What is a Mandarin Wok?

by Bob | Last Updated:  October 14, 2020
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When you are considering purchasing a wok it can be difficult to find the right wok for you. There are many styles of woks. There are Mandarin, Cantonese, POW woks, and a few others.

Mandarin woks usually have only one long handle.  This long handle is made of steel with a wooden or bamboo insert or can be without an insert. Mandarin woks do not have the shorter steel helper handle found on Cantonese (Southern Chinese) or Northern Chinese woks (POW woks).

Some woks have two short steel helper handles and I will call them helper handles because I don’t know what else to call them. Oher woks have one short steel helper handle and a longer handle of varying lengths. Some of those longer handles on woks are made of carbon steel and they have wood or bamboo inserted in them.

Mandarin Woks

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Cantonese Woks

Cantonese woks are also called Southern Chinese woks and have two small steel helper handles.  A purest on the subject of woks would also say that Cantonese woks are shallower than Mandarin or Northern Chinese woks. Most of the Cantonese woks that I have seen have the same pan depth as all the other woks. Almost all of the woks that I have recommended on this site all have the same depth if they are the same diameter. In other words, all 14-inch woks by different manufacturers have about the same depth. This confusing fact should not be a determining factor in your decision to purchase a wok.

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POW Woks

Northern Chinese woks (POW woks) are deeper and have one small steel helper handle and one long handle.

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All three of these wok styles can be hand-hammered or pressed. They also can be round-bottomed or flat-bottomed.

The traditional woks have rounded bottoms and are hand-hammered. When a wok is hand-hammered the sides are not as smooth as pressed carbon steel woks. This allows the food to stick to the sides instead of falling back to the bottom of the pan. When the food sticks to the sides of the wok, it is easier to control the heat on the side of the pan.

Round-Bottom Woks

Round-bottomed woks are usually used on gas stoves with a wok ring or used on a wok burner. The distribution of heat on a round-bottomed wok is more linear than on a flat-bottomed wok.

Flat-bottomed woks came into being mostly for the Western world because of gas stoves. Gas stoves with wok rings can work on a marginal basis, but they cannot quite compete with round-bottomed woks for a variety of reasons.

Flat-Bottomed Woks

If you have a gas stove, then a flat-bottomed will work without a wok ring. If you want to use a round-bottomed wok on a gas stove then you will have to use a wok ring order to concentrate the heat into a smaller area and to stabilize the wok.

Wok Rings