What is a Wok?

A Kaminsky

Asian and Asian-inspired food is quickly growing in popularity, and so is cooking it. One utensil for cooking authentic Asian food is the wok. This is a large pan with high sloping sides, handles and a lid. It is especially suited for stir frying food.

With their large rim and deep sides, woks are ideal for stir-fries and other Asian cuisine.
With their large rim and deep sides, woks are ideal for stir-fries and other Asian cuisine.

A wok may be electric or it may sit on a small rack above the stove eye. The size and shape of the pan enable the cook to stir fry meats and vegetables, moving them toward and away from the main heat source to ensure even cooking. A regular wok may be less expensive, but it is also harder to use than an electric one.

With its high smoking point and neutral flavor, peanut oil is ideal for stir-fries and other wok dishes.
With its high smoking point and neutral flavor, peanut oil is ideal for stir-fries and other wok dishes.

A cook needs to know how his or her individual wok distributes heat in order to cook foods properly. However, once a cook has mastered the technique, he can use the pan on an electric stove, a gas stove, or over a campfire. Traditional woks are by far more versatile than the electric kind.

A stir-fry or other traditional Chinese entree is typically cooked in a wok.
A stir-fry or other traditional Chinese entree is typically cooked in a wok.

An electric wok has the great advantage of even heating. The heating element will heat all parts of the pan evenly, without hot or cold spots. This is a boon for beginning cooks, or for those who are unsure if they have the expertise needed for a regular one.

With the advent of non-stick coating, a wok may have this feature, whether electric or not. The non-stick coating is certainly a great feature, since even less fat can be used for the cooking process, and the cook will not have to worry about the food sticking to the pan. Bamboo utensils, traditionally used when cooking with a wok, are suitable for non-stick surfaces, as well. Of course, even in the highest quality pan, a non-stick cooking surface will not last forever, meaning that it will likely need to be replaced more quickly than an uncoated one.

Non-electric woks usually are priced the same as other comparable sized pans. Some are sold in kits that include the cooking rack and utensils, and if the cook does not have these extra components, such a kit is probably the best buy. Electric woks are a little more expensive, and most also come with utensils and even recipe booklets. This pan is a truly indispensable cooking utensil for those interested in Asian cuisine.

Any Asian stir-fry can be served with nutritious brown rice instead of white.
Any Asian stir-fry can be served with nutritious brown rice instead of white.

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Discussion Comments

HappyDay45

@jonpurdin - Woksleds? That is the first I have ever heard of that!

I have always enjoyed stir fry dishes, but never had a wok. Recently I was given a wok kit. It isn’t electric and it isn’t non-stick, but I love it.

It is hard to believe how much easier it is to make my stir fry creations in a wok. It takes a bit of getting used to, but is definitely worth it.

After reading this article I now know I can take it camping, too. I look forward to using it on our next camping trip.

jonpurdin

Did you know that woks are also used in sporting events? I recently learned about wok racing and thought that maybe it was popular in China, but I was wrong.

Apparently it started in Germany. They use modified, imported, Chinese cooking woks and people race them down bobsled tracks.

They even have four-person woksleds that are four woks fastened together. They do wear padded clothing, which is a good thing since they can go 60 miles per hour.

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