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Woks are bowl-shaped frying pans believed to have been invented more than 2000 years ago during the Han dynasty. Wok means “cooking pot” in Cantonese, but this multifaceted tool can do much more because of its ingenious shape that narrows at the base and widens at the top. The narrow base allows you to quickly stir-fry using less oil, and even heat retention means food is evenly cooked. You can make pad thai, pho, fajitas, and a particularly tasty cauliflower fried rice in your wok. But the wok is so much more versatile than a frying pan or even soup pot.
To help you find just the right one for you, here are the best woks on the market right now.
Best Overall: Craft Wok Carbon Steel Pow Wok
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 4.6 pounds, one side has a steel helper handle, while the other side's wooden handle won’t slip as you’re tossing your food. 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 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.
Best Budget: Joyce Chen 4-Piece Classic Series Carbon Steel Wok Set
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, but for a few times a week, this is your best budget option.
This 14-inch wok also comes with some nice extras, including a nonstick dome lid, a 12-inch bamboo spatula, and a recipe booklet to get you started. It’s also 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. This is the perfect first wok for a child going away to college or someone who is just learning how to cook. Buy some bamboo steamer baskets to fit this wok, and you’ve got everything you need for the first year of wok use.
Best Cast Iron: Lodge Pro-Logic Wok With Flat Base and Loop Handles, 14-inch, Black
Here’s the thing about this cast-iron wok: it’s fantastic in the outdoors and on your outdoor grill. If you’re thinking you want to do some old-fashioned cooking while crouched over a fire pit, this 14-inch Lodge wok could be your best friend. Its flat bottom and ability to handle heat make transitions to the oven really easy, and it can do double duty for oven projects.
Sure, cast iron is heavy, and if you’re looking more for something you can toss your food in, you’ll want to go with carbon steel. But consider this: you can pop popcorn more easily in a cast-iron wok since it’s heavier, and searing and browning is a cinch. Seasoned properly, this cast-iron wok will last much longer than your carbon steel wok. If you’re using it regularly with acidic foods, it may add a bit of iron to your food, no small matter for those who are anemic or vegetarian.
Related: The Best Cast Iron Skillets
Best Nonstick: T-Fal 14-inch Ultimate Hard-Anodized Nonstick Wok
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 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.
This 14-inch wok is going to help you make all those basic stir-fries, huevos rancheros, fajitas, chow meins, and other easy dishes for yourself and your kids when you just need a quick meal before you rush out the door. Flat-bottomed, titanium-reinforced, scratch-resistant, and toxin-free, this is a nonstick soldier for everyday use. The handle is also riveted silicone, which makes it easy to grip and hold, and it’s safe to put in the dishwasher. You can even pop it into an oven up to 400 degrees.
Best Carbon Steel: The Wok Shop Carbon Steel Wok With Wood Side Handle
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.
Wok Shop also has excellent 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 excellent advice, things like using flaxseed oil to season and seasoning in the oven, and which wok would be best for you, according to how big your family is and how much they tend to eat.
Related: The Best Carbon Steel Pans
Best Heirloom: Staub 6-Quart Cast Iron Wok
Staub’s enameled cast-iron wok doesn’t skimp on anything and will last for decades. You can deep fry more than your average pan with this 6-quart capacity wok that measures a generous 14.5 inches in diameter at the top, is 4 inches high, and 18.1 inches long, including the handle.
A stainless steel rack is included for easy drainage of oil, but it can also be used for quick steaming of items. The glass lid lets you see everything that’s going on but fits perfectly to help you reach peak steaming. You’ll feel like this wok can do it all since after finishing a stir-fry or noodles, you could easily use it to sear meat and create the perfect steak.
Best High-End: Newquist Forge Hand Hammered Round Bottomed Wok
You’ll want to show off this gorgeous showpiece carbon-steel wok by Newquist Forge. Every single one is made to order, hand-shaped from start to finish, which does mean it takes eight weeks for delivery. You can see the hammering on the wok, a beautiful effect to treasure for decades.
But it’s not just a looker; this wok works well and delivers on its promises. It comes pre-seasoned, so even a newbie won’t have to worry about getting rust by messing up the first season. Even cooler than this wok’s good looks is the fact that it has a metal handle that stays cool while you’re cooking with it, a major plus for durability and washability over a wooden handle. When the light dances off this wok, it takes on a golden sheen that will make using it an aesthetic pleasure that rivals its practicality.
What to Look for in 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 & 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.
Consider that the bottom of the wok is where most of the food will cook, so you’ll want an appropriately sized wok. We recommend a wok 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-bottomed wok will be easier with a typical Western range than a round-bottomed 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 premixing 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.
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.
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