The wok isn’t a must-have for all home cooks, but many who acquire one are surprised to learn just how versatile the pan is. It’s primarily used for stir fry, but the wok has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve, too. It makes a great pan for steaming, smoking, and deep frying.
We reviewed some of the best-selling and top rated woks you can buy online. In this guide, we’ll discuss the features of woks, some good options to buy, and tips on caring for and using your new wok. First, though, let’s talk about our favorite wok.
This wok fits the bill based on all the features we’ll outline below: It’s the right shape, a good size for pretty much anyone, it’s made of carbon steel, and it’s 4 inches in depth. Though you’ll need to season it before using, once it is seasoned it does everything you need a wok to do. Instructions on seasoning are provided (and we’ll talk a little about that below!) In addition, it’s affordable and features a “helper handle” to make managing it easier. It is large and can be a pain to store, but that’s largely the case with most woks because of their shape, size, and handles. It’s made in the USA.
Features of Woks
Traditional woks feature a rounded bottom that are not typically suitable for home cooks with gas or electric ranges. However, most contemporary woks on the market have the flat bottom that makes the much more stable on Western stoves, so this is most likely what you’ll want to buy. Woks flare out at the top of the pan, usually to 12-14 inches. Do be sure to account for depth, as it should be neither too shallow nor too deep. You can also choose between Cantonese-style handles (small handles on either side) or one long handle. The latter is the most popular.
Many, many experts recommend carbon steel as the best possible wok material, but you will find woks made of various material. In general, stainless is not a great option because it takes to long to heat and cool. Nonstick is not a great choice either, because nonstick material can’t handle high heat. Cast iron is another good option outside of carbon steel because of its ability to conduct heat and because it’s nonstick, but it should be just the right thickness — too thin and it will be too frail; too thick and it will be harder to handle.
While the size will depend entirely on what you want to cook and how many you’re cooking for, 14 inches is a good size to shoot for, and suitable for most cooks.
More Wok Options
If our top pick, the Wok Shop 14″ Carbon Steel Wok, doesn’t do it for you, here are a few other options currently available online.
This wok is a little on the spendy side, but it does come in a set that also includes wok cover, tempura rack, stainless steel/wood spatula, bamboo spatula, and cooking chopsticks. Like The Wok Shop, Taylor & Ng is a well-known and trusted brand. Some of the set’s pieces are not the best in some cases, but overall their woks make for a solid purchase.
If you’re looking to splurge and you can handle a bit of heft, the Mauviel Black Steel Wok offers solid construction and black carbon steel material. Made in France, these woks are heavy duty — some cooks will struggle with handling it because of the weight (just over 5 pounds). At 11.8 inches, it also may not be large enough for bigger families, but still offers a 5.5″ diameter at the bottom. It requires removal of the beeswax coating before use, but it’s completely nonstick after that.
If it’s cast iron you’re looking for, look no further than Lodge, the USA-made, inexpensive standard for cast iron. At a whopping 10 pounds, this is a beast of a pan, but it will work beautifully for frying or whatever else you want to put it through. It requires the same care as other cast iron cookware, but it’s pretty easy to care for once you know what you’re doing. It’s also oven safe and very versatile.
Joyce Chen is a brand that appears often in wok discussions. It’s an inexpensive choice for carbon steel, and it’s a well-known and typically well-reviewed pan. The biggest drawback to this tends to be the coating that can be nearly impossible to remove. There are also many reports of issues with the handle. Still, while it’s not our favorite, many cooks love this wok, and the price makes it hard to resist. Be sure to read over the directions and advice online about removing the coating.
Caring for Your Wok
In most cases, you’ll need to season your wok before use. While you should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions (especially if there’s a warranty involved), here are some tips:
- Wash and scrub both the inside and outside in hot, soapy water
- After rinsing completely, dry the wok thoroughly
- Place the wok on medium-high heat on your stovetop for further drying
- Turn the heat to high, rotating the wok, until it begins to smoke
- Remove wok from heat
- Using a brush or paper towel held by tongs, coat the inside with oil
- Turn the heat to medium-low and put the wok back on
- Heat the wok for 10 minutes or so
- Wipe off all residue
Always hand wash your wok. For cast iron woks (and, some say, for carbon steel), simply use hot water and avoid soap. Again, follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding wash and long term care. To avoid rusting, always make sure to completely dry the wok — put it on the burner on medium-high to dry it completely — before storing it. And, it’s a good idea to wipe it with a thin coat of oil after washing for the first while. After long term use, your wok will be seasoned well, turn darker (patina), and won’t need oil each time.
It will be necessary to re-season your wok at times, and for that you can simply follow the instructions for first time seasoning. If rust develops, it’s not ruined. Just scrub and re-season to restore it.
Using Your Wok
You probably buy a wok to stir-fry, but don’t limit yourself to that! You can do so much more with your wok. Here are a few articles about using woks for food beyond stir-fries.