BEST WOKS | NOVEMBER 2017
Woks, a traditional Chinese pan, have become a staple piece of cookware in many modern kitchens. As their popularity continues to increase, their design has changed to fit modern stove tops and meet the diverse needs of professionals and home chefs around the world. Our team researched the different styles and materials used to make woks, as well as the manufacturing techniques such as hand-hammered and spun that affect their cooking abilities. We’ve included information about heat transference, cleaning ease and design differences to help you make an informed purchasing decision. Read more about our methodology.
The Calphalon Triply Wok uses an aluminum core to distribute and control heat for excellent results. Because of its versatility in cooking a variety of dishes and superior durability, it was an easy choice for our top pick.Read full review.
Like our top pick, the Cooks Standard Multi-Ply Clad Wok has an aluminum core that quickly and evenly moves heat through the wok. Versatile and durable, it's a great pick for the budget-minded shopper looking for a stainless steel wok.Read full review.
The T-fal Non-stick Jumbo Wok has a price that’s hard to beat. Not only that, it’s lightweight, making it easy to flip food while cooking. With a hybrid shape that falls somewhere between a frying pan and a wok, it is a multi-purpose piece of cookware.Read full review.
The Cook N Home Non-stick Wok is a multipurpose piece of cookware that functions as either a frying pan or a wok. It’s an excellent value at a low price, making it a good way to try out wok cooking without investing in something more expensive.Read full review.
Woks BUYING GUIDE
Carbon steel, cast iron, stainless steel, and various non-stick hybrids are used to make woks. Carbon steel is ideal for traditional Chinese cooking methods such as flipping food inside the wok and rapid temperature changes. It is inexpensive, lightweight, distributes and responds to heat changes quickly and withstands high temperatures for searing. However, carbon steel needs to be seasoned and can take time to reach a seasoning that effectively prevents sticking. If not properly seasoned, it can rust.
Cast iron holds and distributes heat well but isn’t as responsive to temperature changes as carbon steel. Heating and cooling take time. It is also heavier, which makes flipping food difficult. Cast iron also has to be seasoned but tends to be easier than carbon steel for most people to maintain. Like carbon steel, it can rust if not properly cared for.
Stainless steel has become one of the most popular choices as it offers the benefits of cooking in a wok with the advantages of modern design. It’s durable, resisting dents and scratches and holds heat well. On the downside, it doesn’t transfer heat as well as carbon steel or cast iron, making it less responsive. Most stainless steel has some kind of aluminum core to help distribute the heat faster. Food sticks easily to stainless steel unless it has a non-stick coating.
Woks can be either hand-hammered, spun, or stamped. Hand-hammered woks have distinct marks from the hammer head. When doing traditional Chinese cooking, this allows the chef to pull vegetables or meat up the side of the wok away from the hot center. This allows the chef to cook other ingredients in the center while keeping the food warm. Spun woks have concentric rings from the top of the wok down to the center. The rings allow vegetables or meat to placed at the side while other ingredients in the center as with hand-hammered woks. Stamped woks are formed by a stamping process that leaves no marks on the interior of the wok. This is used for stainless steel, cast iron, and non-stick woks.
Woks were traditionally used on wood burning stoves where their round bottoms fit nicely over the flames. Modern ranges have led to the development of flat-bottom woks that can be placed directly on a burner. Flat-bottom woks distribute heat well and maintain a round interior shape that is associated with woks. A ring for the stove top can be bought separately to allow for the use of a traditional wok on a modern stove. They can be used on gas, electric, or induction ranges. Some gas stoves can accommodate a round-bottom wok, but it depends on the design of the burners. Another option is an electric wok with its own heat source. They’re portable and some models cook just as well as stove top woks.
The last two considerations are not as important but could come into play while cooking. Wok diameters range from 8 inches up to 14 inches or more. Because of their shape and high sides, large woks use a lot of storage and counter space. A lid can also be a nice feature if you plan to do deep frying or sautéing.
For around $20, you can find a carbon steel or inexpensive non-stick wok. Carbon steel is generally inexpensive and works exceptionally well for traditional Chinese cooking methods. The non-stick choices at this range may have trouble with durability or flaking at high temperatures. Between $25-$50, you’ll find good quality woks in carbon steel, cast iron, and various non-stick types. You'll find lower grade stainless steel that may not conduct heat well. Some may have a non-stick coating. At $50 and above are high-quality stainless steel and most electric woks. If you’re going to purchase a stainless-steel wok, you’ll want to be in this range as higher quality stainless-steel conducts heat better.
FULL product reviews
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For most home chefs, the Calphalon Triply Wok offers the temperature control and versatility to meet a variety of cooking needs. An aluminum core quickly moves heat through the layers of stainless steel. The flat bottom design allows this wok to be used on electric, gas, or induction stove tops. The entire body of the wok, handles included, are made of stainless steel, which means it can be placed in the dishwasher for easy cleaning. And, when properly heated and oiled, sticking stays to a minimum so a dishwasher may not even be necessary. An extra feature that makes it even more valuable is the perfectly-fitting clear lid. You can keep an eye on your food without having to release any heat. A tight seal not only traps heat but also keeps oil and splashes contained within the wok.
Why We Recommend It
- Aluminum core quickly distributes heat. An aluminum core quickly moves heat through the wok, allowing for shorter heating times. It also gives better temperature control for searing, sauteing and doing stir fry.
- Flat-bottom design adds versatility. The flat bottom helps distribute heat, offering greater responsiveness and shorter cooking times. It also allows this wok to be used on an electric, gas, or induction stove top.
- Dishwasher safe for easy cleaning. Unlike woks made of other materials, this stainless model is dishwasher safe. Although, if properly heated and oiled many reviewers find it a cinch to clean by hand.
- Lid creates an airtight seal. The perfectly fitted lid traps heat and oil inside the wok for more efficient and less messy cooking. And it's clear, which many users like so they can keep an eye on their food while it cooks.
- Heavy with a thin handle. With a 12-inch diameter, this isn’t a small wok. It’s heavy, which could make it hard to handle for some people. A few reviewers find they don’t feel secure carrying the wok with only the long handle.
The Cooks Standard Wok uses an aluminum core to efficiently move heat through the bottom and sides. The core also allows it to reach the high temperatures needed for traditional Chinese cooking. If you like to make stir fry, this wok can take the necessary heat changes. Rapid, high-temperature changes can cause some sticking or left over black marks but with a little soaking, they still come off of this wok. With all stainless-steel parts, it can be placed in the dishwasher if necessary. A high, dome-shaped lid keeps oil and vegetables inside and the extra space means it can be used for making popcorn too. Like our top pick, it has a flat bottom for use on electric, gas, and induction ranges.
Why We Recommend It
- Aluminum core and heat distribution. The aluminum core heats quickly, distributing heat through the wok. Users report this helps it cook food both on the sides and at the center of the wok.
- It can take the heat. Flash heating is a hallmark of stir fry and a good wok needs to be able to handle the high temperatures and quick heat changes. This one can take both.
- Dishwasher safe for cleaning ease. With a body made of stainless steel, it can be placed in the dishwasher for convenient washing. Even when used at high temperatures which can leave staining, it can be soaked and stains easily wipe off.
- Dome-shaped lid adds space. A domed lid not only keeps oil and vegetables in the wok, it makes room for extra uses like making popcorn.
- Weight can be an issue. Like similarly sized stainless-steel woks, it’s heavy. Having two handles helps when lifting but it’s not easy to move especially when full of food.
The T-fal Non-stick Jumbo Wok comes with a low price but gets the job done. It can be placed in the dishwasher but the non-stick coating works well enough that you probably won’t need to. With a shape that resembles a cross between a wok and a frying pan, you get the benefits of both. The interior has a small, flat bottom that makes it useable as a frying or sauce pan while the high sides let you tackle a delicious stir fry. Those who cook for a crowd will love the 14-inch diameter as it gives plenty of space for large amounts of meat and vegetables. Aluminum materials move the heat through to the sides for all-around cooking. It’s inexpensive and serves multiple purposes, making it a good addition to any kitchen.
Why We Recommend It
- Non-stick coating that lasts. The non-stick coating lasts well for a wok in this price range. When cared for properly, the coating could stay intact for years.
- Hybrid shape with benefits of a frying pan. High sides allow it to be used as a wok while the flat bottom gives it the same options as a frying or sauce pan. For that reason, many reviewers choose this wok as their go-to cookware.
- Big enough for large family meals. The 14-inch diameter provides enough room for large meals.
- Aluminum moves heat efficiently. Aluminum conducts and moves heat well. The construction of this wok takes that heat through the sides so all contents are cooked no matter their location in the wok.
- Cannot take high temperatures. High temperatures can ruin the non-stick coating, limiting the way food is cooked in it.
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Best Carbon Steel Wok
Carbon steel woks are best used for authentic Chinese cooking. Heat distributes quickly and evenly for flash searing. Carbon steel also responds quickly to changes in heat for better temperature control. It is also inexpensive. Look for carbon steel that is around 2mm thick. That’s thick enough to be sturdy while also being lightweight enough to use the handle to flip food while cooking. Keep in mind that like cast iron carbon steel requires seasoning and will develop a non-stick surface over time with proper care and use.
The Town Food Service 16-Inch Wok is the wok for those who want to do authentic Chinese cooking. It is big enough to feed a crowd and strong enough to take the temperatures used in stir fry and deep frying. The carbon steel heats fast for searing yet responds quickly when temperatures are lowered throughout the cooking process. Traditional woks like this one were meant to be used over an open flame but this wok can work on modern stove tops when a separate ring is placed over the burner, keeping the rounded bottom at the hottest point. One of our favorite features is the hand-hammered steel. The grooves in the wok hold vegetables and meat at the sides out of the hottest part of the wok while other ingredients are cooked in the center. If you’re looking for a traditional wok, this one performs well at a hard to beat price.
Why We Recommend It
- Inexpensive but tough. Carbon steel is inexpensive but withstands the high temperatures necessary for searing and other Chinese cooking methods.
- Absorbs and disperses heat well. This kind of steel quickly responds to the heat changes used when making authentic stir fry. Many reviews liked how quickly it got to temperature and responded to changes in heat.
- Shape and handles for authentic cooking methods. The round bottom keeps food toward the center where it is the hottest. Two small handles allow you to flip food while still in the wok.
- Gripping power of hand-hammered steel. Hand hammering leaves marks in the steel that can hold vegetables or meat out of the hottest heat while cooking.
- Seasoning must be done correctly. Carbon steel must be seasoned or food will stick. This does take some extra time and special care for the life of the wok.
Best Cast Iron Wok
Cast iron woks can withstand and hold high temperatures, two of the basics of Chinese cooking. Highly durable, it can last for years if cared for correctly. It can also be used in the oven or BBQ for greater versatility. However, cast iron is slow to heat and cool down, reducing temperature responsiveness. Sturdy cast iron makes the flipping technique often used for stir fry difficult because of the weight. If flipping isn’t part of your stir fry technique and you season it properly, this type of wok may work well for you.
The Lodge Seasoned Cast iron 14-Inch Wok gives impressive results and the outstanding durability you’d expect from well-made cast iron. Over time the seasoning fills the pores and, eventually, food slides off after cooking. Lodge makes solid cast iron cookware that holds heat well; once this wok reaches temperature it holds that heat for the duration of the cook time. The flat bottom design can be use on gas, electric, or an induction stove tops. Cast iron adds the extra versatility of being able to be used in the oven or BBQ.
Why We Recommend It
- Impressive durability. Thick cast iron created with fine craftsmanship means that, with the proper seasoning and cleaning, it has the potential to outlive its users.
- Ease of cleaning. With proper seasoning, this wok gets better with age because the seasoning becomes more effective with each use. Many users report that it wasn't long before the food slid off.
- Holds the heat and takes high temperatures. Once it’s heated, this wok hangs onto the heat. It can also withstand the high temperatures often used in authentic Chinese cooking.
- Works with a variety of heat sources. The flat bottom allows this wok to be used on gas, electric, or induction stove tops. Those users that use it often liked that it can also be placed in the oven or on the BBQ.
- Heavy and hard to move. Cast iron is no lightweight material. This wok is heavy, which can make it cumbersome and hard to move with or without food in it.
- Slow to heat. Like all cast iron, it’s slower to heat than other materials. This goes both ways as it’s also slow to cool down.
- Requires additional seasoning. To achieve a non-stick surface, seasoning is required, which involves rinse, drying, oiling and heating the wok. While this wok comes pre-seasoned, users report that more seasoning is required.
Best Electric Wok
Some people find it hard to use a wok on an electric stove because of insufficient burner size or heat, even if the wok has a flat bottom. If that’s the case, an electric wok might be the right choice. Many electric woks can reach equivalent or higher temperatures than an electric or gas stove, which is ideal for Chinese cooking. They are also portable, giving you extra versatility in when and where you cook.
The Breville Hot Wok’s non-stick surface works beautifully. Most of the time, clean up requires little more than a wet cloth to wipe it down. If it requires more than that, the base and electric unit can be removed for easy cleaning. The removable base is one of our favorite features and sets this wok apart from other electric woks. Heating and temperature control are excellent as layers of aluminum absorb and distribute heat throughout the sides of the wok. Fourteen heat settings give you room to find the perfect heat level for each dish. It can reach 425 degrees, which is hot enough to sear foods made in the traditional Chinese style. While you’re at it, keep an eye on the process through the clear lid that keeps heat and oil inside. The ease of cleaning and heating factors make this a top electric wok but it’s also a winner because it can feed a crowd. Large households that need space on the stove will appreciate the extra cooking space.
Why We Recommend It
- Easy to clean non-stick interior. When it comes to clean up, it’s hard to beat this wok. Many users report that the high-quality non-stick surface only needs a wipe down after each use.
- Heat settings and transfer. The heating unit has 14 settings for precise cooking, which users like for slight adjustments. Layers of aluminum transfer heat up the sides of the wok for better searing results.
- Cooks fast and hot. It heats fast and cooks hot for searing. Makes it great for Chinese cooking or for frying foods.
- Clear lid for watching food. The clear lid keeps splashes and splatters contained while you keep watch on your dinner.
- Large enough to cook for a crowd. With a 14-inch diameter, you can cook for a large family or guests.
- Storage and counter space. With the base and 14-inch diameter, this wok takes up a serious amount of counter and cupboard space. It’s multipurpose, but make sure you have the room before you buy.
- Pricey for a wok. The removable base comes with a high price.
The Presto Stainless-Steel Electric Wok provides a less expensive option to our electric wok top pick. It also appeals to those who want to avoid any kind of non-stick coating as these coatings do break down over time. The stainless steel cleans well, though it may require some soaking for stuck on food. If you plan to cook stir fry, this wok heats fast and quickly responds to temperature changes. It’s big enough to make food for a large family or guests. A flat bottom also provides cooking options beyond the typical stir fry such as curry or stew. Many users have found it useful for most of their cooking, replacing their frying and sauce pans. Overall, it’s a good choice for a less expensive electric wok.
Why We Recommend It
- Great option without a non-stick coating. The stainless steel stands up to heavy use and won’t ever flake like some woks with inferior non-stick coatings. Cleans well, especially with an extra soaking.
- Gets hot for searing. Reaches high enough temperatures for searing and boiling. Users find this especially useful for making stir fry and other dishes that need high temps.
- Heats quickly. There is no waiting around for this wok to reach temperature. If you cook in a hurry, this is your wok.
- Sensitive temperature controls. The slightest change in the dial drastically effects the temperature. You’ll need to be careful to maintain the right amount of heat.