A wok (锅) is a signature cooking utensil for Chinese cooking. It is a deep round-bottomed cooking pot with multiple usages. It is a very popular cooking utensil used in China. Nowadays, you also can find the wok in many different parts of the world, especially East, South, and Southeast Asia. The wok is almost a necessity in any Chinese restaurant.
The uniqueness of wok cooking is conveyed by the Cantonese term “wok hei” which means breath of the wok. Chefs use the wok in a various range of cooking techniques, which include stir-frying, deep-frying, pan-frying, boiling, steaming, braising, stewing, searing, poaching, making soup, and smoking.
There are generally two kinds of wok: wok with a stick handle (手柄) or wok with loops. The wok is usually accompanied with Chinese wok spatula (锅铲) or Chinese wok ladle (炒菜壳) as the best utensil set for any cooking.
What are the most common types of wok and how to choose the right wok?
This article will summarize the four most popular wok, differentiated by their materials, which are carbon steel wok, cast iron wok, stainless steel wok, and aluminum wok. All of them have their own specialty and properties. Let’s explore their pros and cons.
Carbon Steel Wok
Carbon steel wok is one of the most favorite woks used by Chinese restaurant chefs. The carbon steel wok is usually inexpensive and lighter in weight compared to the others. It has a low heat capacity, able to heat quicker, and has reasonable durability. However, carbon steel wok is more difficult to be seasoned compared to other materials, eg. cast iron.
Carbon steel wok can be further categorized into high quality (expensive) and lower quality (usually cheaper) wok. The lower quality wok is easy to deform and misshape. Besides that, cooking with a low-quality wok is also harder since they often have a “hot spot”. On the other hand, the best quality carbon steel wok is most likely hand-made and it is normally made of heavy gauge steel. Thus, if you have the budget, choose a good quality carbon steel wok.
Cast Iron Wok
There are two types of cast iron wok in the market, which are the Chinese cast iron wok and western cast iron wok. The difference between these two types of woks is that Chinese-made cast iron woks are very thin (3 mm) while the western style tends to be much thicker (9 mm) and heavier.
Due to the thickness, western-style cast iron wok usually takes more time to heat up to the right cooking temperature. The heavyweight of the wok itself also makes it unsuitable for stir-fry. Seasoning is easier for cast iron wok compared to the carbon steel wok and they generally have better non-stick properties.
Here is an important reminder for chefs who use cast iron wok. The cast iron wok responds slower to heat and thus it is harder to control the temperature of the wok. Remember to remove the food immediately from the wok once it is done to avoid overcooking because it takes time for cast iron wok to cool down.
Non-Stick Stainless Steel Wok
The stainless steel wok is often coated with non-stick coatings such as PFA and Teflon. It is very common for small family home-used kitchen. Stainless steel non-stick wok cannot be used with metal utensils as the surface might be scratched or damaged by the metal utensils.
As they necessarily lack the carbonizing or seasoning of the classic steel or iron wok, non-stick woks do not impart the distinctive taste or sensation of “wok hei”. Expensive is another con for this non-stick stainless steel wok, its price is normally five to ten times the price of traditional carbon steel or cast iron wok.
Most professional restaurant kitchens will not choose non-stick stainless steel wok for cooking. If you are just looking for a family-friendly wok to fry a piece or two fried eggs, a non-stick stainless steel wok could be your choice.
Aluminum is known for its heat conductivity. Out of all wok materials, aluminum woks offer the best heat distribution for preparing tasty stir-fries and deep-fries. At the same time, their heat capacity is low, so they will take a longer time to heat up. Also, aluminum tends to be softer than the other materials, thus not recommended for heavy cooking.
After considering the pros and cons of the different wok, I hope you are able to decide which wok suits you the most.
How to Clean A Wok?
Kindly follow these easy steps to clean your wok after usage:
- Soap wok in warm or hot water.
- If food particles need to be removed, gently scrub with a sponge or scouring pad.
- Rinse the wok completely.
- Dry completely with a clean kitchen towel.
- Place the wok over medium-high heat to completely dry the wok and evaporate any remaining water.
- If you’re planning to store your wok without using it for over a week, apply an additional thin layer of oil or lard to further preserve the wok’s patina.
Please be reminded to always refer to the care instruction that came with your wok if any.