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How Do I Choose the Best Chinese Wok?

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  • Written By: Anna B. Smith
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2016
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Shoppers can choose the best Chinese wok from carbon steel, cast iron, and aluminum varieties based on their budgets and cooking preferences. Each material distributes heat evenly across the surface of the pan without burning food while differing in both price and weight. A traditional wok design features a rounded bottom pan attached to a long handle that can be set over a gas cook top. Many western styles of the wok have been altered to allow for a flat bottom which can sit easily on an electric range.

Carbon steel is one of the most popular materials used in the manufacturing of the Chinese wok. This material heats rapidly and transfers heat evenly across the surface and sides of the pan, though it is not naturally non-stick and should be seasoned with cooking oils for each use. Those who prefer round bottomed carbon steel woks can benefit from purchasing a design that is paired with a metal stand. This type of base holds the round bottomed wok while resting securely on a flat stove top surface. The unique rounded bottom cooks the food more evenly than altered flat bottomed designs, and facilitates quick stirring during the heating process.

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Individuals interested in a naturally non-stick surface may enjoy the benefits of purchasing a cast iron Chinese wok. This heavy material is naturally non-stick, though it usually requires twice the time to heat as other metal pan bases. Its porous surface absorbs the seasonings and flavors of any foods it cooks, and lends a naturally rich and robust taste to each meal. This type of wok can only be cleaned by hand, and should never be exposed to dish detergent, which can drastically alter its flavor. Many cast iron woks are available pre-seasoned and ready for immediate use.

An anodized aluminum Chinese wok can offer similar cooking results at a fraction of the price of carbon steel or cast iron woks. Carbon steel is typically hand hammered, and both it and cast iron are significantly heavier than this lighter aluminum alternative. This choice of materials increases the cost of the item while decreasing its ease of use. Anodized aluminum is harder than steel while lighter in weight, due to the anodization process the metal undergoes to create its non-stick surface. The interior of the pan can reach ideal cooking temperatures rapidly, and cooks food evenly without causing it to burn or stick to its surface. This type of pan should not be exposed to extremely high temperatures, to preserve the integrity of its non-stick surface, and is available in both round and flat bottomed styles.

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