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Woks are bowl-shaped frying pans believed to have been invented more than 2,000 years ago, during the Han Dynasty. Wok means "cooking pot" in Cantonese, and after using a good-quality wok, the name makes sense. This multifaceted tool can do much more than your average frying pan or soup pot, mainly because of its ingenious shape, which narrows at the base and widens at the top.
The cookware's signature narrow base allows you to stir-fry with very little oil due to its traditionally thin construction, whether that's carbon steel or stainless steel. Its unique design also means the wok is hotter at the bottom than it is on the sides, which means different heat zones so that all components of your dish—and a wok can hold a lot—can be cooked evenly.
And lest you think the wok is a specialized piece of cookware, stir-fry isn't the only thing it can do. You can sear, steam, deep-fry, braise, and even stew to your heart's content. From pad thai to stewed lamb, the possibilities are almost endless—and so is the variety of options available.
To help find the best fit for your needs, we had writer and professional chef Ariane Resnick try out some of our top picks and record her findings. She stir-fried beef and broccoli in each wok and noted how well each browned the food, whether the food acquired that distinctive wok flavor, how easy it was to lift and toss the wok while cooking, and more. (Ariane plans to test two more of the woks on this list when she gets them, and we'll update this roundup once we collect her findings.)
Based on our chef’s testing so far, the Craft Wok 14-Inch Carbon Steel Pow Wok with Wooden and Steel Helper Handle is the clear winner.
Here is our list of the best woks on the market right now, tested in a home kitchen.
Best Overall: Craft Wok Traditional Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Pow Wok
What We Love: Attractive, heats quickly and evenly, sears well
What We Don't Love: Wobbly enough that it can feel cumbersome and awkward
It doesn't get better than this reliable carbon steel wok from Craft Wok. As long as you properly season this wok, it won't rust and will be a true workhorse for you and an excellent tool to learn on.
Hand-hammered by experts in Guangzhou, China, these 14-inch pans can perform most basic tasks, including stir-frying, deep-frying, scrambling, and poaching. Though it's more than 4 pounds, one side has a steel helper handle, while the other side's wooden handle won't slip as you're tossing your food. Because it's so large, the weight is spread evenly, and it's surprisingly easy to work with. Though this won't work for a flat electric or induction stove, it will serve you well on a decently strong gas range, as long as you heat it up sufficiently before adding oil.
This was Ariane's favorite wok: "It was the perfect combination of light enough to work with but strong enough to sear really well," she explains. That said, she found the round bottom awkward to work with and had trouble positioning the stabilizing it on her range, even using a wok ring.
Other than that quibble, she found the wok very easy and low-effort to pre-season, and the blanched broccoli and thin strips of beef she stir-fried were fully cooked through in under 5 minutes. It also turned out the best stir-fry of all the woks she tried. The food browned quickly and evenly, and it looked the most professional. Plus, "I made another more complex stir-fry in it after, out of all the pans, for my private client, which says a lot," she says.
This is a solid option that you won't feel guilty maximizing every day, and you'll be proud of its blackened inside as you season it back to a sheen time and again.
"Outside of the awkward nature of a round-bottom wok, which probably just would take some getting used to, I loved this. I loved how it cooked, and how professional it made the food look and taste. It's rare that I find a piece of cooking equipment so attractive, as well." — Ariane Resnick, Product Tester
Material: Carbon steel | Size: 14 inches | Weight: 4.6 pounds | Base: Round
Best Nonstick: T-fal 14-Inch Ultimate Hard-Anodized Nonstick Wok
What We Love: Lightness makes tossing easy, sears nicely for being nonstick, no need to season, great for beginners, incredibly easy to clean
What We Don't Love: Doesn't seem like it will last as well or as long as the others, not for advanced cooks
If you're a busy parent whose kid is always in the kitchen helping you cook at the range or reaching for things you don't want them to touch, you might not want to be constantly seasoning a wok. Or maybe you don't have time to wash and season a carbon steel wok the way it should be. In that case, spring for a nonstick pan like this T-fal beauty. It's the perfect weeknight wok and made our tester's beef and broccoli stir-fry feel practically effortless, taking only 5 minutes to fully cook.
In addition to simple stir-fries, this 14-inch flat-bottom and scratch-resistant wok is going to help you whip up easy dishes like huevos rancheros, fajitas, and chow mein when you just need a quick meal before you rush out the door. What also helped? "Nothing even came close to sticking; it was as nonstick as could be," Ariane says.
The only thing this wok lacks is the sear and depth of flavor you'd expect from a traditional wok, which our tester says she didn't expect anyway with a nonstick pan. "I wasn't hugely disappointed, but I wasn't thrilled. There was no distinctive wok flavor—and probably never would be, considering it can't get seasoned. The glaze on the food and the sauce was OK, but the whole thing seemed very home-cooked and not restaurant-quality at all," Ariane says.
The handle is riveted silicone for easy gripping, and it's safe to put in the dishwasher and oven up to 400 degrees.
"This was incredibly easy to clean because nothing stuck in any way, and there was no need to season. However, it doesn't seem very high-quality, and I'd be surprised if it lasted for years with regular usage. But there were no nicks, residue, or scratches." — Ariane Resnick, Product Tester
Material: Hard anodized aluminum | Size: 14 inches | Weight: 2.6 pounds | Base: Flat
Best Carbon Steel: The Wok Shop Carbon Steel Wok With Wood Side Handle
What We Love: Beautiful design, affordable for the quality, very sturdy and durable, easy to maneuver, made in the USA
What We Don't Love: Using too much flaxseed oil to season it may cause patina to flake off
The Wok Shop in San Francisco has been supplying quality woks to California's gourmand peninsular city for more than 40 years. Its classic carbon steel wok comes in the shape you want, round bottom or flat bottom, and the size you want, not some determined diameter that doesn't work for you.
Four inches deep, the wok is available in 12, 14, and 16 inches and needs to be seasoned before use, but the work put in is worth it. All are made from 14-gauge carbon steel and feature a blond wood handle. You have the choice to have a wood or metal helper handle.
Several users say this is easy to season; just make sure to cover the wooden handle with foil to avoid scorch marks. Note that you'll need to use higher heat when using an electric stove versus a gas grill when seasoning or cooking to get the same results.
Wok Shop also has other great wok tools, including dome lids, wok spatulas, stainless steam racks, and bamboo wok cleaning brushes. If you talk to them in person or on the phone, you'll get detailed advice, such as using flaxseed oil to season and seasoning in the oven, and which wok would be best for you according to your family's needs.
Material: Carbon steel | Size: 12, 14, or 16 inches | Weight: About 5 pounds | Base: Flat and round
Related: The Best Carbon Steel Pans
Best for Newbies: Joyce Chen Classic Series Carbon Steel Wok
What We Love: Great value for the quality, truly nonstick once you learn to season it properly, heats quickly and evenly, mixes flavors well
What We Don't Love: There's a learning curve to seasoning and maintaining it, some say the round bottom is better for gas ranges
If you're just looking to get the job done and use your wok occasionally, Joyce Chen Classic Carbon Steel Wok is a solid option. The wood handle might not hold up to a chef's vigorous tossing of three meals a day, seven days a week. However, for a home cook new to cooking with a wok, or for one who only cooks a few times a week, you can't go wrong with this option.
This 14-inch wok is flat-bottomed, so it'll sit more sturdily on your range than a round-bottomed wok, and it's usable on electric as well as gas. Just note that there are a few users who say that the round-bottomed version sits better on their gas range.
One of the most common refrains among reviewers is that this Joyce Chen wok takes a lot of work to season and maintain, especially if you want to avoid rusting. There's a stovetop method and an oven method that you can look up online, and several users say that the latter is easier and more effective. Make sure to dry the wok immediately after cleaning and keep it oiled to help with longevity—as you would with any good-quality wok.
This wok is also available as part of a four-piece set, which also comes with some nice extras, including a nonstick dome lid, a 12-inch bamboo spatula, and a recipe booklet to get you started. Buy some bamboo steamer baskets to fit this wok, and you've got everything you need for the first year of wok use.
Material: Carbon steel | Dimensions: 14 inches | Weight: 5.6 pounds | Base: Round and flat
Related: The Best Skillets
We chose the Craft Wok Carbon Steel Pow Wok as the best overall because it's everything you could want in a restaurant-style wok: a beautiful design, even heating, and the perfect sear. Our tester loved how professional her food looked and tasted. If budget and time are a concern, the T-fal Ultimate Hard-Anodized Nonstick Wok is the perfect choice for quick weeknight family cooking, even if it may not last as long as the Craft.
What Are the Other Options?
Joyce Chen Carbon Steel Nonstick Wok: Not to be confused with the classic carbon steel Joyce Chen wok above, this nonstick version reminded our tester of the T-fal. It was light, easy to work with, and proved to be fully nonstick—even if it seemed pretty cheap. The results were fine: very home-cooked tasting with no intense searing, Ariane notes. The glaze and sauce were also fine, but it was basically the same as if she had made the dish in a nonstick frying pan.
That said, the lid is very helpful for keeping vegetables bright in color: "I just had to pop it on for a minute or two early on in the cooking process," she explains. Unfortunately, there are no instructions for placing the knob on the lid or the handle on the pan, and that could be tricky. "Overall, I think the Joyce Chen Carbon Steel Nonstick Wok is serviceable, but nothing to write home about," Ariane says.
Lodge 14-Inch Cast Iron Wok: If you're thinking you want to do some old-fashioned cooking while crouched over a fire pit or when camping, this 14-inch cast-iron wok could be for you. It's slow to heat due to being so large, but it holds heat quite well once it reaches temperature. However, for home use, our tester suggests going for a carbon steel wok like the Craft instead. "It's like using a big Le Creuset Dutch oven as a wok—it just doesn't make sense," she says of the Lodge, which she found too heavy to use regularly as a wok for home cooking, and it's not a wok you can toss with.
Neither did it produce the great sear and bright flavor other high-quality woks provide. Instead, Ariane says you'll have to use it more as a cast-iron pan than a wok, which, because of its shape, it didn't particularly excel in either, says Ariane. "Things at the bottom cooked more quickly than things at the sides, even though the point of cast iron is that it heats evenly throughout the entire vessel."
How We Tested
We purchased several of our top picks for Ariane Resnick, our writer and tester, so that she could put them to the test in her home kitchen. First, she unboxed each wok and followed manufacturer instructions on how to prep it for use (if applicable), then assessed how easy this was to do. Then, she made a simple stir-fry of broccoli and beef and evaluated the following: how easy it was to toss ingredients while cooking, how quickly and thoroughly the pan heated up and cooked the food, whether the beef got a nice sear and the stir-fry got that distinctive wok flavor (or close to it), whether the food stuck, and how easy it was to clean.
After testing, Ariane submitted feedback about what she liked and didn't like about each wok and rated each on the following features: Unboxing, Durability, Heat Retention, Features, Design, Effectiveness, and Overall Value. Learn more about how we test products.
What to Look for When Buying a Wok
The wok may seem like an advanced cook's tool, but it's actually very convenient for the beginner, provided that they season the wok well (if you have a cast-iron wok, see our recommendations for seasoning). All cooks who enjoy convenient, efficient cooking that takes less time and oil, producing a better product, will enjoy using a wok.
The wok improves with age and experience—both its own and yours. After it's properly seasoned, a wok is the consummate stir-frying tool for quick, delicious meals. It can also aptly deep-fry a small amount of food. Depending upon your wok's size, you can use your wok to perform other tasks, like poaching, steaming, scrambling, simmering, and even smoking.
Material and Size
When looking for a wok, consider a carbon steel wok rather than a nonstick one. Carbon steel is better for even heat retention and wok hei, the particular smoky flavor that a real wok gives to the food. Some woks do not work for electric or induction stoves, so be sure to check before ordering.
Considering that the bottom of the wok is where most of the food will cook, you'll want an appropriately sized wok. We recommend a wok of 13 to 14 inches for the average home cook, but a 12- or 12.5-inch wok may work well for one person cooking for themselves. If you'd like to cook large whole fish, choose a massive wok of around 20 inches, but be aware that it will take up more space in your kitchen than a smaller wok and may not fit a standard size range. Additionally, a flat-bottom wok will be easier with a typical Western range than a round-bottom wok.
To properly utilize your wok, consider buying a Chinese ladle, a wok spatula, a slotted spoon, and a bamboo wok brush. These tools are not absolutely essential, but they do help you love using your wok. The Chinese ladle has a bowl angle perfect for scooping oil and sauces into the pan, as well as for pre-mixing them. A wok spatula is wider than the average spatula and fans out like a shovel so that it can easily scoop out and move food around the wok, while a slotted spoon helps you skim meat or veggies out of the oil without taking a ton of grease with you. A bamboo wok brush cleans the wok efficiently without damaging it or removing too much of the seasoning.
What type of wok do Chinese restaurants use?
Chinese restaurants typically use carbon steel woks, such as the Craft and Wok Shop choices here. Carbon steel requires seasoning, unlike nonstick, but this isn't much of an inconvenience if you use the wok frequently, as Chinese restaurants do. They become more nonstick the longer you use and season them, and they will change color from silver to a dark charcoal over time.
The goal in Chinese stir-fry cooking is to achieve "wok hei," which translates to "breath of a wok." This refers to the unique smoky flavor that comes together from the combination of high heat, strong caramelization, and the seasoned fat or oil that coats the pan. Carbon steel woks are able to create this result more easily than other materials.
Which is better: a round-bottom wok or a flat-bottom wok?
If you have a gas or electric stove, flat-bottom woks are the easiest and sturdiest to work with. They won't feel wobbly, and they won't reflect heat back onto the range. You'll be able to use them similar to how you are already used to using a frying pan or soup pot, and there won't be too much of a learning curve. As long as you follow proper instructions, you shouldn't have much difficulty getting a solid stir-fry on one of your first tries.
Round-bottom woks can be used on gas or electric, and are made more straightforward if you add a wok ring, but the ring can put enough distance between the heat source and the wok to impede the fast, high-heat cooking that woks are known for being able to provide.
Do woks work on induction hobs?
Yes, you can use a wok with an induction hob. You'll want to choose a flat-bottom wok because induction hobs are completely flat. If you want to use a round-bottom wok on an induction stove, you'll need to add a wok ring, which will create distance between the hob and the pan. Since induction works by moving heat into cookware directly, trying to use a round-bottom wok with a wok ring isn't advisable, as it likely won't lead to even cooking. Use a flat-bottom wok on an induction hob in the same manner you would use any other pot or pan, but with a bigger focus on high heat if you're stir-frying with it.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Dakota Kim is a freelance writer and former restaurant owner who has tested many cookware items both for articles and for her restaurant. She swears by her Craft Wok Pow Wok. Of the many woks she has owned, it's the only one she has purchased more than once and even traveled with, and it's the only wok her veteran cook mother uses when she comes to visit.
Ariane Resnick is a special diet chef and certified nutritionist who began cooking protein and vegetable stir-fries as soon as she learned how to cook, and has continued to do so for the duration of her two-decade culinary career. She loves to make vegetables exciting for home cooks, and knows that adding some sizzle and char work better than nearly anything else for that purpose. Ariane ate a whole lot of broccoli and beef to test these woks, but she definitely isn't complaining about that.
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