MADE Aluminum Flat Wok Lid / Wok Cover, 13-Inches, (For 14″ Wok), 18 Gauge. I have one of these domes.

What I like about this wok lid is that it has :

  • A flat wok cover that makes it easy to store
  • A large handle

Out of all the inexpensive wok covers, this is my favorite. Check Amazon for availability and price.

Wok Whisks

To help you clean your wok, I recommend this 7″ Cleaning Whisk available from Amazon.

Wok Oils

Here are two functions of wok oil.

  1. Wok seasoning oil
  2. Wok cooking oils

Wok Seasoning Oil

Many kinds of oil can be used to season carbon steel woks. Perhaps the best oil is Flaxseed oil. It seems to be a favorite oil among many professionals for seasoning carbon steel cookware. You want to follow the instructions that came with your wok to correctly season your wok.

Wok Cooking Oils

Cooking oils for woks are a personal choice. I use coconut oil or peanut oil. You can use any oil as long as it has a high smoke point.

Related Questions

What is the best cookware for college students? The best cookware for college students is that which is safe, effective, and easy to clean. Carbon steel cookware falls into this category.

What is the best college cookware set? I would not recommend a cookware set. Usually, there is limited kitchen space at college residences. I would recommend a carbon steel wok and a carbon steel fry pan. With these two pieces of cookware, you can cook thousands of different meals.

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