How to Select a Wok for College Students

by Bob | Last Updated:  October 20, 2020
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When I went to an engineering college (MSOE) 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.

Cooking with a wok is easy, and it is a healthy way to prepare food.  You can cook any mix of meat and vegetables that you like.

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

Aluminum, cast iron, stainless steel and carbon steel are the usual metals used in woks. Aluminum woks are inexpensive, but there are health risks in using aluminum.  It is important to eat healthy, so I had to be sure that the wok was safe to use.

Here are the features I looked for in a wok:

  1. Carbon steel construction
  2. Large enough to cook for five people
  3. Works well on gas stoves 
  4. Helper handles
  5. Reasonable price
  6. Sturdy construction

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 so this can be a great benefit.)
  • Carbon steel needs to be seasoned.
  • Carbon steel needs to be hand washed.  ( Using the dishwasher is not recommended.)
  • If you cook acidic or alkaline foods, the seasoning may come off.
  • Re-seasoning a carbon steel wok is easy.
  • Carbon steel woks are better than stainless steel at retaining heat.
  • Carbon steel woks will last a lifetime, if cared for properly.
  • Some carbon steel woks have helper handles, which aid in lifting and controlling your wok.
  • Carbon steel costs 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.

Stainless Steel Woks

  • Stainless steel is a metal alloy consisting of around 10.5% chromium and varying percentages of several other metals, like nickel, iron, carbon and molybdenum, (Molybdenum increases the corrosion resistance of this chromium-nickel alloy so that it can withstand attack by many industrial chemicals and solvents, and it 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.
  • Stainless steel cookware does not need to be seasoned.
  • Stainless steel can be seasoned, but it must be re-seasoned frequently.
  • Stainless steel can be challenging to make non-stick. (Be careful when cooking eggs.)
  • 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 is a good idea to replace your cookware. If your pot is rusting (stainless steel 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.
  • Stainless steel woks are more expensive and more difficult to clean than carbon steel woks.

I suggest you consider a flat-bottomed wok made out of carbon steel. Flat-bottomed woks will work great on any stove, and carbon steel is the best material for a wok.  Utensils, such as Chinese spatulas and strainers, are very helpful in wok cooking.

Another recommendation is the Helen Chen 12-inch Flat-Bottomed Carbon Steel Wok. This wok is perfect for one or two people.

This wok is very well made and will give you many years of service. The handle is bamboo, which makes it cooler on the hands. Check Amazon for availability and price. This wok also has excellent reviews.

Here are some other accessories that will complement your wok cooking experience.

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Wok Spatula

High on the list of accessories is a wok spatula. The spatula that I recommend is TableCraft 32405 Bamboo Handle Wok Spatula, 14.5-Inch.  This stainless steel wok spatula has a bamboo handle, which is cooler than a wood handle.  It comes with great Amazon reviews. Check it out.

Wok Domes (Lids)

This Joyce Chen 31-0066, 13.5-Inch Nonstick Steel Dome Lid for 14-Inch Woks 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 the dome will help add strength and prevent you from cutting yourself on the sides of the dome. The non-stick surfaces of this dome make cleaning a breeze.

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

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

  • A flat shape 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 clean your wok, I recommend this 7″ Cleaning Whisk available from Amazon.

Wok Oils

What oil you use in your wok depends on whether you are seasoning your wok or cooking.

Wok Seasoning Oil

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

Wok Cooking Oils

Cooking oils for woks are a personal choice. I use avocado oilcoconut 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 cookware that is safe, effective, and easy to clean. Carbon steel cookware fulfills all those criteria..

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