Types of Woks

A good wok is one of the most versatile pans in a kitchen. Beyond being the best choice for a stir fry, it’s also the ideal vessel for deep-frying, steaming, and indoor smoking. Not all woks are created equal though. They come in many sizes, shapes, metals, and handle arrangements.

Carbon steel is the best choice of metal for a wok; it heats quickly and evenly, is highly responsive to burner input, is durable, inexpensive, and when properly cared for, will end up with a practically nonstick surface. The steel should be at least 14-gauge (about 2 mm thick) and it should not bend when pressed on the sides.

Traditional woks have a deep bowl shape designed to fit into a circular opening directly over a hearth. Unfortunately though, round woks won’t work on an electric range and are tough to use on a gas range—even with a wok ring. On the other hand, woks with bottoms that are too flat defeat the purpose of a wok, making it tough to flip properly and to move food in and out of the high-heat zone.

The best choice is a wok with a 4- to 5-inch flattened area at the bottom with gently sloping sides that flare out to between 12 and 14 inches. This gives plenty of high-heat space for searing meats and vegetables at the bottom while still providing ample volume and room to maneuver when flipping.

There are two choices for handles. Cantonese-style woks have two small handles on either side, while Northern-style have a single long handle and sometimes a smaller helper-handle on the opposite side. The large handle facilitates flipping and stir-frying, while the short handle makes it easy to lift. Interestingly anything other than a Cantonese wok is considered a ‘Northern wok’.

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