The 3 Best Carbon-Steel Woks in 2017

Updated on December 3, 2017
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Paul has been passionate about preparing, cooking, and eating Asian food for over thirty years, especially Chinese, Indian, and Thai dishes.

The author at the stove at home with a wok. The wok is a remarkably versatile cooking pan, which can be used for stir fries, general frying, boiling, steaming, and stewing.
The author at the stove at home with a wok. The wok is a remarkably versatile cooking pan, which can be used for stir fries, general frying, boiling, steaming, and stewing. | Source

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.

At the center of Asian cuisine is the wok, quite possibly the most practical and versatile cooking pans ever designed, in my opinion. Once I discovered the joy of using one thirty years ago and bought my own, I found myself using it all the time, including for Western-style meals as well as 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 summarize my three favorite woks, take a look at the different types of pan that you are likely to encounter, offer advice on how to season them, and give more detailed information on my specific suggestions and experiences with wok buying.

2017's Three Best Carbon Steel Woks

Here is a summary of my favorite three woks. I will give you more details and tell you more about my experiences below.

  • The Helen Chen: Durable and versatile
  • The Town Food Service Canontese Style Wok: Large and sturdy
  • The Joyce Chen: Non-stick for easy cleaning

A shrimp and rice stir-fry.  Woks are ideal for making this style of meal, which are often quick, tasty, and nutritious to prepare and eat. Most wok beginners start like I did with stir-fries and then expand their meal types over time.
A shrimp and rice stir-fry. Woks are ideal for making this style of meal, which are often quick, tasty, and nutritious to prepare and eat. Most wok beginners start like I did with stir-fries and then expand their meal types over time. | Source
My current and favorite wok, the Helen Chan is solid and enjoyable to use. This style of pan, with one long handle and one loop handle, enable you maneuver the pan easily, whether picking up or carrying.
My current and favorite wok, the Helen Chan is solid and enjoyable to use. This style of pan, with one long handle and one loop handle, enable you maneuver the pan easily, whether picking up or carrying.

The Helen Chen: Durable and Versatile

My current wok and my favorite. I've used a Helen Chen wok for over a couple of years now and I overall I love it.

It's an excellent wok for beginners or experts, built to last and versatile. Like with both the uncoated carbon steel pans in my list, you will have to do your own seasoning before you can use it, but that's not difficult.

Things I like about this wok include:

  • It has my favorite handle design: long handle and a loop.
  • It's flat-bottomed so can be used on an electric or gas stove.
  • I've also used it outdoors too and it worked great there too.
  • It's solidly built and durable.

Things I don't like:

  • As with all cast iron pans, you do need to put in regular effort to maintain them, otherwise you will get rust.

It's useful to buy some utensils for cooking with your wok.  Wooden spoons are traditionally used with woks.  You don't want to undo any of the work done with seasoning your pan.
It's useful to buy some utensils for cooking with your wok. Wooden spoons are traditionally used with woks. You don't want to undo any of the work done with seasoning your pan.

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.

Woks are great for whipping together quick vegetable dishes.  Within ten minutes you can have a meal prepared that is super healthy.  You can get away with a small amount of oil, provided you heat it to a high enough temperature.
Woks are great for whipping together quick vegetable dishes. Within ten minutes you can have a meal prepared that is super healthy. You can get away with a small amount of oil, provided you heat it to a high enough temperature.

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.

The Town Food Service 18 Inch Steel Canontese Style Wok
The Town Food Service 18 Inch Steel Canontese Style Wok

The Town Food Service 18 Inch Steel Cantonese-Style Wok: Large and Sturdy

As you probably know by now, I generally prefer woks with a long handle and a loop helper for cooking, but having used the Town Food Service Cantonese-style wok numerous times when visiting my friend in New York, I might be changing my mind.

The double welded handles have the advantage that there is no way they are going to break off. This wok will likely outlive you and your children!

As well as being solidly constructed, it is big enough to feed a multitude. I've used it for multiple big dinner parties.

Other things I like about this wok:

  • It's relatively lightweight, despite its sturdiness
  • Although I like long handles they can also be intrusive sometimes when cooking
  • I find I stir easier with a large wok without worrying about spillages

Things I don't like:

  • Round-bottomed, so unsuitable for an electric stove.
  • I do like the leverage that you get with a long handles and can miss it.

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.

A collection of delicious Chinese dishes.  Pans are used in Chinese cookery for frying, boiling, and steaming. Traditionally the food is then eaten with chopsticks, although Westerners sometimes prefer knives, forks, or spoons.
A collection of delicious Chinese dishes. Pans are used in Chinese cookery for frying, boiling, and steaming. Traditionally the food is then eaten with chopsticks, although Westerners sometimes prefer knives, forks, or spoons. | Source
The Joyce Chen 22-0060 Pro Chef 14-Inch Flat Bottom is constructed of heavy gauge carbon steel.  There is a loop handle and a long handle that has been ergonomically designed to fit comfortably and remain cool.
The Joyce Chen 22-0060 Pro Chef 14-Inch Flat Bottom is constructed of heavy gauge carbon steel. There is a loop handle and a long handle that has been ergonomically designed to fit comfortably and remain cool.

Handsome and Affordable by Joyce Chen!

I used a Joyce Chen 22-0060 as my main wok for many years. The only reason I ended up eventually switching was because my ex got it after a relationship break up.

The non-stick inner coating makes it super easy to keep clean and you don't need to worry about seasoning the pan when you first buy it. The development of rust inside the wok is also not a concern.

The pan has a flat bottom and worked well for me on both gas and electric stoves. It has a long bamboo long handle and a loop handle, which is my favorite handle design for cooking and carrying.

Things I like about this wok include:

  • It's affordable. You can pick one up for around $30 online.
  • The handles are easy to grip and stay cool, even when the wok pan is sizzling.

Things I don't like:

  • Although the non-stick coating works fine and is in many ways easier, I do feel that an uncoated and seasoned carbon steel wok works just as well, and is in many ways more authentic.

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