A wok is a traditional Chinese pan used for cooking quickly at high temperatures, typically stir-fry. Large woks are also used in traditional settings for cooking rice or soup and boiling water. Complete your cookware collection with a wok that combines cultures and uses the best materials for versatility and top cooking results.
Traditional woks have a round base with stick handle or side handles. Side handles are traditional to southern China while a long stick handle is more common in Northern China and is consequently referred to as a Peking Pan.
Flat base woks have been designed to be used directly on your gas, electric or induction cooktop.
Are not traditional but make a useful inclusion, allowing a more versatile use of the wok in the western kitchen.
Let you use your round base wok on all stovetops.
If asked how to properly use a wok, a Chinese chef will often say that when the bottom of the wok begins to glow, it is ready to cook. Unfortunately, most western-style gas stoves can not deliver this kind of heat and electric stoves require direct contact making wok cooking impossible. If you are adamant about cooking with a traditional wok, and you don't have access to a professional stove, you do have some options. The burner covers on some stoves are removable and can be rigged to provide closer contact with the flame. Also, charcoal and gas grills produce a sufficient amount of heat, but may not concentrate that heat at the center of the wok as well.
Traditional woks are generally made from carbon steel or cast iron. The superiority of one over the other widely debated. Both are highly conductive, retain a significant amount of heat, and can reach high temperatures. The best woks are often hammered by hand from multiple layers of carbon steel, and the worst woks are simply stamped from a single sheet of rolled steel. Carbon steel and iron, however, do corrode, and a traditional wok must be seasoned and well maintained.
The Stir-Fry Pan
Stir-Fry pans and newer westernised woks are typically smaller than traditional woks and have flat bottoms making them usable with gas and electric stoves alike. Although they may not get hot enough to achieve the ethereal "wok hei" of a traditional wok, they are still great pans for a number of applications. The best stir-fry pans are still made from carbon steel, but a number of other materials also perform well.
Aluminium woks are strong, lightweight, and heat conductive, but are also chemically reactive. Solid aluminium woks will alter the taste of foods that are acidic, basic, or contain eggs, will pit in contact with salt. We do not recommend them. Anodised aluminium, an electrochemically treated aluminium, is an excellent material for woks. It is extremely hard, heats fast and evenly, is nonreactive, and relatively non-stick.
Woks constructed with layered aluminium cores and clad entirely in stainless steel also work well. They are strong and heat responsive and their nonreactive surfaces promote the browning of foods. As a bonus, they will also work with induction ranges, ranges that cook with electromagnetic fields instead of heat.
Ultimately, the decision to purchase nonstick cookware will rely on your personal preference.
Nonstick surfaces have their advantages and their disadvantages. On the plus side, they are easy to clean and require less oil than traditional pans to prevent sticking. On the downside, the surfaces can be delicate and they do not generally promote browning as well as metal surfaces.
Although innovations have made Teflon coatings more durable than ever, Teflon will release highly toxic vapours if heated above 350 EC. Because wok cooking and stir-frying requires high heat, Teflon coated woks should be avoided entirely.
Anodised aluminium pans are nontoxic and scratch resistant. They tend to stick more than coated pans, but they do a better job of searing and browning and are hard enough to be used with metal utensils. Some manufacturers use an anodized aluminium that has been electrochemically "infused" with non-stick polymers or utilise revolutionary ceramics to create more efficient non-stick surfaces. We recommend any of these as they are durable and effective.
A good handle must be strong, sturdy, and remain cool to the touch. Wooden handles provide the best grip, but are not oven safe and therefore limit the versatility of a skillet. Plastic handles can withstand oven temperatures up to 250°C, but can melt under a broiler. Stainless steel is a poor conductor and long handles made from stainless steel are oven safe and will remain cool for a good amount of time. We typically recommend stainless steel handles for their versatility, but we don't think they offer an advantage here as you will probably never use your wok in an oven.
Handles that have been riveted to the side of a pan are strong and durable, but the rivets may be difficult to clean around and can loosen in time with heavy use. Handles that have been permanently bonded to or forged from the same piece of metal as the cookware are ideal as they will never fail. We suggest avoiding handles that have been spot welded or attached to the cookware by means of a screw system as they will loosen easily and may break entirely.