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Wok Shopping

  • CindyJ Jul 10, 2008 01:41 PM
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I know very little about woks, but now that I have a gas cooktop I'd like to get one. What do I need to know? Which wok should I buy... and why? Where's the best place to buy one? Should I buy the kit and the wok ring that are sold as accessories to my cooktop? (http://www.dacor.com/Our-Products/Acc... ) Thanks for your insight!

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  1. If you have a gas range you can get away without a wok ring. I have both flat bottomed and round bottomed woks and a gas cook top. Sometimes I find one more convenient than the other depending on what I am making.

    I recommend carbon steel woks, cast iron may be tempting but think about lifting and flipping or shaking. Not for my back. You can now find pre-seasoned woks. They have a blue-ish color and have been pre-seasoned with a very high quality veg. oil. Taylor and Ng are a good brand.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Candy

      How will a round-bottomed wok balance on the burner? The open space that would support the wok is very small.

      1. re: CindyJ

        The grids on your gas range will help to keep it steady. I'd only use a ring on a n electric range or flat surface range and then you wold not have good heat source contact and that would make me inclined to use a large skillet for better heat transference.

    2. If you have the BTUs and want an authentic Chinese stir-fry experience, I recommend that you check out the Wok Shop (http://www.wokshop.com) and look at their selection of hand-hammered carbon steel woks. They are the online outpost of a pretty famous shop in Chinatown, SF. They were mentioned in _The Breath of a Wok_ which is a really great cookbook you should also check out.

      You need to season carbon steel woks but there are directions for that. It's similar to cast iron skillet seasoning. Eventually the surface becomes non-stick with seasoning and use. I used to use a non-stick, flat bottomed wok but I really can't go back.

      I don't use a wok ring either but I have a BlueStar cooktop and the grates come out so you can drop the wok practically on top of the 22k BTU flame. It's great for stir fry but my hood can't keep up. If you get a single-handle wok you can use that with one hand to keep it steady. I find most wok rings raise the cooking surface too high to get the heat you are looking for.

      Good luck!

      -----
      Wok Shop
      718 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA

      4 Replies
      1. re: clean_freak

        Thanks to all for the great info.

        I checked out the Wok Shop's wares and picked out a flat-bottomed Helen Chen set. The only problem is... it appears that most, if not all, carbon steel woks have ALUMINUM lids. My kitchen is now aluminum-free so there is no place in it for an aluminum wok lid which will no doubt collect condensation during steaming which will then, of course, drip back down into the food, at least to some degree, resulting in aluminum in my food.

        Does anyone know of a carbon steel flat-bottomed wok with a carbon steel domed lid to match?

        1. re: ApartmentDweller

          Apartment,

          I think in this case, you can just buy a steel domed lid separately. You probably won't want a carbon steel lid since you cannot really season your lid like your wok.

          Here are some options I found for you:
          http://www.amazon.com/Joyce-Chen-Nons...
          http://www.amazon.com/Typhoon-13620-W...
          http://www.amazon.com/Cuisinox-COVE36...

          1. re: ApartmentDweller

            You breath a whole heck of a lot more aluminum then you'll ever get from cookware. If you're worried about aluminum, make sure to stop breathing.

          2. re: clean_freak

            Love the wok shop, I picked up a set when I was there last a few weeks ago. I stop by everytime I roll through San Fran

          3. I'm in your same situation with the same cooktop. General wisdom is that a round bottom wok is superior if you are only going to have one wok. My understanding is that you want the wok as close to the heat source as possible. I don't know if the Dacor wok ring will do this, and I'm wary about buying it considering the price. Somebody out there must have tried this out already.

            1. Let me answer your question one by one.
              1) What do I need to know?
              The best wok is made out of carbon steel or cast iron. By "best", I am referring to functional best. Carbon steel is light and nimble. Cast iron retains heat. Typical household cooks use carbon steel. Both woks require seasoning. Do you know how to season a wok? If not, here is a decent youtube video:
              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDp_2x...
              I use a slightly different method, but the method in the video definitely work.

              2) Which wok should I buy?
              I would go for carbon-steel, but you can go for cast iron if you prefer. It depends on your stir-fry style. Let us know your style and your skill. If you are new to stir-fyring, then maybe a nonstick wok is a good start. This way, you just have to worry one thing at a time.

              3) Where is the best place to buy one?
              Cindy, according to your profile, you live very close to Philly Chinatown. I live in NJ and I go there all the time. I would say the best options for you are a) local Asian supermarket stores, b) Philly Chinatown c) online store, like the Wok Shop. I used to live around San Francisco and I went to the SF Chinatown every two weeks and visited the real Wok Shop. Great people there. Although the Wok Shop prices are reasonable, the shipping fee kicks the total price up. I still buy my wok there, but that is for sentimental reasons. The Wok shop offers a nice selection. Mine is this one:
              http://www.wokshop.com/HTML/products/...
              I also attached a photo of my wok here.
              Another benefit of buying a wok from Wokshop is that the owner, Tane Chan, is a wonderful person and she will answer any question you may have about your products. I have emailed her back and forth on my Chinese chopping block for over 20 emails and she was not tired of replying. Ok, maybe she was tired, who knows, but she still replied. My point is that you will get some levels of support if you buy your wok from the Wokshop. Again, it is not the cheapest option for you, but it is a reasonable one.
              4) Should I buy the kit and the wok ring that are sold as accessories to my cooktop?
              Absolutely not, please do not buy from that website. You should not have to pay $160 for a wok and certainly not $80 for a wok ring. These are ridiculous prices. You should never have to pay more than $40 for a wok. On average, maybe $20 for a wok. The Wok Shop sells USA made woks for ~$20 if you prefer. For example, mine is made in US.

              Now here is a catch. If you absolutely do not know about woks and do not know about stir-frying, then maybe you should start with a nonstick wok. I cannot believe I am telling you to buy a nonstick wok because nonstick woks cannot be heated up to high temperature and therefore cannot do proper stir-frying. However, it is easier to learn stir-fry from a nonstick wok. I think it maybe a bit too much to try to learn stir-frying and learn seasoning a carbon-steel at the same time.

              Let us know more about your background. Thanks.

               
              29 Replies
              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                My original post is well over a year old. I did purchase a carbon steel wok, and I've got to say, I'm not loving it yet. Despite watching a couple of YouTube videos on wok seasoning, I don't think I did it correctly because the surface never became non-stick. It was "gummy" for a while, maybe because I used too much oil in the seasoning. I re-seasoned it, and it improved somewhat, but I've been tempted to toss it and start over with a new wok.

                I'm curious about your choice of a wooden handle over a metal handle on your wok. Any particular reasons? I really like the helper handle on yours. Maybe for the cost of a new one, I'll be much happier starting over. Is there a particular store in (Philly) Chinatown you'd recommend? Also, what size is the wok in your photo?

                1. re: CindyJ

                  Hi Cindy,

                  Yes, the seasoning thing can take some luck and skill at first. If you put too much oil (especially vegetable oil) then the oil never carbonizes well and instead turns into very sticky gummy substance. Basically, it turns into the same sticky oil residue you find next to your kitchen ventilation fan. It is a pain to clean it. You can sand the whole wok down with Scotch Brite and sandpaper, but sometime it may be easier just to get a new wok since these carbon steel woks are pretty inexpensive. I mean you can spend sometime it just take too long to get clean up the wok. It may take a whole hour or more to sand the wok down or you can just spend $20 to get a new one. I had tossed out a really abused wok, though I have also re-seasoned my woks as well.

                  There is little reason to get a wood handle over a metal beside personal preference. In theory, a wood handle has the advantage of a “warmer” feel. I definitely prefer to grab a wooden knife in winter than a stainless steel knife handle, but a wok is a cookware and it is going to be warm so it is a moot point. Another advantage of a wood handle is that it can have more traction, but mine is a seasoned laminated handle so it is not the case. In fact, the metal handle has one advantage over wood handle: you can put the entire wok in an oven to season. You can still season a wooden handle wok, but you need to warp wet towel on the handle and stuffs.

                  I used to have the large 16”, and then move to 14”, now mine is only 12”. The reason is that it is much easier to toss foods with a 12” wok. It is lighter and nimbler. Unlike most people, I would advise to get a smallest wok you can get by, as oppose to the largest.

                  There are at least two stores which sell woks. The first one is small but easier to find. It is the “Wayne Kee Hardware & Kitchen Supplies Inc”. It is on the Arch street and close to 10th street. Here is what it looks like: http://maps.google.com/maps/mm?ie=UTF...

                  The second one is larger and I forgot the name. It is also a restaurant kitchen supply store. It is on Cherry Street and between 10th and 11th street. I cannot get closer in the Google map, so this is the best image I can provide. It is in that alley. It is on the southern side of the Cherry Street, so it is on the left hand side in the photo:
                  http://maps.google.com/maps/mm?ie=UTF...
                  The moment you look into the store window, you know it is a restaurant kitchen store with really large plain looking cookware. It is completely opposite from Williams-Sonoma.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Sanding 'sticky' oil is completely unnecessary. Vegetable oil, when exposed to heat and air, over time, will first go translucent, then get dark and gummy and then harden completely. Gummy oil is just oil that hasn't been exposed to enough heat. It will season up perfectly fine if you put it back in the oven for a bit.

                    It's also a good idea to take your pans a little bit past the solid/non-sticky- at-room-temp phase, because they can still get sticky when they're heated.

                    1. re: scott123

                      I wasn't sanding the sticky substance. I know the gummy oil is oil that has not been fully carbonized. It is similar to oil around the kitchen ventaliation fan.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Unless I read your post wrong, you implied that too much oil will never carbonize correctly and that, once this happens, it has to be cleaned out (either by sanding or other means). I'm saying that any amount of oil WILL carbonize correctly as long as you're patient and give it enough heat and time.

                    2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      I disagree about the wok size. 12 inches is fine for one person, but if you want to cook for 2 or have enough for leftovers, it can be very limiting. I don't know how you toss the food, but a small wok also means that it's easier for the food to spill out. I guess it's easier if you want to flip the wok, but quick movements with a spatula is probably just as good.

                      1. re: Eivuwan

                        Eivuwan,

                        That is only true if you like to have a lot of leftover foods. I mean a lot. A 12" wok is more than enough to handle for 2 persons. By most definitions, a 12" wok is enough for 4 persons.

                        The Wokshop recommends a 12" for up to 5 people.

                        http://www.wokshop.com/HTML/products/...

                        A 9" wok is what is designed for 2 persons.

                        http://www.amazon.com/Calphalon-One-I...

                        I do not understand why a 12" wok is too small. A typical American cookset includes maybe a 9" and 12" fry pans and if a 12" fry pan is good enough for a household, then a 12" wok is certainly enough.

                        I would sincerely argue against having too much leftover for Chinese stir fry cooking. It just does not do it for justice.

                        The problem is that the Chinese stir-fry was never translated well into English. There are six or more stir fry techniques. Of which the most distinctive ones are Chao and Bao. "Chao" is what you described. Pushing foods around on a wok. However, there is the faster and hotter technique called "Bao". Here is the wikipedia explanation:

                        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stir_frying

                        If you read Chinese, search for "爆炒"

                        "Bao" is especially useful for meat. This is exactly why new Chinese cookers often notice their foods are not like the restaurant quality, especially meats. It has nothing to do with the ingredients, sauces, or spices.

                        I think if you appreciate "Bao", then you will understand why I argue for a smaller wok.

                        I do not share your experience on the fact that the 12" wok is very limiting. I owned and used 14" and 16" woks and I have a completely opposite experience. The 14" and 16" limited me as a cook.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          I agree. Some time ago picked up a very cheap 12" at World Market in carbon steel. The size is great for the two of us. Thought I would buy a better one if we liked it, but there is no need. After a marathon scrubbing to remove the lacquer it seasoned just fine and cooks well.

                    3. re: CindyJ

                      Cindy,

                      By the way, a seasoned carbon-steel wok is not going to be nonstick like a Telfon wok. It requires some oil to be nonstick, whereas a Telfon cookware requires nothing to be nonstick. Vegetables typically do not stick. It is always the meats. You will need to heat your oil almost to the point of smoking before adding meat. Do not stir your meats right away. When you add meats to a typical household wok, the food will suck a lot of heat from the wok and cool it down and if you flip the meats right away, then the wok will cool down too much and they will stick. The first stir will take the longest. You can still move your meats back and forth and side to side on the wok, but do not flip it. As the wok starts to heat back up (which is a gut feeling you will develop), then you can start to flip and toss your meats. The hotter the stovetop it can get, the easier this will be.

                      I would also start with more cooking oil than you prefer and cook once or twice under this condition. Once you get the hang of it, you can back off the amount of oil in your consecutive cooking until finally meats start to stick to the wok. This will get you a pretty good idea the minimal amount of oil you can get by.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        I've seen a "pre-seasoned" carbon steel wok. Any thoughts on that?

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          I cannot speak for all "preseasoned wok", but I have bought one for my friend as a wedding gift. Actually, I put a few things together as a gift and one of them is the preseasoned wok.

                          He said it didn't work and he had to sand/scrub the wok surface down to bare and reseason it, so I felt bad that I sent him a troublesome gift.

                          The one I bought him is this one:
                          http://www.wokshop.com/HTML/products/...

                          Again, this is not my personal experience and I am only speaking for my friend for one brand, so maybe there are other preseasoned woks which work fine.

                          Here is a list of preseasoned woks and it appears people like the preseasoned CAST IRON one.

                          http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss?url...

                          Keep in mind that a cast iron wok, like all cast iron cookware, heats up slowly and is heavy.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            I think cast iron would be too heavy for me. I guess just need to be more careful about seasoning the new wok (carbon steel) when I get it.

                            1. re: CindyJ

                              Cindy, Chinese cast iron woks are much thinner than American made ones. I believe it's because they're made through a difference process. They are also quite light. The only problem is that they might crack if you drop them. You can buy them from the wok shop. I have one and it works really well.

                              1. re: CindyJ

                                CindyJ,

                                Eivuwan is correct. Chinese cast iron woks are lighter than American cast iron woks. Nevertheless, the Chinese cast iron woks are heavier than carbon steel woks and more fragile. They are not meant to be use to flip and toss foods. By the way, Lodge makes a pretty well-liked cast iron wok. It is heavy, but here is the cool part. It is flat bottom outside, but round on the cooking surface. So it adapt easily on modern kitchen stovetop range.

                                http://www.amazon.com/Lodge-Pro-Logic...
                                t is heavy through.

                                I just came back from Philly Chinatown. The restaurant supply store is called "General Restaurant Equipment Supply‎". It is on Cherry Street. Unfortunately, it gears toward restaurants and sells many woks 2.5-3 ft wide. It has a few residental woks but not a lot. I would now say "Wayne Kee Hardware & Kitchen Supplies Inc" offer better selection of residental woks. I visit it today as well. It offers about 10 different kind of woks from carbon steel to cast iron to stainless...

                                http://maps.google.com/maps/mm?ie=UTF...

                                Again, you really do not have to go to Chinatown to get a wok. Many places offer carbon steel woks. But if you just happen to be there, it is not a bad thing to look around. I still look at different woks even I have no intention buying them. I look at cars too...

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  I'm going to be in NYC later this week and I'm hoping to be able to do some wok shopping there in Chinatown.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    Although I was planning on wok shopping tomorrow in NYC, I saw this one online, at a price that seems unbelievably low ($9.36). Even after I add in the shipping, it seems very reasonable. Any thoughts? http://www.ikitchen.com/006-97004.html

                                     
                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                      Cindy,

                                      I don't see anything wrong, but I have not used this one before. 2 of the 3 reviewers on Amazon.com like it:

                                      http://www.amazon.com/Kitchen-Carbon-...

                                      The third one does not like it because it comes with no instruction, but that is probably true for most carbon steel wok or cast iron skillet. They just don't come with a lot of instructions. I think this reviewer won't have like any other wok anyway.

                                      I have tried hold the Asian Fusion wok at Bed Bath and Beyond and I did not like its weight and its felt. It was just too heavy and the handle does not feel right.

                                      http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/produ...

                                      I think you just need to swing through NYC and hold a few woks in your hand and see if you like the feel and the weight. Carbon steel is a very mature technology. You are not going to have a carbon-steel wok cracks or melts on you, so it really come down to the feel. In term of performance, all carbon steel woks performance is really based on the seasoning surface (patina), so that depends on yourself more than the manufacturer. Have fun and keep us updated.

                                      1. re: CindyJ

                                        I know you've probably already bought another wok but I wanted to say if you just buy an Iwatani portable butane gas stove, it will SOLVE all the problems you've had with wok cooking. Well, apart from seasoning your wok incorrectly and everything sticking. Go with the lightweight cast iron wok, it's much easier to season (I actually season the woks for my buyers!) Lots who've used carbon steel and converted to using a lightweight cast iron wok LOVE it esp. texture and flavor. I responded to Chemicalkinetics, so go check it. It's really a good solution and that's what I teach when I give wok cooking classes! Folks are amazed how food turns out in my setup.

                                         
                            2. re: CindyJ

                              I discovered the commercial suppliers to asian markets in and around dc are open to the public and sell equipment like woks and steamers. i trolled them whenever i could and bought ingredients in addition to produce when there were cases alredy open. the prices were definitely good and the equipment athentic.

                            3. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              Cindyj, wish I saw this earlier to help you with your wok shopping! You're probably on your 3rd wok that doesn't work still! See my reasoning below...

                              Sorry chemicalkinetics, we've had this same conversation many times!

                              I can't believe you suggested a nonstick wok, it's dangerous to your health and will never have crispy, crunchy veg or sear meat apart from very important fact that the manufacturer warns you should NOT use it above medium heat because high heat degenerates the plastic coating and leaks into your food!

                              There is NO COMPROMISE, a lightweight, thin walled round bottom wok is the ONLY wok to use with a gas stove. If you have electric, I offer a portable butane gas stove. I am the only cooking teacher who offers all 4 elements to help people be successful! The right wok (preseasoned), high heat and cooking instructions on DVDs and good ingredients. It's not just one thing.

                              It's not how cheap a wok should cost. We keep going over and over this very silly notion that cheap is good. It's the experience and the knowledge and helping people be successful. You can get a cheap wok, so what if you don't use the right techniques or season it incorrectly which can make you sick? I see that's what happened to CindyJ in a comment below and in many other threads!

                              I totally disagree with using a one handle wok, it gets in the way and if a round bottom wok, when there's food in it, it tips over. I know numerous who've converted from using carbon steel woks and an electric stove to my cast iron wok and butane gas stove and LOVE IT, won't go back. What's the difference? EVERYTHING but most importantly, texture and flavor.

                              In fact, it's through these forums that many have found me and what I say makes sense to them.

                               
                              1. re: Eleanor Hoh

                                Hi Eleanor,

                                Thanks. Most of my previous woks actually worked, except maybe the very first one decades ago. The reason I changed from my two other woks was that I moved from 16" to 14" than to 12". I started to like smaller work because I started to use different technique which require to toss foods. There were two other woks that I bought that I didn't like, but those were for fun. I didn't like them, not because they don't work but because they don't have the right thickness. I was looking for.

                                <I totally disagree with using a one handle wok, it gets in the way and if a round bottom wok, when there's food in it, it tips over>

                                I like one handle wok. I tried two handles loop wok and I wanted to it, but at the end it was just too difficult to toss food with it.

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  Another vote for a wok with a handle. I happen to like the pow wok or peking pan. If the metal handle gets too hot, I just use a dishtowel or pot holder. I have an electric stove, so am used to using the flat bottom woks. Chem...I own all three sizes, and chose which one to use based on the dish I am making. My flat bottom hand hammered pow wok from e-woks is my sentimental favorite and gets the most use. As my choice in screen name suggests...after several years of use, it has its share of wabi. The other carbon steel woks from the Wok Shop, both the hand hammered and the US made pow wok are good woks as well.

                                  Has anyone any experience with the Debuyer woks? I'm curious about them.

                                  1. re: wabi

                                    Agree. I am glad the e-woks flat bottom wok is working well for you. It is my favorite wok. It simply has just the right size and right thickness of what I desire. Perfect in so many ways (for me).

                                    I have had the US made woks from the WokShop. They are very good too.

                                    No, I have not used the DeBuyer woks, nor have I heard much. The round bottom one looks fine, but the flat bottom DeBuer wok looks unusual.

                                    http://www.debuyer.com/images/product...

                                  2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    Hi there, well, smaller woks mean smaller batches of food so you have more success. There's no reason to toss the wok at home, this just makes the food further away from the heat. That's what the spatula is for. But if it makes you happy, go for it.

                                    No, the lightweight cast iron wok is not heavier than the carbon steel wok. I've used both and weighed them.

                                     
                                    1. re: Eleanor Hoh

                                      There certain are reasons to toss foods at home (or at restaurant). Spatulas cannot do what tossing can do regarding of evenly and quickly mixing the foods. In less than 1 second, I can toss the foods 2-3 times and evenly cook all the rice (or other foods) in a wok. Fried rice is an excellent example.

                                      Thin cast iron is not heavier than thin carbon steel, but thin cast iron is a lot more brittle than thin carbon steel. If you try to toss food in a thin cast iron, then you will eventually see it get cracked.

                                      This is why pow woks are almost never made with cast iron.

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        I will weigh in ( ;~) )

                                        I love my cast iron wok with flat bottom and round interior. It gets hot, retains heat on the sides to keep ingredients warm, and the weight acts like a third hand. I've posted this before, but it is an often overlooked advantage of cast iron.

                                  3. re: Eleanor Hoh

                                    Eleanor -- I've been "making do" with my carbon steel wok for years now. It never really got seasoned evenly, although I don't have much of a problem with foods sticking. But I'm really curious about the lightweight cast iron wok you're recommending. How does its weight compare to a similar size in carbon steel? The weight is an important factor for me; in fact, I use the "helper handle" on my wok when I'm emptying the food into a serving dish.

                                    Can you offer a link to the lightweight wok? And do you REALLY season woks for your customers? Please say more about that.

                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                      < How does its weight compare to a similar size in carbon steel? The weight is an important factor for me>

                                      Cast iron has the same density as carbon steel (more or less). Thin cast iron woks weight the same as carbon steel woks. They usually have similar thickness.

                                      http://wokshop.stores.yahoo.net/wokca...

                                      you can probably find them in your local Asian supermarkets or local Chinatown....etc.

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        Hiya, ChemicalK! I wasn't thinking about replacing my wok until I saw the updates to this post. But if thin CI weighs about the same as carbon steel, I might as well stick with what I've got.