Paul has been passionate about preparing, cooking, and eating Asian food for over 30 years, especially Chinese, Indian, and Thai dishes.
In my experience, Asian cookery provides some of the tastiest and healthiest dishes around. I particularly love Chinese, Indian, and Thai recipes, but the range of recipes and meals that you can use a wok for is enormous.
It's no wonder that the wok is at the center of Asian cuisine, as it is likely the most practical and versatile cooking pan ever designed. Once I discovered the joy of using one 30 years ago and first bought my own, I found myself using it all the time. Their adaptability means that they work just as well for preparing many Western-style meals as they do for Asian.
I've owned a number of different woks over time, including carbon steel pans which require seasoning and those lined with a non-stick surface, as well as flat and round-bottomed types
I use mine mainly used for stir-frying and making curries, but I've also employed it for much wider duties in the kitchen when required, including steaming, deep-frying, poaching, boiling, braising, searing, stewing, and smoking food.
Below, I list my three favorite woks, giving my reasons and experiences, as well as taking a look at the different types of stir-fry pans that you are likely to encounter, and offering advice on how to season them.
Top Three Carbon Steel Woks
Below is a list of my three favorite woks:
- The Craft Wok: Straightforward and Durable
- The ZhenSanHuan Chinese Hand Hammered: Exceptional Quality
- The Souped Up Recipes Wok: Versatile and Lightweight
I will give you the reasons for my choices and include my experiences below.
The Craft Wok: Straightforward and Durable
I used a Craft Wok as my regular pan for stir-fries and curries for over five years. It's an excellent wok, whether you are a beginner, or an expert. Hand hammered by Chinese professionals in Guangzhou, this is a high quality product that is robust and built to last.
My Craft Wok Pros:
- It has my favorite handle design: long handle and a loop.
- The wooden handle is easy to grip, firm and not slippery.
- I love the authentic hand hammered look of this wok, it's an attractive pan, as well as practical.
- It's solidly built and durable.
My Craft Wok Cons:
- It has a round bottom, so it's not suitable for flat electric or flat induction stove.
- It will need seasoning before you can use it. See my advice lower down the page.
The ZhenSanHuan Chinese Hand Hammered: Exceptional Quality
The ZhenSanHuan Chinese Hand Hammered Iron Wok is my go to pan nowadays. I first used one when I was up in New York staying with a friend. It really is a wondrous thing, a joy to look at, great to use, and feels good to hold. It's certainly not the cheapest wok out there, but worth every cent in my opinion.
My ZhenSanHuan Pan Pros:
- It's not just "well made", this is exceptional craftsmanship.
- This pan is available unseasoned or pre-seasoned, according to needs (I am happy to season woks myself).
- It's lighter than most wooden handled woks of a similar size, making it much easier to maneuver.
- Although I bought it for indoor use, I have also used it outdoors on a propane-fueled burner with success.
- This wok will likely outlive me, I doubt that I will need to buy another.
My ZhenSanHuan Pan Cons:
- It's not the cheapest. I certainly think the price is justified, due to the exceptional quality, but others may disagree.
The Souped Up Recipes Wok: Versatile and Lightweight
When staying at the family holiday home, I use a Souped Up Recipes Wok and have done for almost four years. Mine came with an attractive wooden lid and a metal spatula. The flat bottom makes it versatile when it comes to heat sources. Once it was seasoned, it was perfect (see further below for seasoning tips).
My Souped Up Pan Pros:
- It has a flat bottom, meaning that it works on electric stoves, induction stoves, gas ranges and other heat sources
- Appearance may not be important to some, but I do find the hammered pattern attractive
- The handle is wooden and stays cool, even when the pan is sizzling
- Despite its sturdiness, it still manages to be lightweight enough to maneuver.
My Souped Up Pan Cons:
- This is a relatively small wok, which won't suit people hoping to make large meals
3 Essential Asian Cooking Tools
While you can often get away with implements that aren't specifically designed for wok use, buying the best tools can mean using your pan more effectively. They can also make great gift ideas in my experience.
Below are 3 tools that I personally find invaluable:
Spatulas can be made from metal or wood and are especially great for when you are cooking large amounts of sticky food, such as fried rice, or glutinous rice cakes. A good spatula can be used to scrape up the yummy morsels from the bottom of the wok and can easily cope with sizable amounts of food in one movement.
If you are looking for a recommendation, I would suggest buying a FJNATINH spatula and ladle set. I am a particular fan of these wok tools because they are are strong, attractive, and durable, as well as being very reasonably priced. I like the 15 inch version, which is perfect for me, but there are other sizes.
Just as a single wok can be used by a Chinese chef for a variety of cooking purposes, it's often the case in Asian cookery that a single cleaver can be employed to perform a variety of tasks, rather than a full set of knives. Cleavers, when properly used, can chop, scrape, scoop, slice, and dice.
If you are looking for suggestions, I use a TUO cleaver and I love it! I've tried a few others over the years, but this cleaver is easily my favorite. It has some weight and is excellent for slicing and dicing meat and vegetables, as well as for non-Asian cookery needs like cutting pizza. You will need to keep it sharp, of course, but that goes for all knives.
3. Wok Brush
Keeping your wok clean is essential. A wok brush allows you to clean a hot surface without risking burns to your hands. While it's true that other cleaning methods can be used, I personally consider a brush to be the most effective at keeping my wok in good working order.
The Different Types of Wok Available
There are many different sizes and types of wok.
- One important distinguishing factor is whether it has a round or a flat bottom. The traditional round bottomed pans sit on a ring above the heat source, while the more modern flat-bottomed types sit directly on top of the stove.
- There are pros and cons for both sorts of wok and each has their avid fans and critics, although the type of heating source you have is also an important factor, of course, when considering suitability (for example, gas flames work better with round bottomed pans than electric elements).
- Another important factor that distinguishes the different types of wok is the material that the pan is made of. This article is concerned with those made from cast iron, but there are those made from other materials such as metallic alloy.
- Some modern woks also come with stainless coatings to make them easier to clean. Others have a nonstick inner coating for cleaning purposes.
- Handles also vary. Pans generally either have one long handle and one smaller loop handle, or two loop handles and no long handle. Some come with a lid when you buy them and some don't. Sizes also vary, but the majority of models are between 12 and 14 inches in diameter.
- One modern innovation has been the electric wok. This utensil comes with its own element, which spreads heat evenly across the surface of the pan.
Carbon Steel Woks
Carbon steel is the most common material used for making modern woks - the main reasons being that it conducts heat quickly, it is lightweight, durable, and relatively inexpensive compared to other materials.
The lighter weight also makes them easier to pick up and move around, especially when compared to cast iron pans which are much heavier and sometimes unwieldy, especially for beginners.
Carbon steel woks are a little more difficult to season, but I would not let that put you off. Seasoning is essentially very easy, and although time-consuming, it is not a procedure that you will be required to carry out regularly.
Wok Seasoning Methods
Some woks come pre-seasoned, but most of them you will need to season yourself. Seasoning isn't too difficult and is done mainly to eliminate any metallic taste and odors, plus it stops food sticking to the sides when you are frying.
One seasoning method involves washing out the pan, coating it with cooking oil and baking it. Another method involves stir frying an ingredient such as chives at high heat until charred to get rid of any metallic taste.
A combination of both methods is generally the best way in my experience. See this great video below by The Wok Shop in San Francisco for a walk through.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2014 Paul Goodman
Asraf Abid on March 14, 2020:
I love your writing style. Nicely descried.