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Why Use a Wok With a Round Bottom?

I thought I knew everything about woks since I have been using a flat-bottomed wok for years, until my fiancé came home with a round-bottomed wok! It appeared that she knew more about woks than I did, so I decided to do some research to find out what was so great about round-bottomed woks.

Through my research, I came up with the following information about using round-bottomed woks:

  • stir frying is easier in a round-bottomed wok;
  • round-bottomed woks do not warp; 
  • wok ladles and spatulas work better in round-bottomed woks.

Stir Frying is Easier in a Round-Bottomed Wok

The heat distribution in a round-bottomed wok is more linear than a flat-bottomed wok. This direct heating from the very bottom of the wok to the top edge makes it much easier to toss and stir fry your ingredients.

Round-Bottomed Woks Do Not Warp

Round-bottomed woks are – of course – round! Round-bottomed woks are impossible to warp, because of the distribution of the iron and carbon molecules in the rounded surface. The heat is evenly distributed up the sides of the wok in a linear fashion. Flat-bottomed woks, on the other hand, can have hot spots in the bottom of the wok because of the flat shape, which makes them susceptible to warping in high heat conditions.

Wok Ladles and Spatulas Work Better in Round-Bottomed Woks

Most wok utensils are designed for round woks. The edges of wok ladles and spatulas conform to the surfaces of round-bottomed woks. Wok spatulas have curved leading edges. The curved leading edge does not conform well to the bottom surface of a flat-bottomed wok.

The bottom line, however, is that the shape of utensils is usually not a big deal and should not be a big factor in your wok purchase.

Additional Information about Round-Bottomed Woks

Woks have been used for over 3,000 years in China.  The first wok was a round-bottomed cooking vessel.  Most of the original woks were hand hammered.

Today, wok use is most prevalent in South China, particularly Guangdong Province.  However, it is one of the most common cooking utensils in all of China and many parts of Asia, as well as becoming a favorite throughout the world.

Most commercial restaurants that use woks use round-bottomed woks. These restaurants usually have special stoves that generate a great deal of high heat. Carbon steel woks are the choice of professional chefs.

Woks are able to accommodate a wide range of different cooking techniques:  stir frying, steaming, pan frying, deep frying, poaching, boiling, braising, searing, stewing, making soup, smoking and roasting nuts. Spatulas or long-handled utensils (such as wok ladles) are used when cooking with woks. Since woks get very hot in the traditional method of cooking, the extended handles allow cooks to work with the food without getting burned.

I like the Traditional Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Pow Wok with Wooden and Steel Helper Handle (14 Inch, Round Bottom) / 731W88 by Craft Wok (pictured to the right) offered by Amazon, because it has:

  • hand-hammered carbon steel, which makes the food hold better on the sides;
  • two helper handles, one wooden and one steel;
  • 1.8 mm side thickness.

If you are considering purchasing a hand-hammered wok, make sure that the rivets that attach the helper handle are riveted like the POW wok pictured  below.

carbon steel cookware

Round-bottomed Woks Have Many Advantages

  • Round-bottomed woks do not warp.
  • Round-bottomed woks distribute heat more evenly, from the bottom and up the sides of the wok.
  • Round-bottomed woks are easier to use for stir frying.
  • Round-bottomed woks work very efficiently with gas stoves.
  • Round-bottomed woks enable the traditional round spatulas or ladles to pick up all the food at the bottom and toss it around quickly.
  • Round-bottomed woks can get hotter than flat-bottomed woks.

Round-Bottomed Woks Have a Few Disadvantages

  • Round-bottomed woks can wobble on a gas or electric stove. (A wok ring can help with that problem.  See below.)
  • Round-bottomed woks do not work well on electric ranges.

Here is a Flat-Bottomed Wok With an Inner Round Surface!!

Golly, you have hybrid cars, and now you have a hybrid wok! This wok is cast iron, and is unusual because it has a flat, outer surface to contact the stove but a curved, inner surface. You have the best of both worlds! You can use this wok on a grill, gas stove, electric glass or porcelain stove or an electric coiled stove.

If you are considering on of these “hybrid” woks, I recommend the pre-seasoned, cast-iron wok by Lodge. These woks are very heavy. The weight is about 11.6 pounds. They work well on all kinds of cooking surfaces, hold their heat well and are reasonably priced. These cast iron woks have a flat bottom that contacts the range or cooking surface, but the inside of the wok is round. This inside, round portion of the wok is excellent for stir frying. Check the availability at Amazon.

The only drawbacks of these cast-iron woks are:

  1. You do not want to drop them on your foot or stove top…they will break both.
  2. Do not drop them on the floor.  Cast iron woks can break. They are more brittle than carbon steel.
  3. They are heavy (11.6 pounds).
  4. The helper handles can get very hot. Be careful.
  5. They take longer to heat up and longer to cool down than carbon steel.
  6. You should not use metal utensils in these woks.

For best results, cook using medium heat and apply a small amount of vegetable oil to the cookware’s cooking surface before each use. You need to use heat-resistant silicone, plastic, or wooden utensils only. Avoid metal utensils!! (With carbon steel you can use any utensils, even metal ones,)

After cooking, clean the cookware using a stiff brush and hot water, then rinse and towel dry. To remove stuck-on food, boil water in the cookware for a few minutes to loosen residue, then rinse and towel dry.

Do not put cold water into the hot cookware.  Do not let it air dry.

Additional Tips

Do NOT buy a stainless steel wok. The food will always stick. For heaven’s sake, never buy an anodized aluminum wok either. EVERYTHING sticks to it, especially eggs, which are used in Chinese fried rice. This applies whether you purchase a flat-bottomed or a round-bottomed wok.

Do not buy woks that are pre-seasoned or non-stick. The non-stick surface can burn off with high heat over a length of time. This can be unhealthy and very costly. You do not want to buy a new wok every time the surface wears away or risk unhealthy cooking.

I am not sure about the non-stick surface of the cast iron wok made by Lodge, that I mentioned above. Amazon’s brand of cast iron woks recommends that you not use metal utensils on the surface of their wok.

Carbon steel woks do not break if you drop them.  Carbon steel cookware is not as brittle because of the ratio of carbon and iron. Carbon steel contains only about 1-2% carbon, whereas cast iron has a higher ratio of carbon to iron.  Carbon steel is also lighter weight.

Here is another point I found during my research. Using either a flat-bottomed or round-bottomed wok on an electric range or stove does not get hot enough. You would be better off using a carbon steel pan or skillet for stir frying.

Wok Burners

If you are serious about stir frying with a wok, I recommend you investigate wok burnersCheck Amazon for availability. These burners are made for woks, and they get very hot! To the right is the Power Flamer Outdoor Long Leg High-Pressure Propane Manual Ignition Wok Burner.

This burner will generate more than enough heat for your round-bottomed wok. It is excellent for picnics or large gatherings. It is not intended for indoor use.

  • Stainless Braided Hose, Spider Mesh Guard
  • Long Leg Ground Wok Burner with Integrated Burner Plate, Manual Ignition
  • ACME Type 1 QCC Connector for USA 20lb Propane Tank
  • Adjustable Wok Adapter for Flexible Cooking Position
  • Continuous Power Adjustment from 0 to 160KBTU/Hr

Wok Rings

Some say that you can use a wok ring with your wok. The problem with a wok ring is that it keeps the wok away from the heat source. If you are trying to get the heat on the wok as high as possible, then the wok ring will be working against you.

Stay Away From Electric Woks and Teflon Coated Woks

Electric woks may be convenient but are inefficient. They are not ideal for Chinese dishes.

With Teflon-coated woks, the coating can come off with high heat and the fumes are very toxic – taboo for Asian cooking! Just stay away, far away, from anything with Teflon.

A lot of manufacturers have avoided Teflon coating their woks but are using other forms of coatings, and only time will tell if these will become toxic. Just stay away from anything that is not carbon steel or cast iron, and you should be ok.

Additional Questions

Why Use a Flat-Bottomed Wok?  Flat-bottomed woks are best used on electric stoves, induction stoves and gas stoves.

What is one advantage of a flat-bottomed wok? Flat-bottomed woks work great on induction stoves, if they are made of carbon steel.

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