If you love the stir-fry dishes at your local Chinese restaurant, cooking them at home is not as difficult as you might think. But if you want to make a quick and easy stir-fried meal at home, you can't just use any old skillet. You need the right wok to get the job done.
Finding a good wok can be tricky if you don't know what you're looking for, though. You have to choose the right material, construction, size, and other features to make sure that you can pull off the classic stir-fry technique.
If you're not sure where to start, our handy shopping guide has the key tips you need for selecting the right option — and our specific product recommendations make things even easier if you're still feeling unsure.
Considerations when choosing woks
A wok's material plays a significant role in its performance. Carbon steel, cast iron, stainless steel, and anodized aluminum are the most common options.
Carbon steel is an ideal conductor of heat, provides a nonstick surface, and is very durable. This type of wok can require seasoning when it's new, though.
Cast iron also conducts heat well and is available pre-seasoned to provide a nonstick surface. This type of wok can be pretty heavy, however, and heats up slowly.
Stainless steel doesn't need to be seasoned, but it isn't as nonstick as other materials and requires more oil during stir-frying.
Anodized aluminum is extremely durable and offers even heat distribution. This type of wok is lightweight and usually nonstick, though it can take longer to heat up than other options.
Woks are made using a few different construction methods. A hand-hammered wok has an uneven surface as a result of hammering, which makes it easier to keep the ingredients you're stir-frying from falling down the sides of the wok.
A stamped wok is made by a machine that presses the metal into shape, so its surface is smooth and even. This allows food to slip down the sides and makes stir-frying more difficult.
A spun wok is also machine-made, but the metal is spun into shape, which gives the surface a textured circular pattern that helps keep ingredients from slipping down the sides.
Woks come in a variety of sizes, though most pans range from 10 to 16 inches in diameter. For most households, a 14-inch wok is an ideal option, though if you cook only for yourself, you may want to go as small as an eight-inch wok.
A traditional Chinese wok has a round bottom to provide effective heat distribution and easy movement of the ingredients when you're stir-frying. But a round bottom isn't compatible with most American stovetops, so you'll need a stabilizing ring to cook with one of these woks at home.
A wok with a flat bottom is compatible with any stovetop, though it's important to choose a model with sloped sides to prevent food from getting caught along the ridge around the flat base.
Some woks include a lid, which makes it easier to cook recipes that don't use much oil because the lid traps steam to cook the food. Opt for a glass lid so that you don't need to remove it to check whether your food is done.
A wok can have one or two handles. Two handles are usually best for heavier woks like those made of cast iron because you can move the wok more easily with a double-handed grip.
Woks usually cost between $10 and $100. Cast-iron and carbon-steel woks are usually the most affordable, ranging from $10 to $60. Stainless-steel and anodized aluminum models are usually pricier, running from $35 to $100.
Q. How do I season a wok?
A. Wash the wok well with hot water and soap, and dry it completely. Heat it on the stove on the highest setting until the entire pan is heated and you notice smoke coming off. Take the wok off the burner, and rub down the interior of the wok with oil to create a nonstick coating.
Q. What type of wok is best if I'm new to stir-frying?
A. Carbon-steel woks are ideal for beginners. They're usually more affordable than other options, aren't too heavy, and conduct heat effectively, so they work well when you're learning how to stir-fry.
Woks we recommend
Best of the best: Cooks Standard Multi-Ply Clad Stainless Steel-Wok
Our take: This wok may not be as authentic as some models, but its outstanding performance makes it the best on the market.
What we like: The combination of aluminum and stainless steel allows for even heat distribution across the entire surface. It features a lid and durable handles that stay cool during stir-frying.
What we dislike: The heavier weight can make tossing food somewhat difficult.
Best bang for your buck: T-fal Specialty Nonstick Jumbo Wok
Our take: An excellent, multi-purpose wok at an affordable price point.
What we like: It has the stamp of approval from trained Asian chefs. It distributes heat quickly and evenly and features a lightweight design for easy maneuvering. It's oven-safe up to 350°F.
What we dislike: Some users find it doesn't hold up well to frequent use. It also requires a stabilizing ring.
Choice 3: Calphalon Contemporary Hard-Anodized Aluminum Nonstick Wok
Our take: A smaller wok that works well for one- to two-person meals.
What we like: This wok distributes heat well. It's both dishwasher- and oven-safe.
What we dislike: The nonstick coating may not hold up well. It doesn't work as well on induction stoves and can be heavy, too.
Jennifer Blair is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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