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The Ultimate Chinese Wok Buying Guide

The Ulti­mate Chi­nese Wok Buy­ing Guide:

Are you ready to take your stir-fry­ing skills to the next lev­el? Look no fur­ther than the ver­sa­tile and icon­ic Chi­nese wok. If you love Asian cui­sine, a good-qual­i­ty wok is a must-have addi­tion to your kitchen gear col­lec­tion. More­over, the right wok deter­mines your recipes’ final taste and tex­ture, your cook­ing expe­ri­ence, and the lifes­pan it will serve you. But with so many options avail­able, how do you choose the right one?

This com­pre­hen­sive buy­ing guide will walk you through every­thing you need to know to make an informed decision.

Read More: Best Woks in Aus­tralia 2023 — Every­thing You Need To Know

The Ultimate Chinese Wok Buying Guide

Table of Contents

Round-bottom vs. Flat-bottom Wok

The first thing you have to deter­mine when choos­ing a Chi­nese wok for your kitchen is whether you buy the round-bot­tom wok, or the flat-bot­tom wok.

The clas­sic round-bot­tom wok has a deep, round­ed bot­tom and high, slop­ing sides, and it is designed for spe­cial wok stoves with a round open­ing in the middle—this kind of stove you may see in Chi­nese restau­rants. The stan­dard gas stoves also go well with round-bot­tom woks. The clas­sic round-bot­tom wok even­ly dis­trib­utes heat across the sur­face and ensures that food cooks uni­form­ly. This type of wok is best for stir-fry­ing and oth­er high-heat cook­ing that requires con­stant toss­ing and stir­ring of the ingre­di­ents. The round-bot­tom wok is also the best choice for achiev­ing the smoky, seared fla­vor that is the hall­mark of great stir-fries.

How­ev­er, if your kitchen is equipped with a flat elec­tric or induct­ing stove, in order to use the clas­sic round-bot­tom wok, you will need to buy a unique wok ring; oth­er­wise, the bot­tom con­tact with the heat source is not enough for heat­ing the work quick­ly and uni­form­ly. Alter­na­tive­ly, you can opt for a flat-bot­tom wok, this type of wok pro­vides bet­ter con­tact between the wok bot­tom and the heat source, and you can use them on all types of cook­ing sur­faces; they are more uni­ver­sal and adapt­ed for mod­ern kitchens.

Types of Chinese Woks Materials

Chi­nese woks are craft­ed from var­i­ous mate­ri­als, such as car­bon steel, cast iron, stain­less steel, elec­tric, non-steak sur­faces such as Teflon, and ham­mered cov­er­ing, each bring­ing its own set of advan­tages and may have some dis­ad­van­tages. Your choice should be dri­ven by the recipes you plan to cook and, to some extent, by your expe­ri­ence with wok cooking.

Car­bon Steel Woks: The Agile Stir-Fry Maestro

carbon steel wok with handles
Car­bon steel wok with handles

The car­bon steel woks are light­weight and excel at rapid and uni­form heat­ing; no won­der they are most pop­u­lar among Asian chefs. They are also more afford­able and much lighter than cast iron wok.

How­ev­er, the main fea­ture of the car­bon steel woks that makes them so pop­u­lar is that they heat up super-fast and spread heat nice­ly and even­ly, which is essen­tial to cook­ing any Asian recipe. Plus, they devel­op this fan­tas­tic non-stick sur­face. How­ev­er, you have to take care of it and apply prop­er sea­son­ing on a reg­u­lar basis. When it devel­ops a non-stick pati­na, it brings many ben­e­fits, such as reduc­ing the need for exces­sive oil usage, which can be par­tic­u­lar­ly appeal­ing for health-con­scious cooks. Car­bon steel woks are ide­al for stir-fry­ing, deep-fry­ing, and steam­ing dishes.

How­ev­er, it is impor­tant to note that car­bon steel woks require reg­u­lar main­te­nance to pre­vent rust.

Cast Iron Woks: The Slow Cooker’s Best Friend

Chicken and Broccoli Stir Fry in a Cast Iron Wok
Cast Iron Wok

Cast iron woks have a long his­to­ry and have been a sta­ple in Chi­nese house­holds for many years. These woks are thick, heavy­weight, and very durable, and they come with their own set of quirks. They require a longer heat-up time com­pared to car­bon steel but are best at heat reten­tion and main­tain­ing high tem­per­a­tures even­ly dis­trib­uted across wok. Thus, the slow and steady heat­ing makes them ide­al for sear­ing, slow cook­ing, and deep-fry­ing dish­es that demand pro­longed cook­ing and a rich, deep fla­vor profile.

They can also cool down quick­ly when adding a bunch of liq­uid or a load of veg­gies, and this makes them the top choice for speedy stir-fries, which are all about fast cooking.

How­ev­er, the good news is that lighter-cast iron woks are avail­able these days. They are a bit eas­i­er to han­dle, and the price tag won’t break the bank—usually less than ten bucks with­out a cov­er. How­ev­er, cast iron cook­ware requires a lot of care from the user; oth­er­wise, it will rust quickly.

Stainless Steel Woks: The Versatile Kitchen tool

Wok stir-fried beef and vegetable on a wooden cutting board.
Stain­less steel wok

Stain­less steel works are the most ver­sa­tile wok because they are very durable, resis­tant to stain­ing, non-reac­tive to acids, and easy to clean.

How­ev­er, it is impor­tant to note that stain­less steel woks may not heat as even­ly as car­bon steel or cast iron woks, so close tem­per­a­ture watch­ing is very impor­tant if you use them for stir-fry­ing or oth­er high-heat recipes.

Stain­less steel woks are the best option for mak­ing dish­es with vine­gar or acidic ingre­di­ents, like Chi­nese sweet and sour Fish stir-fry, sweet and Sour spareribs, Tso’s chick­en, etc., because they are non-reac­tive to food. They are also excel­lent for steam­ing, usu­al­ly with a handy glass cov­er, since they won’t rust from all that steam­ing mois­ture. Stain­less steel works are also well suit­ed for recipes that require brown­ing and deglaz­ing, as they are resis­tant to stains and easy to clean.

Tak­ing care of a stain­less steel wok is a breeze; you just wash it, wipe it to dry, and you are all set. It does not require all the fuss about sea­son­ing you would do for cast iron or car­bon steel. And if your stain­less steel wok has a met­al han­dle, you can even use it for oven cook­ing and heat­ing. So, stain­less steel is the way to go if you’re look­ing for an easy-going wok buddy.

Non-stick Woks: The Easy-Going Every­day Companion

Non-stick Woks
Non-stick Woks with Fried vegetables

Non-stock woks are the eas­i­est to use and the best option for Asian cook­ing begin­ners. They require min­i­mal sea­son­ing, use min­i­mum cook­ing oil, and are very easy to clean since food does­n’t cling to the wok’s non-stick-coat­ed surface.

How­ev­er, it is impor­tant to be aware that the non-stick woks have a short lifes­pan as their coat­ing wears off over time. They are also unsuit­ed for high-heat recipes since Teflon coat­ings become tox­ic when exposed to very high temperatures.

The new­er non-stick option is the ceram­ic wok, which is a bit more durable than their Teflon-coat­ed ones. But, just like Teflon, they can get scratched up and lose their non-stick mag­ic over time. While they are the best beginner’s cook­er option, you will have to be gen­tle with them.

Elec­tric Woks: The Mod­ern and Adapt­able Innovator

electric wok
Elec­tric wok

Elec­tric woks are the mod­ern wok option; they have an elec­tric heat­ing ele­ment and con­trol pan­el that ensures pre­cise tem­per­a­ture con­trol. Thus, they are very easy to use and have a very good heat dis­tri­b­u­tion, which makes them suit­able for stir-fry­ing, brais­ing, and oth­er Asian recipes.

Although they do not reach the same high heat lev­els as stan­dard woks, they are an excel­lent choice for those with lim­it­ed stove­top space or those who pre­fer coun­ter­top cooking.

Ham­mered Woks: The Artis­tic Allure of Texture

Hammered Wok
Ham­mered wok

Ham­mered woks are pret­ty unique; they are often hand­craft­ed, not just as cook­ware but as pieces of art in your kitchen. They are non-stick­ing woks because they are con­struct­ed with spe­cial­ly tex­tured sur­faces with tiny air pock­ets. They also spread the heat even­ly, so they are suit­able for most Asian dish­es, and the tex­tured sur­face pro­vides the per­fect sear on most of the ingredients.

So, if you are look­ing to take your cook­ing up a notch and want a piece of kitchen art, con­sid­er a ham­mered wok.

How­ev­er, it is impor­tant to note that these woks require more effort to main­tain than those with smooth surfaces.

Choosing the Right Size

Typ­i­cal woks avail­able to buy today are typ­i­cal­ly sized from 12 to 16 inch­es in diam­e­ter, and your choice should depend on the dish­es you plan to cook and the num­ber of peo­ple you plan to cook for.

  • For small house­holds con­sist­ing of 1–4 peo­ple, a 12 to 14-inch wok is often ide­al. It is large enough for stir-fry­ing and sautéing and will not be very heavy, so you can eas­i­ly han­dle it.
  • Fam­i­lies or those who often cook for 5 or more peo­ple will require a 14 to 16-inch-diam­e­ter wok, so it will be able to accom­mo­date more ingre­di­ents for gen­er­ous por­tions, mak­ing it per­fect for dish­es that are meant to be shared.
  • In con­trast, pro­fes­sion­al kitchens or large-scale cook­ing may require even larg­er woks, some­times exceed­ing 20 inch­es in diam­e­ter. These giants are designed for high-capac­i­ty cook­ing and are typ­i­cal­ly used by expe­ri­enced chefs who cook in bulk.

Your wok also com­fort­ably fits on your stove or cook­ing sur­face; if it is too large for your stove, it will lead to uneven heat­ing and dif­fi­cul­ties in food prepa­ra­tion. So, this fac­tor should also be con­sid­ered when you choose your ide­al wok.

Wok Handle for Enhanced Control

Nowa­days, you are most like­ly to come across woks with three pri­ma­ry wok han­dle designs, such as 1) woks with two loop han­dles on the oppo­site side, 2) a long han­dle on one side, and 3) woks with a long han­dle on one side and loop han­dle on the oppo­site side. All the designs have their own his­to­ry and prac­ti­cal application.

Loop han­dles: Tra­di­tion­al­ly, all woks had two loops small met­al han­dles at oppo­site ends since they were large, heavy, and typ­i­cal­ly sat sta­tion­ary over a flame. Nowa­days, they are most com­mon for Can­tonese or south­ern-style woks with round bot­toms. They are also used for heavy cast-iron woks and large-diam­e­ter woks because woks with two met­al han­dles are eas­i­er to lift and trans­port. Cooks usu­al­ly hold a loop han­dle with a thick tow­el and toss and flip the food while cooking.

Long wood­en han­dle woks fea­ture Man­darin-style or North­ern Chi­nese-style woks, often called ” Pow” flat-bot­tom woks. They are com­fort­able to hold, and the cook can stay at a safe dis­tance from the heat source. The extend­ed han­dle pro­vides bet­ter lever­age when lift­ing, tilt­ing, or shak­ing the wok. This han­dle style is suit­able for var­i­ous cook­ing tech­niques, from stir-fry­ing to sim­mer­ing. Nowa­days, sin­gle-han­dle woks are usu­al­ly used in stir-fry sta­tions and Asian restaurants.

Side Han­dles: Some woks come with long wood­en han­dles and side han­dles in addi­tion to the main one. These side han­dles enhance sta­bil­i­ty and make lift­ing and trans­fer­ring the wok eas­i­er. They are espe­cial­ly handy when the wok is heavy, or you need to move it from the stove­top to the oven.


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