The million-dollar question has led to a million divided opinions on which are best. Carbon steel woks are most commonly used. They weigh less than cast iron and heat faster. However, for the highest and most uniform heat retention, cast iron woks are superior to carbon steel. The cast iron wok also achieves a more stable carbonized layer of seasoning, which greatly reduces food sticking to the pan surface.
The forming technique affects the quality and price. Some woks are stamped from a single piece of steel and should be avoided. It is wise to invest in a hand-hammered or forged wok made from two sheets of carbon steel
Woks to avoid include Non-stick, steel coated with Teflon, Xylan coated, Clad, and aluminum woks. These varieties easily scratch, may not withstand higher heat, and or don’t cook any better than carbon steel or cast iron woks! If you do a search on the Internet, you’ll find these types of woks have many negative reviews. The price was great but that was the only great detail.
Initially, they may be easier to clean but sacrifice the better results in the finished and served dish.
So you’ve made up your mind to purchase your very own wok. Perhaps you’ve selected a few recipes you’ll try with your future wok and are ready to purchase. If you’ve decided to select one on the Internet, you found a sea of models claiming to be the one just for you.
I could list dozens of woks from various manufacturers but I only list what I consider to be the best quality woks. I list the woks that can withstand years of use and which are designed to improve your cooking experience. Before acquiring the wok, understand the shape and materials it’s made of will affect the cooking results.
You may be lured to purchase the “better deal” when it comes to pricing but will soon experience break down of Teflon coating (found in cheaper woks), bending and misshaping of wok bowl, broken handles, and worse, bad tasting food!
When purchasing a wok, whether Cast Iron or Carbon Steel it’s important to invest in cast iron or steel and not necessarily the most money you can afford for the most expensive models available to you.
Western designs often have flat bottoms, which make it easier to cook on electric stoves. If you have the luxury of using a gas stove, I highly recommend the round bottom wok designs as they conduct heat more evenly and allow the ladle to pick up and move food at the bottom more easily.
Wok handles are a personal preference. The most commonly used is the loop handle wok. It can take a lot of strength and some practice to toss contents with the stick handle. Woks with stick handles are long and made of steel. Larger quality stick handle woks usually have a loop at the opposite end to provide support while tossing the food.
Assuming you are purchasing a quality wok in steel or iron, the handles are a personal preference. A simple stick handle may suffice if you have the strength and practice to toss the food with one or two hands on the handle. A stick handle with a loop handle at the opposite end affords gripping from two sides of the wok. You decide which is most comfortable for you.
Some swear by them but I suggest staying away from a wok for its non-stick feature. Many first time users are unaware that the carbon steel variety must be properly seasoned. The traditional iron and steel woks can be seasoned with salt and fat. Once you’ve seasoned your wok, you are on your way to some day owning that perfect wok that has been with you through hundreds and hundreds of perfectly prepared dishes. It WILL have that seasoned look, feel, and texture that does not stick and yields perfectly cooked food.
This will not be just another cooking pot/pan piled among others. No, this will be YOUR wok.
Finally, How to season your new wok.
Disclaimer & Warning
You will be woring with very hot oil and wok. www.LoveThatKimchi.com or its owner is not liable or responsible for fire or damage resulting from this wok seasoning method and instructions. Be attentive, remove children from work area, do not leave the work area, and exercise extreme care throughout the seasoning process.
Turn on hood ventilation or provide as much ventilation as possible. Open any nearby doors or windows if possible. This process will create a little smoke but best to have maximum ventilation possible. Clear stove top and warm the wok for a few minutes. Brush the entire surface (every inch of inner pan) using lard or palm oil. Grab wok by the handle(s) and tilt to heat and burn all areas of the wok’s bottom. This will burn the oil into the new wok surface. Once done with this step, remove the wok from heat and allow to fully cool. Next, using the lard or oil that has collected in the wok center, smear the lard/oil back onto the inside surface and reheat and tilt as in step one.
Repeat these steps four or five times.
When cooking with the wok, always heat it until it smokes before adding lard. Your first few uses may have some food stick but this will be reduced with further use. After each use, allow to cool, wash with water and clean sponge but do not towel dry. Place wet wok on a hot burner and allow to dry and cool before storing. If you haven’t achieved a shiny patina look by now, rub a thing layer of lard onto the surface during drying and heating before storing.
The golden rule of never using soapy water on your seasoned wok is true and necessary. If you have gone several months without using the wok, you may find the last layer of lard/oil had become moldy or just became unacceptably dirty. If this is the case, then a little soap is fine and make sure to season the wok again.