How to Buy a Wok?

lodge-pro-logic-cast-iron-wok

lodge-pro-logic-cast-iron-wok

Wok is an absolute necessity for Asians as a toaster to Americans. Like all things in life, woks are not created equal. They come in all sizes, materials, styles and costs.

This guide will help you get a quick grasp on what to look for when shopping for a wok.

What Do You Use It For?

The first question you might want to ask yourself is the primary use of a wok. We all know wok is great for stir-frying Asian dishes, but not everyone knows that wok can be very versatile in deep-frying, stewing meats and seafood, simmering sauces, steaming vegetables and even for smoking meats or fish.

If you’d like to use it mostly for stir-fries, then it’s crucial that you choose one that will respond to heat very quickly and can be used in high heat.

Material

Woks are made of all kinds of materials such as carbon steel, cast iron with or without enamel, stainless steel and non-stick aluminum. If your objective is to have the best heating response property, the carbon steel is perhaps the best as it is light, heats up very quickly and can withstands high searing heat. In fact, this is what most Asian chefs prefer using in their restaurants.

le-creuset-wok

le-creuset-wok

Cast iron is known for even heat distribution and retention. However, it takes a long time (e.g. 7 to 10 minutes) to heat up a wok. The other down side is that it is very heavy and hard to maneuver with tossing and flipping motions. The enameled ones are pretty to look at and easier to care for. But it can’t change the facts of being heavy and slow-response to heat.

Stainless steel has its place in the kitchen appliances. It’s very durable and easy to clean. It has an attractive glossy finish that complements well in a kitchen with modern décor. But stainless steel has poor heat conductivity and it gets sticky.

There are brands of cookware that have combined aluminum with stainless steel in an attempt to get the best of both worlds. They’ve done very well in most of the cookware. I can’t say a stainless steel wok will be the best tool for Asian cooking.

Another derivative from the traditional wok is the electric wok. Oftentimes, these woks are made of Teflon-coated non-stick material. Generally speaking, these woks have their unique product strengths such versatile temperature control from warm to high heat; portability to cook anywhere in or outside of the kitchen; easy to clean due to the non-stick nature.

The biggest concern is that the non-stick material is not to withstand high heat as the substance will decompose in high temperature (500 degrees F). Once the non-stick surface is scratched, it will leach into the food.

Size, Shape and Handles

Wok comes in all sizes. The most popular sizes are between 12 to 14 inches in diameter and from 4 to 5 inches in depth.

The original Chinese wok has a round bottom as it was sitting on a traditional coal-stovetop. The late Joyce Chen spearheaded in introducing Asian cookware to the western kitchens. One of her great contributions was the introduction of woks with flat bottoms to fit into most of the American household kitchens with gas, electric, ceramic and induction cooktops.

There are round-bottom woks that come with a wok ring. Yes, you can manage to make it work on your flat cooktop, but still the ring tends to be flimsy and not as stable.

The shape of the wok is very important for Asian style cooking. There needs to be a good proportion between the diameter and the depth of the pan. The size of the bottom is also another consideration. You don’t want to have a wok with too large or too small size on the bottom. 5″ or so seems to be a good size to fit onto the burner as well as for stability purpose.

Traditional woks have one or two handles similar to the modern incarnations. Those with two handles vary from wok to wok as well. Some are with two handles of the same size and style; others have one long handle with a short helper’s handle on the opposite side.

If you are planning using the wok for other methods of cooking, then getting a lid would be a good idea.

Costs

The cost of woks fluctuates from $25 to hundreds of dollars in the case of French enamel cast iron woks. Paying more doesn’t correlate with the functionality.

Summary

As you can see, buying a wok does take a bit of knowing what you are getting for your money. One size or style doesn’t fit all. It really depends on what you are looking for. If stir-frying Asian dishes is your thing, a $30 carbon steel wok works just as well. You can save the rest of your money on something else.

But if you’d use it for stewing meats or soups, maybe a cast iron one will be your best bet. Then you wouldn’t necessarily need to have a wok-shaped cookware.

Amazon carries all types of woks discussed in this guide. Head on over to check some out.

 

 

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