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Choosing the Best Carbon Steel Wok – How To Enjoy Authentic Asian Cooking At Home

Written by Peter Allen on . Posted in Cookware

best carbon steel wok, how to season carbon steel wok, cast iron vs carbon steel wok

Last Updated Feb 2020 – Is carbon steel really better than stainless or cast iron? Learn all about different types of woks, how to care for them, and which ones you should buy!

Woks offer a uniquely versatile approach to cooking. While they’re great for stir-frying, they’re more than capable of performing a number of other kitchen tasks. I’ll frequently find myself using a wok for both deep-frying and steaming, while I’ve seen my friends use theirs for baking, smoking, and more.

asian stir fry vegetables, stir fry pan

Despite this, too many kitchens don’t have a proper wok. Part of the blame for this rests squarely on the shoulders of wok manufacturers. Too many companies produce low-quality woks made from inappropriate materials, making them useless.

These serve as a poor introduction to wok cooking, leading home chefs to believe (incorrectly) that all woks perform equally poorly.

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IMAGEPRODUCT
JOYCE CHEN 22-0060, Pro Chef Flat Bottom Wok

It’s a 2mm thick carbon steel wok that’s 14” across. It’s got both a long handle (so you can move it while it’s hot) and a shorter handle on the opposite side (so you can lift it).

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16 inch Carbon Steel Hand Hammered Wok

If you’re looking for something a bit more traditional, this hand-hammered carbon steel wok is a great choice for your kitchen.

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16 inches Carbon Steel Wok with Helper Handle (flat bottom)

Available in both 12 and 16-inch styles, this 2mm thick carbon steel wok is absolutely perfect for almost every kitchen.

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Different cooking techniques such as stir frying and deep frying require carbon steel woks instead of steel pans. Quality carbon wok cooking is a must if you want to learn culinery art thoroughly. That’s why you’ll need a good wok on your road to become a pro chef.

Most of the time in wok reviews, you’ll find out about different opinions from different kinds of people. For example, Some will suggest you to use electric stoves while some will forbade you to use electric stoves. Some will suggest you to use both gas and electric stoves. That is why most of the time you’ll find wok reviews to be confusing.

Don’t waste your time in search of the pros and cons of your desired wok. You can be deceived and buy a regular wok. Take a look at your options. Remember, since you want an ideal wok for your daily usage, buy a wok that you could be easy for you to use.

But don’t worry! today we’ll go over everything you need to know about a good craft wok. We’ll go over every small thing such as gauge carbon steel to what are some of the best woks for your use.  The last thing you want is a wok that is not durable and well enough for your use.

In order to avoid wasting money on such a product, here are a few general tips you can follow when looking for a wok to purchase:

1. PAY ATTENTION TO SHAPE

flat bottom wok, flat bottom panThe first thing you need to keep in mind while buying a carbon steel wok is its shape. A good craft wok provides even heating. And an even heat distribution means you’ll get thoroughly cooked food.

One other thing that buyers face while buying a carbon steel wok is, should they go for a round bottom wok or a flat bottomed wok? You might enter a wok shop and get confused as you don’t know which one will suit you better. So, the second thing to keep in mind while buying a carbon steel wok is its range.

Your range probably wasn’t designed with a round bottomed wok in mind. Even if you have a special wok holding attachment, your range won’t transfer heat to the wok in a very effective way. Look for a wok with a flat bottom in order to ensure that it will actually get hot.

The best carbon steel wok is usually flat bottomed. You can let your food sit directly as the wok will heat evenly. Because of that, you won’t have to face the problem of undercooked food. Be stir fry or deep frying, a well-shaped carbon steel wok might make the difference between a good dish and a great dish.

A flat bottom wok can work well under high heat. And as flat bottom woks can spread heat evenly, it’s safe to say that the best carbon steel woks are flat bottomed. Some might argue that steel pans or pow wok are best for this kind of work. But considering a flat bottom woks durability, it’s head and shoulders above the rest.

With that being said, one of the major things that separates wok cooking from other cooking is the ability to move food in and out of a high heat zone. A flat bottom is necessary in order to get a high heat zone at all, but you don’t want it to be too big. Experts recommend a 4-5” flat bottom with about 13” of sloping sides.

2. AVOID STAINLESS

stainless wok, stainless steel skilletIt doesn’t matter what kind of cooking oil you might use. Stains are an constant in cooking.  You might cook for 12 people or 12 hundred people, stains are bound to appear on the cooking surface.  But there are a few reasons on why you should avoid stainless material.

Woks are usually made out of one of three materials: stainless steel, carbon steel, and cast iron. While there are advantages and disadvantages to carbon steel and cast iron, stainless steel woks aren’t very good. For one, they’re super heavy, making them tedious to use. Worse, they don’t distribute heat very well.

Even when equipped with an aluminum or copper core, a stainless steel wok won’t respond to quick temperature changes very well. Given than stir-frying often involves quick temperature changes, this makes it a poor choice for your wok.

Finally, stainless steel is harder to season than either cast iron or carbon steel, so you’ll have to put in more work to clean your wok.

3. NOT CREATED EQUAL

The construction methods employed in making your wok will dictate how well it holds food. As mentioned previously, you often want to be able to move food to the sides of your wok so it doesn’t cook as quickly. If the sides of your wok are too smooth, they won’t hold food well.

Sometimes, you might want your food to sit directly on the carbon steel wok. And, if the wok isn’t crafted well enough it’ll burn your food. You want a carbon steel wok that is easy to use. For that, it’s vital for a carbon steel wok to maintain a perfect cooking surface.

There are three methods used to shape woks. The first, stamping, involves taking a piece of metal and bending it. This will result in a wok with very smooth sides. Your food will slide around like Apolo Anton Ohno in the 2002 Olympics.

which frying pan is best, asian skilletThe other two methods, spinning and hammering, produce woks with granular sides. Hand hammered woks have hundreds of little divots and indentations that are produced with each hammer blow. You won’t notice these unless you get really close and look, but they’ll keep your food in place on the edges.

Spun woks are made on lathes. This construction method leaves a telltale trace in the form of ridges that make concentric circles all the way down the wok. These circles act like the tread on your shoes and help food stay where you put it.

You might think of opting for a hand hammered carbon steel pow wok. But think this to yourself. Do you want a quality carbon steel wok? If so the choose a carbon steel wok instead of a hand hammered carbon steel pow wok.

Your carbon steel wok might be hand hammered, spun or simply stamped. One might think it matters very little of how a wok is made. Your wok might be 14 inches or 16 inches. But, if it isn’t created properly it won’t serve you properly. Because of that, we think the hammered and spun are the ones that are taken to be the best carbon steel wok. A well craft wok most of the time is a hand hammered carbon steel wok.

Neither hammered nor spun woks are particularly expensive, so it’s absolutely worth springing for one.

4. STICKINESS

It’s absolutely imperative that you do not buy a non-stick wok.

non stick skillet, large non stick skilletThere are three reasons for this, with the last being the most important. First, it’s not really necessary. As you use your wok, you’ll naturally work oil molecules into gaps in the steel. Under high heat, these oil molecules will form a polymer layer that’s naturally non-stick. This process is called “seasoning,” and it’s been used for hundreds of years to produce non-stick pans without any Teflon.

Second, non-stick pans have a short lifespan and are difficult to care for. Woks are big, heavy pieces of kitchen equipment. You’ll want yours to last a long time. You also probably want to be able to stir things in your stir-fry without worrying about scratching off a non-stick layer. In order to ensure your pan lasts, it’s a good idea to avoid non-stick.

Finally, non-stick coatings don’t perform well under high heat. This doesn’t just mean food will stick (although it can), but rather that the actual non-stick coating will start to break apart at temperatures well within the range of what you’d like your wok to reach.

In some cases, the non-stick coat will literally release toxic fumes. “Safe” non-stick chemicals are often only safe below 500 degrees, which is pretty easy to hit on a medium high burner.

As a non-stick carbon steel wok isn’t able to handle heating and cooling as well as other woks, we think the best carbon steel wok isn’t non-stick. Though one might argue this happens mainly because of the non-stick coating, it happens none the less.  You want a carbon steel wok that lasts long. Because of that, we suggest not to buy a non-stick wok.

5. HANDLES

skillet handles, frying pan handlesThere are two main types of woks handles. Cantonese-style woks have two small handles, making them easy to lift. Northern-style woks feature a long handle that’s more reminiscent of a frying pan.

Your choice should be heavily informed by your own preference and style of cooking. If you prefer to leave your wok stationary and do all of your stirring with utensils, Cantonese handles are fine.

If you’d like to move your wok as you cook (and I know I do), be sure to buy one with a handle that’s long enough to use while the wok is hot. Alternately, get a set of really nice pot-holders.

There’s a lot of handles option to choose from. Loop handle, helper handle, wooden handle, etc. But one thing to keep in mind when walking into a wok shop is,  the wok you buy having a helper handle. As I’ve mentioned before that I like to move my wok while cooking, a helper handle really helps me to maintain my safety.

A short tip for you, try to clean your wok handle with a paper towel. As a paper towel consumes water quickly, you won’t have to leave it to dry.

Your flat bottom or round bottom carbon steel wok might be good but you can make it better with a helper handle. A helper handle will ensure you of a good hold of the wok. You might think this as a hassle and try opting for a hand hammered carbon steel pow wok. But bear in mind that the comfort you’ll get while working with a helper handle won’t be provided with a hand hammered carbon steel pow wok.

You can even opt for a wooden handle. Wooden handles can consume heat quite well. If you aren’t comfortable with using a helping handle than you can choose a wooden handle as wooden handles have a comfy grip and might seem better to a certain group of people. But on major problem wooden handles have is, they’re slippery if someone has a sweaty palm.

Though wooden handle pows are good, we suggest you to look for a carbon steel wok that has helper handle with it.

CARBON STEEL OR CAST IRON?

While I’m quick to recommend that you stay away from stainless steel woks, the choice between carbon steel and cast iron is a little bit more nuanced. I personally recommend carbon steel quite strongly, but there’s certainly an argument to be made for cast iron woks.

cast iron pan cooking, cast iron pan benefits

Cast iron woks take a long time to heat up and cool down. They’re not always heavy, but if they’re not, it’s almost always because they’re very thin. The thinner your wok, the more likely it is to break under stress. This can happen when you add cold food or water to a hot wok, but it usually occurs when you’re just moving the wok around in a cupboard.

These downsides might seem pretty big, but they’re not the whole picture. Cast iron holds heat particularly well, so while your wok will take a little bit of time to heat up, it will stay hot for a long time. It’s especially good for high heat cooking. It’s also very well suited to being seasoned, so you’ll build up a very nice non-stick surface over time.

That said, I recommend carbon steel because it offers a similar set of advantages. Carbon steel is almost as easy to season. While it doesn’t hold heat quite as well, it’s much more responsive to changes in temperature. This means that you can turn the heat down and your wok will drop in temperature much faster. Carbon steel is less fragile than cast iron, too, so it’s less likely to break. Still, be sure to make sure that your wok is thick enough. If you’re buying in a store, make sure it doesn’t bend much if you press on it. If you’re buying online, look for 14-gauge steel or a thickness of 2mm.

The best part about carbon steel is that it’s fantastically cheap. Carbon steel woks tend to be quite a bit less expensive than their stainless and cast iron counterparts, meaning you can spend more money on delicious things to cook!

Another fantastic thing about a wok that is made of carbon steel is its light in comparison to a cast iron wok. You can use a carbon steel wok with ease on both gas and electric stoves. And its very easy to clean too! you can just wipe it off with paper towels.

You need to use a wok that is easy to use. For that, we suggest our readers use a wok made of carbon steel. And as we’ve mentioned above, If a wok is made of carbon steel it holds heat better and doesn’t succumb to the overall pressure. Another good thing about a carbon steel wok is you can wipe it off with paper towels. Cast iron woks are hard to clean up after cooking.

SEASONING AND CARING FOR YOUR WOK

frying pan seasoning, skillet seasoningCarbon steel woks (and cast iron ones, for that matter) usually are packaged with a thin layer of non-edible oil to keep them from rusting. Some are additionally wrapped in plastic. Before you use them to cook, it’s important to wash this layer off. Most wok manufacturers will include specific instructions. These usually involve placing some water in your wok, getting it pretty hot, and then scrubbing off the layer of oil with plenty of soap.

After this is done, your wok will be bare to the elements. Not only should you season it (to prevent food from sticking), but you should also brush it with a food-safe oil before you store it. This will help prevent your wok from rusting. If it does rust, however, it’s not a big deal.

Though you might think of using carbon steel wok that has a non-stick coating, it might hamper the quality of your carbon steel wok. The best carbon steel woks aren’t coated with non-stick coating.

You can just scrub off any rust spots that appear in the sink! You will have to season your wok afterwards, however.

Most wok manufacturers suggest that you season your wok by hand on the stove (Here our cookware for gas stoves guide) . It’s not recommended to do it in the oven because your wok has sloped sides, so oil won’t stay put for very long. On the stove, you can manually apply oil directly to all parts of your wok while it’s still hot.

When it comes time to season your wok, the exact order of operations isn’t particularly important. Put the wok on the stove over medium-ish heat. Let it get hot. Spread cooking oil evenly around, using a paper towel held between tongs, a cooking brush, or simply swirl the pan around until things are evenly coated.

Ideally, your wok is just hot enough to avoid burning the oil. After it’s coated, some experts think you should remove the wok from heat and let it cool, then repeat the process several times. Others think you should simply lower the heat a bit and sauté aromatics for a while until the wok changes color. In any case, your wok’s seasoning will change over time. As long as you cook with plenty of fat, you’ll naturally add to your layer of seasoning and fix any imperfections with your initial season.

cleaning frying pan, how to season frying panOnce your wok is seasoned, be sure to AVOID USING SOAP. The polymer layer you’ve built up will withstand both scrubbing and hot water, but you’ll completely destroy it if you use a detergent or soap on your wok. You should be able to easily clean out your wok with a quick rinse and a bit of work with a sponge. If you do use soap (or you let someone else do the dishes), you’ll have to season it from scratch all over again. This isn’t a giant deal, but it will eat up a few minutes of your time.

After you’re done rinsing the carbon steel wok, you can wipe the water off with a paper towel. Using a paper towel will ensure water not being on the wok.

You’ll need to follow this process with any carbon steel (or cast iron) wok you buy. No matter how highly recommended a wok comes, you can’t escape your obligation to season it and store it properly. If you don’t, food will stick to your wok and it rust spots will quickly appear.

As a final aside, the oil you use to season your wok with absolutely matters, but only a little. Almost any cooking fat will do an okay job of producing the desired polymer coat. If you want the absolute best, experts suggest that you should use pure, organic flax seed oil. While it’s rather expensive, it also produces slightly better results than any other oil when it comes to seasoning. In practice, however, it’s unlikely to make that much of a difference.

MY RECOMMENDATIONS – Top 3 Review

As I’ve stated above, I absolutely prefer carbon steel over the other types of woks. As a result, all three of my choices are carbon steel. While they all exhibit the features discussed above, each one is suited for a different type of kitchen.

– JOYCE CHEN 22-0060, Pro Chef Flat Bottom Wok

Finding a quality carbon steel wok can be tough. But this next wok is one of the best carbon steel wok available. You might be familiar with its name as there are quite a few pros related to it. This wok is one that you’ll find comfort to work with.

This wok has everything you want. It’s a 2mm thick carbon steel wok that’s 14” across. It’s got both a long handle (so you can move it while it’s hot) and a shorter handle on the opposite side (so you can lift it). While it’s got quite a bit of heft, it’s still lighter than its cast iron counterparts.

Don’t confuse this with the other popular Joyce Chen wok. While this is a robust 2mm thick carbon steel wok, Joyce Chen also sells a 1.5mm version. You really want the extra half millimeter of thickness to keep your wok durable and sturdy. The thinner version may even warp under normal cooking conditions!

Durability isn’t the only concern when it comes to the thickness of your wok. Another advantage that a 2mm wok (like this one) offers over a 1.5mm wok comes via the way heat is distributed. A 1.5mm wok will heat less evenly on the bottom while distributing more heat up the sides. This hinders your goal of being able to move food out of a high-heat zone and necessitates that you stir food on the bottom more frequently. A 2mm wok, however, will retain an even amount of heat on the bottom. While the sides will still get hot, they’re a bit thicker, so heat won’t travel upwards quite as quickly. This allows you to have better control over how much heat reaches each individual ingredient.

The flat bottom on this wok is generous enough to allow it to work on induction and electric ranges while still giving you plenty of sloped space to work with. It’s made via spinning, so concentric rings will keep food on the slopes without too much hassle.

While the included handles are a nice touch, they’re only rated to 350 degrees F. Be sure to remove them before throwing your wok in the oven or cooking on high heat for a long period of time. It’s especially important to remove them before seasoning, as you’re sure to get your entire wok quite hot.

Uneven heat distribution can spoil your Asian food. And, as Asian food (particularly Chinese dishes) needs proper seasoning, carbon steel woks need to distribute heat evenly. This is another reason why this Joyce Chen wok is the best carbon steel wok out there. This carbon steel wok has a flat bottom that provides even heat distribution.

And as a 14 inches carbon steel wok is a bit smaller than other carbon steel woks, it doesn’t matter whether you’re using an electric stove or a gas stove, this wok allows you to have even heating all around.

Another good thing about this 14 inches carbon steel wok is, it’s perfect for a small number of people. That’s why you’ll find 14 inches carbon steel woks in most of the smaller Asian family kitchens.

If you’re looking for a basic spun carbon steel wok, this Joyce Chen is a great choice. It offers everything you need in terms of size, shape, and features. You’ll be producing great stir-fries in no time!

– 16 inch Carbon Steel Hand Hammered Wok

If you’re looking for something a bit more traditional, this hand-hammered carbon steel wok is a great choice for your kitchen. The old-fashioned construction technique used in its production creates hundreds of little indentations to keep food from sliding down the sides. That said, this round bottom wok might be too traditional for some kitchens depending on the type of range you have.

As this wok is made of hammered carbon steel, this wok comes with a problem that is not being able to work on an electric stove.

To elaborate: the round bottom on this wok is wholly inappropriate for electric and induction ranges. If you have a wok ring and a high BTU gas range, however, you should be fine.

This wok is quite big. It measures a full 16”, so make sure you’ve got enough space in your kitchen. While this might be a downside for some, I think it’s an absolutely killer feature for others. The ability to cook a full, large dish in a single wok is incredible. Once you’ve taken the plunge and upgraded to a full 16” wok, you’ll never go back.

The handles on this wok are Cantonese style, so they’re quite short and they get very hot. They’re very handy when it comes to moving the wok, but you’ll want to be very careful with them during or after cooking. Be sure to have pot holders handy for any adjustments in your wok’s position. When it’s time to serve food, you’ll probably want to keep your wok where it is and use utensils to place food onto other dishes.

You might think of using a loop handle for this, but i’ve got another suggestion for you on this case. For your 16 inch carbon steel wok you can use either a wooden handle or a helper handle. As wooden handles are prone to consume heat, it will work great on your wok. You can use a helping handle too as they work great on severy hot woks.

But there is a con to this wok. You need to note that isn’t a flat bottom wok and is 16 inches instead of 14 inches, this wok might not suit everyone. Which is why you should look a the best steel woks for you. A flat bottom wok or a steel wok with helper handle might cater to your needs as they are easy to use.

While this wok isn’t the right choice for everyone, it’s a stellar example of a hand-hammered round-bottomed wok. It’s fantastically large, solid, and absolutely incredible if you’ve got the space and equipment to handle a large, round bottomed wok.

– 16 inches Carbon Steel Wok with Helper Handle (flat bottom)

Available in both 12 and 16-inch styles, this 2mm thick carbon steel wok is absolutely perfect for almost every kitchen. It’s got a generous flat bottom, enabling you to use it on all types of ranges, and wooden handles that stay cool so you can move the wok around.

While it’s not obvious from the product description, this is a spun wok, meaning it’s got small circular ridges that keep food in place on the edges. This means that you can place food on the sides and it won’t slide down, enabling you to control the rate at which different pieces of food cook.

The flat bottom on this wok is suitable for electric ranges, induction ranges, and flat grills. Again, the product description fails to mention that the magnetic carbon steel works brilliantly with an induction range. It’s also amazing on a gas range, of course.

Despite the relatively low price of this steel wok, it’s made by American workers in San Francisco. If you’re looking to support American manufacturers, you don’t have to go all the way to All-Clad. Instead, consider this well-made wok at a much more competitive price.

While this wok is quite comparable to the Joyce Chen above, it’s a slightly better choice for some kitchens due to the welded handles. The Joyce Chen has removable handles. They’re convenient to remove, but you’ll need to tighten them every few months under normal use.This wok has welded handles in both the 14 and 16” styles, meaning you’ll never have to worry about them coming loose (or worse, you losing them somehow).

The helper handle is a prominent feature of this carbon steel wok. As the handles are quite short in other carbon steel woks,it would be quite intelligent to have a wok with helper handle. Upon being equipped with a helper handle, it won’t matter if you have hot water or Chinese dishes on this carbon steel wok. You can cook food without the constant worry of getting burned.

Like the 16” round-bottom wok above, the 16” version of this wok is quite large. Unlike the round-bottom wok, however, you don’t need any special considerations to use this one on your range. I firmly believe that the 16” version of this is the best choice for any kitchen that cooks large dishes often. If you prefer to cook smaller dishes, the 14” version is still an excellent choice. It offers all of the features you want while maintaining a competitive price.

But considering overall features you should opt for the 16 inch carbon steel wok over a 14 inches carbon steel wok. As the 16-inch wok comes with features such as flat bottom, proper heating, and cooling, the ability to work on both electric stove and gas stove you should opt for this good craft 16-inch wok.

THE BEST CARBON STEEL WOK

carbon steel frying pan, carbon steel frying pan reviewAll three of the woks recommended above are excellent buys under the right circumstances. If you’ve got a wok ring and like cooking big dishes, the round-bottomed 16” wok is absolutely the best choice. If you cook for family but you have an induction or electric range, or you just don’t want to fiddle with a wok ring, the 16” flat-bottomed model is the best choice for you. Finally, if you cook for a smaller number of people, either of the 14” woks will work wonderfully in the kitchen.

The key features offered by these woks are a result of their 2mm carbon steel construction. While two are spun and one is hammered, they offer the same end result: excellent heat distribution and the ability to use the sides without food sliding down.

With a bit of care, all three of these woks will last you for decades. The care is important, however. Make sure you strip the machine oil coating on your wok before you cook with it, and make sure you season it well before your first use.

Once you’ve done so, oil it lightly before you store it. It’s worth a little bit of hassle to keep your wok rust free. You’ll be able to use your wok to produce absolutely amazing stir-fries and other dishes whenever you want!

Having the best carbon steel woks at your disposal will rid you of the worry of your food being undercooked or overcooked. A good carbon steel wok means you won’t have to worry about a gas stove or electric stove. Your food will get proper heat distribution. It doesn’t matter if its a flat bottom wok or a round bottom wok as long as it maintains proper seasoning and serves your need.

With that in mind go ahead and buy the best carbon steel wok you can find. And the recommendations we’ve provided above will help you to choose the right carbon steel wok suiting your needs.

 

Peter Allen

Peter Allen

Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

Comments (1)

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    kathy

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    Absolutely brilliant explanation and description of what an induction pans is and also how you can test easily and quickly whether your pans are suitable for use on such a pans

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