- 1 Helen Chen’s Asian Kitchen 14-inch Carbon Steel Flat Bottom Lidded Wok Stir Fry Pan Set
- 2 Lodge P14W3 Pro-Logic Cast Iron Wok, Pre-Seasoned, 14-inch
- 3 MAKER Homeware 12-Inch Stainless Steel Wok with Nonstick Ceramic Coating
- 4 Joyce Chen Classic Series 14-Inch Carbon Steel Wok Set, 4-Piece
- 5 Joyce Chen, Pro Chef Peking Pan Uncoated Carbon Steel Wok, 12-Inch
- 6 What to Look for When Buying a Wok
- 7 Wok Materials and Construction Process
- 8 Wok Construction and Manufacturing
- 9 Which Type of Handle to Choose
They aren’t just beautiful, but the wok is versatile, have tons of history and make great, flavorful food, fast. The true selling point of the wok is how quickly it heats up, and like copper cookware, the metal heats very evenly too. You aren’t going to find any cool spots in a wok, which can be a problem with other cookware. This makes for an extremely hot cooking surface that is awesome at searing meats and chicken fast and effectively, and at the same time imparting the flavor of the seasoned wok into the food.
The defining visual characteristic of a wok is the long handle and its high sides. And while this shape and structure makes it absolutely perfect for stir-frying various meats and vegetables without running this risk of crowding out the pan and messing with the cooking, a wok can accomplish SO much more than just stir-fry in the kitchen. By the end of this review guide, we are sure that you will see just how versatile the wok is and all the cooking tasks its able to accomplish. But if you want to cut right to the chase, here is the spoiler: woks are great for smoking food, poaching, boiling liquids, deep-frying fried foods, braising tough cuts of meat and pan-frying without a mess.
When researching the best wok to buy, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that they come in all shapes and size, as well as a variety of materials. That’s why we are going to help you make sense of how each metal performs and which one is ultimately right for your cooking style. Before we go into all that, however, let’s take a look at our Top 5 woks of 2017.
|Helen Chen||Carbon Steel||14"|
|Joyce Chen||Carbon Steel||14"|
|Joyce Chen||Carbon Steel||12"|
Helen Chen is an author, one of the leading experts in Asian cuisine, and producer of some of the finest Asian kitchen cookware we have come across. Her passion for Asian cuisine comes through in the quality of her cookware and the thought and care put into its design and execution. This 14-inch flat-bottom wok from her Carbon Steel Wok series is the perfect size for most kitchens and strikes the right chord between capacity and usability. And because this wok is so easy to use, it’s perfect for someone who is just beginning with Asian cooking. This also makes a great gift because it’s compatible with most kitchens and cooking spaces.
The carbon steel construction means that the wok will heat and retain its temperature evenly so you can use it on a gas or electric burner. A lot of woks simply won’t get hot enough on an electric stove, but that’s not an issue with this particular piece. It does require some seasoning and care, but the work you put into it will pay dividends in flavor and taste. The metal used is heavy-gauge carbon steel so it’s not going to feel flimsy when cooking and it will stand the test of time through repeated daily usage. Looks are another strong point for this wok as it features a beautifully contrasted light wooden handle and helper handle, with a rugged steel color and flat bottom shape. This wok is at the top of our list because of its melding of performance, looks, cost and quality.
If you are looking for a cast iron wok, the Lodge P14W3 is about as good as it gets for the money. Lodge is a name we love for quality and price and we usually have no problem recommending them. We have had Lodge cookware in our family that has been around for literally decades, and if you are looking to invest in a wok that is going able to take a beating in the kitchen as well as deliver tasty results, we suggest this one. The Lodge wok is just right for cooking large amounts of food or your best Asian-inspired recipe, and because it’s cast iron, you get the whole list of benefits that comes along with it. It stays hot when cooking, there are no cool spots in the wok getting in the way of that perfect stir-fry sear, and a well-seasoned cast iron wok is going to give you some really good flavor.
The size and design is near perfect. The two helper handles on the sides will give you a nice firm grip when moving the wok around and the flat bottom allows you to cook on both gas and electric stoves. If you are cooking on an electric stove, it will probably take a bit longer to get the wok up to a nice high heat, but because its cast iron, once it gets there it’s going to stay there. Seeing just how thick the Lodge wok is, we find that it’s great for frying in addition to searing and braising. The Lodge P14W3 is a real workhorse and is certainly built to last.
The MAKER Homeware wok is the smallest entry on our top 5 list coming in at 12 inches, but that certainly doesn’t mean it lacks function and style. The MAKER is great for the chef that cooks in a smaller space or is only going to be cooking smaller portions for 1 or 2 people. Even though this wok is a departure from the traditional, larger carbon steel version, the 18/10 tri-ply clad stainless steel is high quality, durable and going to give you good heat conduction for stainless steel. When buying stainless steel cookware, we always recommend the 18/10 ratio to ensure the best quality and heat transfer. The MAKER Homeware wok looks and feels more like your more popular stainless steel pots and pans, and for some people this is a win because it fits in well with cookware they might already have.
Seeing as how this is technically part of a larger stainless steel cookware set, it has features that you typically won’t see from other woks. Extras like a clear glass lid, ceramic coating, ergonomic handles and an easy pour lip will make this wok right at home with your other premium cookware. The MAKER wok is also safe to put in the oven, which opens it up for more versatility and creativity in the kitchen. This stainless steel wok is certainly not traditional, but is a solid addition to an existing cookware set or smaller cookware arsenal.
Joyce Chen is another name in Asian cuisine that is known for passion and superior quality Asian-inspired food, and the cookware she produces follows closely in line with that tradition. This 14-inch wok is made from 1-1/2 mm gauge carbon steel, which means when cooking with it, you are going to be able to feel its heft and quality. It heats up fast and retains that even heat throughout the cooking process. As an added bonus, this is wok is actually part of a 4-piece set which includes the wok itself, a dome lid with beautiful wood handle, bamboo spatula and recipe booklet. In our opinion, when looking at with all the included extras, this is probably the best carbon steel wok for the home chef looking for quality and value, without needing to buy anything else down the road.
Visually, this wok is beautiful. It is elegant, while still modern, and the accented stay-cool birch-wood handles make this wok a real standout. There is one line handle and a smaller helper handle opposite it, which makes the wok super easy to handle and cook with. The included dome lid has a nice tight seal that locks in the heat and moisture, ensuring nice even heat and cooking throughout. This wok can be used on a gas or electric stove, and because it’s carbon steel, can be seasoned for that true stir-fry flavor. This cannot be washed in a dishwasher and must be hand washed and cared for properly to retain it’s seasoned coating.
Another wok from Joyce Chen, this smaller 12-inch carbon steel wok is great for smaller kitchens and cooks that will be cooking for one, maybe two people on a regular basis. We love this particular wok because while it’s smaller than we typically recommend for more general use, its construction and function are extremely high quality. With its 2-millimeter carbon steel, the wok is best described as having a medium weight, with a nice balanced handle for great cooking and control. When we brought this wok into our kitchen for testing, we found the seasoning process to be super quick because of its size, and don’t suspect that we will have to do it again any time soon.
This is a no-frill wok that we found to under promise and over deliver. Its design and construction is simple but beautiful, and the quality of food we were able to produce in it was surprising. This wok would be great for a home chef who is just starting out and not looking to invest a lot upfront. Even though this wok is extremely affordable, we have come to depend on it consistently as it always is able to produce great tasting stir-fry.
What to Look for When Buying a Wok
Flat-Bottom or Round Bottom?
This is a question that we get a lot and has most people wondering what the difference actually is. While there isn’t going to be a huge difference between the two, there are some things to consider. However, at the end of the day, the west wok to buy is the one you are going to be able to use easiest in your kitchen. We prefer round-bottom woks because these are most authentic to Chinese cooking, and give you that nice wok flip, but they unfortunately don’t sit evenly on many, if not all, Western stoves. If you live in the United States, or have a traditional gas stove with a level range, the flat-bottom wok is going to make the most sense for your kitchen.
These days, you typically only find round bottom woks in restaurants with a powerful stove that can transfer enough heat up past the wok ring to actually get the wok hot enough. That being said, a wok ring is an option for home stovetops, but only if you have a professional grade appliance like a Viking or Wolf. These wok rings also tend to move about and can be difficult to keep in place. Some are better than others, so your mileage may vary. We also like the round bottom wok simply because there is no hard edge where the lips meet the bottom, so flipping the food is easier and can result in more evenly cooked food. However, like we said before, the flat-bottom is going to make the most sense for the majority of people, and we cook awesome food with them consistently. The guide just simply wouldn’t be complete without explaining the difference.
What is the Best Size Wok To Buy?
If we had to make a recommendation for the sweet spot in most kitchens, the 14-inch wok is going to be it. Anything larger, and you are now dealing with something that is unwieldy, hard to handle and in some cases depending on the material, quite heavy. If you go much smaller than 14 inches, you can find yourself crowding out the pan and being left with unevenly cooked food. However, this doesn’t mean that bigger or smaller is the wrong choice for you, we just want you to be aware of the limitations.
In our experience a 12-inch wok can handle about ¾ lbs. of protein before it gets too crowded and the meat begins to steam instead of going through a nice hot sear. With the 14-inch, we can easily cook 1-1 ¼ lbs. of meat without a problem and still get a high heat sear. The right size wok is going to simply come down to the size of your home and the meals you’re cooking. So if you want versatility and the ability to scale up or down, go for the 14-inch. If you know that you will only ever be cooking for 2-3 people, opt for the 12-inch.
We would stay away from anything smaller than 12 inches. Unless you are only going to be cooking a few cups worth of food, a 10-inch wok is simply too small to be practical. We do have a 26-inch wok that we love, but we use it on a huge outdoor propane burner when cooking huge meals and is generally only seen in a restaurant setting or homes with hug professional grade ranges.
Wok Materials and Construction Process
Material is another area the most people get hung up on when looking at the best wok to buy because there are so many types that are popular and right next to each other. Knowing which one is the best for your needs can take time to research and figure out, so we went ahead and did it for you! After we cover materials, we will briefly go into the various manufacturing processes that will affect how your wok looks and handles ingredients. In case you don’t feel like reading all the nitty-gritty details and just want to take out word for it, here they are in order from best to worst:
- Carbon Steel Wok
- Cast Iron Wok
- Stainless Steel Wok
Carbon Steel Woks
Not only is carbons steel hands down our favorite material on the list, but it’s also what the Chinese traditional wok is constructed from. It is also one of the only metals that has the ability to transfer delicious flavor into your food when seasoned and cared for properly. Not to mention they tend to be the cheapest version you can buy so when it all adds up, we have a real win-win on our hands. They also respond very well to temperature changes, which is important for controlling the heat and precise cooking. Carbon steel is also lightweight, easy to handle, and extremely durable. When cared for properly, they can last years through heavy usage.
While the carbon steel wok is our favorite, it’s not without its challenges. The great flavor that comes from a carbon steel seasoned woks means that it has to be well maintained, cleaner and cared for in a particular manner. We cover this in detail later in our guide, but for some people, this extra step is a deal breaker and they would rather own something that requires a little less care. We think the seasoning process and the flavor it imparts is part of the fun, but to each their own. There is also some risk of rusting if you don’t clean it well or live in a very humid region of the world, but this is pretty rare. In our opinion, the positives far outweigh the negatives and carbon steel is firmly at the top of our list of wok construction materials.
Cast Iron Woks
If we had to choose a second runner up, cast iron would be it. Like carbon steel, they are cheap, durable and impart a nice flavor into the food when seasoned and cleaned right. With cast iron, the more you use it, the better and richer the flavor becomes, and it one of the main reasons why so many people love cast iron in general. It rewards you for cooking and taking good care of it, and the flavor of your food is a culmination of all the wonderful dishes and hard work that has come before it. Cast iron is also very good at retaining heat, so if you have a less powerful stove this might be a good option. Once you are able to heat the wok up to the right temperature, it isn’t going to cool down on you once you start throwing food into it. A well-seasoned cast iron wok is also going to provide you with a great non-stick surface, which is essential when cooking stir-fry or any other dish that requires a lot of movement during the cooking process.
The only negatives that cast-iron has is that it’s very thick and therefore heavy. While it’s this thickness that gives it its ability to retain heat so well, it also means it’s going to be heavier than carbon or stainless steel. It also needs to be cared for and seasoned in a particular way. Without it, there is the risk of rust forming and loss of it’s non-stick surface. Again, in our minds these aren’t truly negatives because each metal always has a tradeoff and in this case it just means more flavor, but we understand that the extra care is not something that everyone will be interested in taking on.
Stainless Steel Woks
In our opinion, the stainless steel wok falls short when compared to carbon steel or cast iron in almost every way and easily sits in last place for us. In our experience and tests for this review guide, stainless steel woks are tough to get up to an even, consistent heat, and when food is added, they simply don’t stay very hot. The last thing you want when stir-frying or searing meat is to loose too much heat too fast. This is going to result in steamed proteins and zero juicy seared crust.
In general, stainless steel just isn’t a very good conductor of heat and because of the way the wok is shaped, good heat conduction is extremely important. When moving the food around, you need the side of the wok to continue to heat and cook the food. Otherwise, you might as well use a traditional deep pan. The biggest issue in our opinion is that you cannot cure or season a stainless steel wok, so you end up leaving a lot of flavor on the table when you don’t have to. The only real benefit to buying a stainless steel wok is that the material is lighter, which makes it easier to handle. But for what you loose in critical areas like heat and flavor, this advantage doesn’t count for much. We would rather have a heavy wok that seasons and heats well than a light one that does neither on any day of the week. When looking at the best wok to buy, we usually leave stainless steel out of the equation.
Wok Construction and Manufacturing
Woks are typically manufactured in three different ways: hand-hammered, stamped and spun. Each one is a little different so we thought it was best to quickly outline what sets them apart from each other. If you don’t feel like going through it, here is our preference from best to worst:
This is the most traditional type of construction, and for this reason, it wins points with us. It’s not that we need our cookware to be historically accurate, but in the case of the best wok to buy for your hard earned money, deviations from tradition are simply attempts to manufacturer them cheaper. Unfortunately, the result is usually an inferior product that doesn’t cook or flavor the food nearly as well as the original. Going with a hand-hammered wok is an excellent choice. The little ridges that are a result of the hammering process allow you to move food off to the side and add other ingredients to the center without it slipping back down. The downside is you will be hard pressed to find a flat-bottom, hand-hammered wok.
A stamped wok is made by taking a piece of carbon steel (our favorite material for woks) and using a machine to press it into a shaped mold. While this machine process makes them more affordable, you won’t get the control over the food you find in a hand-hammered wok. Also, during our research, we found that most of the time they are made from lower gauge steel that creates hot and cold spots in the pan. In addition to the inconsistent heat, the steel used feels a bit cheap and flimsy.
These woks are made on a lathe, which gives them a beautiful pattern of concentric circles. It’s these circles that allow you the same control that a hand-hammered wok gives you. Keeping your food in place as you manipulate it is not a problem. The spun woks can also be found in round and flat-bottom, with Northern-style single handles and nice, high quality heavy gauge steel. They are also inexpensive compared to other manufacturing processes, making the spun wok our favorite for function, cost and versatility.
Which Type of Handle to Choose
The issue of the wok handle is a pretty straightforward one, simply because there are only two options you are going to find. You will either see the Cantonese-style handles which are two small handles on either side of the wok, or the more common Northern-style handle which is the single handle coming off the side. These single handles come in a variety of lengths and materials and are usually accompanied by another “helper handle” on the other side of the wok for easier handling and control.
Our pick is definitely the Northern-style single handle because this larger handle is going to make the flipping and stir-frying much easier, and the smaller “helper handle” will help you lift the wok and move it around your cooking space. It’s definitely the more functional choice. If you opt for the Cantonese-style handles, you are going to be limited to using a utensil to move the food around in the pan. These types of woks can be good if you only plan on stir-frying large amounts of food, but the single handle is going to give you the best bang for your buck.
The Northern-style wok handle comes in various styles and construction ranging from wood, to rubber, to stay-cool, and all of these will work fine. This is one feature that comes down to taste and what your preference is based on your kitchen. The same goes for the length of the handle ad really has no bearing on the best wok to buy. We prefer a medium length handle because we find it the easiest to use, but it’s really up to you and the size of your cooking space.
Hopefully this guide helped clear up an issue you may have had about the best wok to buy for your kitchen. However, if you have any questions that weren’t’ covered, please let us know in the comments!
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