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Hammered iron woks....

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I'm mulling over a wok and given the relatively cheap price I am quite seriously considering a hand hammered wok.

I know there are lots of so called hand hammered woks that are not hammered by hand, but what I am looking at is indeed something pounded out of a sheet of metal by hand.

The description of these is that they are "iron woks". I have seen discussions here about cast iron versus carbon steel and I was more inclined to try and find a carbon steel wok. Now I am no metallurgist by any means but my understanding is that cast iron and carbon steel both come from firing iron ore in a blast furnace. Cast iron is basically the relatively impure molten product coming out of the blast furnace and has about 4% carbon. Carbon steel also comes from this molten product but is further purified and ends up containing between 0.3 - 2% carbon.

So....both cast iron and any kind of carbon steel still contain predominantly iron.

My understanding is cast iron is meant to be quite brittle....which for me suggests it is unlikely to be a metal that could be hand hammered.

So my question is....the so called "iron woks" that I am looking at ....are they likely to behave like carbon steel woks or cast iron woks? I realize this is most likely splitting hairs etc. but I just want to know what the deal would be here.

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  1. If it's hammered, I would say it's wrought iron, not cast iron.

    The unrefined product of a blast furnace is pig iron.

    2 Replies
    1. re: GH1618

      The unrefined product of a blast furnace is pig iron.

      Um hardly

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pig_iron
      Wrought iron is no longer commercially available
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrought_...

      1. re: Dave5440

        Wikipedia? Come now. Wikipedia is an authority on nothing.

        "Pig Iron. The first step in the manufacture of iron and steel is to extract the iron from the iron ore, which is mined in various parts of the world. This is done by means of the modern blast furnace. The molten iron accumulates at the bottom of the furnace and is drawn off into sand molds and allowed to cool and form short, thick bars known as pig iron. Pig iron is then used as the source from which other kinds of iron and steel are made."

        From the following:

        http://wroughtworks.com/types-of-iron...

    2. Cast iron cannot also be hammered, I think, because it is cast and cooled in that shape.

      I think that the idea of hammered woks being better is mainly from a sense that the irregular surface facilitates piling items onto the edges of the wok as you focus heat on other items near the center. But I think the effect is minimal. My favorite wok is a 16" cast iron Chinese wok (thin rather than Western thick cast iron) available at the wok shop. It has a kind of rough texture that accomplishes much the same effect:

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

      But for a beginner, I always suggest a 14" carbon steel wok with a long handle and helper handle:

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

      I suggest you call Ms. Chan at the Wok Shop for advice. They have everything, including at least two styles of hand-hammered.

      1. I have one and will be receiving another hand hammered wok. Beside the carbon percentage, cast iron cookware are "cast". Carbon steel cookware are not.

        1. Dave,

          You are right. Cast iron cannot be hammered or otherwise shaped at ambient temperature. It can be shaped when heated red hot, and that's wrought iron, but there's no such thing as a wrought iron wok. If you see a wok advertised as "iron", it most certainly is cast iron, unless the seller is trying to pull on over on you.

          "Hand hammered" woks are a subset of steel woks. They all start out stamped from a sheet of steel. Some are then put through a second step in which a hydraulic press uses a ball peen (rounded hammer) to stamp a pattern of dents into the wok. I've never been to a wok factory, but I'm willing to bet "hand" means some factory worker used his or her hands to move the wok from the stamping press to the hammer press. The pattern on all the woks I've seen is just too perfect and too deep to have been done by a human person of normal strength swinging a hammer.

          As for your final question: the performance of steel (hammered or not) and cast iron is very similar. I read somewhere that the only point of hammering is to make a rough surface that lets you push food items up and down the side of the wok to increase or decrease the heat, but that's exactly what the rough surface of cast iron lets you do, and much better than hammered steel. I did try a hammered wok for a few weeks, but I found the dents made no noticeable difference. Another thing to consider is cast iron is much easier to season and maintain than steel.

          As for the Wok Shop, absolutely the best source. I live in SF and they are the first place I look to for woks and miscellaneous Chinese cooking implements. Family business, nice folks.

          One final thing to keep in mind. If you have an electric or induction stove top, your only option is a flat bottom steel wok (and I don't think there's a flat bottom hammered wok) . Round bottom woks just won't work on those stoves.

          9 Replies
          1. re: Zeldog

            Thanks Zeldog, Paul and everyone. Very helpful comments. SF is a great city but I live in Switzerland - I've certainly checked out the wokshop website and even written asking them if they ship internationally. No response yet.

            But I am thinking of them more for some of their implements and accessories. The wok I am looking at would come from Shanghai and I do believe it is being made by 2 guys pounding out some kind of metal from round sheets after heating. The end product is described as an iron wok, hence my curiousity.

            I'll be going round bottom and this is going to sit outside on top of a serious (about 85,000 BTU) wok burner.

            As I said at the top I knew my original post was probably splitting hairs....cooking performance is likely to be very similar to CS and so whatever the exact type of iron (I am tending to think it is wrought) the cooking performance is likely to be just fine. Possibly a bit easier to season I suppose.

            Thanks again everyone for all your help.

            Dave

            1. re: dave_in_gva

              Did you end up getting your wok? You mentioned "The wok I am looking at would come from Shanghai and I do believe it is being made by 2 guys pounding out some kind of metal from round sheets after heating." I was just curious if these guys sold online? I'd love to see their products. Do you like your wok?

              1. re: StinkyFeetMendoza

                Looks like Dave has not been posting since Jan 27 (that was his last post), so I will add my comments here. You can buy hand hammered wok online from e-wok.

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/834821

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Sorry, I don't post here much but have been following this thread.

                  So unfortunately I do not have this wok yet. I have a friend who is making occasional trips to Shanghai and I was thinking he could pick it up for me. On the other hand, the link CK posted may be a faster way to get there.

                  Best,

                  Dave M

                  1. re: dave_in_gva

                    :) Good to see you around.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Thanks CK. I read your entire review thread and my interest in this was reawoken. I wonder if you, or anyone else here has any particular suggestions for an induction cookstove for a wok that I could place on our (vitroceramic) stovetop, and store when not in use?

                      I live in Switzerland, so would be needing a 220V model. I do see some on amazon.de that are 3.5kW and are running a bit over 200 €.

                      Best,

                      Dave M

                      1. re: dave_in_gva

                        Induction for woks is tough. All I know is that you will need a specialized induction cooktop, like these:

                        http://www.appliancist.com/cooktek-in...

                        but I have no specific recommendation.

                        toddster63 and cacruden were exchanging idea of portable induction wok units. Maybe this will be useful:

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8348...

                        On the other hand, you most likely can just use your wok on a vitroceramic (along with a wok stand).

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Yes thanks I saw their exchange and am now thinking about that option.

                          For me here in Switzerland either a portable induction cookstove top or a Manniu butane burner would cost about 300€.

                          Buying just a wok ring for our vitroceramic top would be less than 10€ so may be the place to start.

                          D

                        2. re: dave_in_gva

                          Hi Dave,

                          I was also considering to buy a MANniu burner but there are damn expensive on the german site :/

                          Maybe try a charcoal bucket stove outdoor like andy rickers

                           
            2. http://www.wokshop.com/HTML/products/...
              has both 'iron pow' and 'carbon steel pow' woks, plus cast iron.

              As you say, cast iron has a relatively high carbon content (4-5%), which makes it hard but brittle, and best suited to casting thick items.

              Further refining, and working as a blacksmith might (heating and pounding) removes most of the carbon, producing an iron that is tough and ductile. This wrought iron can be worked into elaborate shapes, including pans and woks. iron pow woks are probably made from this.

              Steel has a intermediate carbon content, making it as strong as wrought iron, but harder. With modern refining methods this is cheap, and readily available in thin sheets. This could be formed into a wok using a mold and press, or could be hammered into shape. But the steel does not have to be thinned.

              In the past, if not now, wrought iron woks started with a thick piece of iron, which was thinned at the same time it was being shaped. You see that sort of thing when a blacksmith demonstrates making a blade from an iron billet. Back when steel was much more expensive, blacksmiths would weld iron to a small piece of steel in such a way that the steel formed the hard edge of the blade, while the iron formed the backbone.

              There are many more iron alloys. The addition of chromium and nickle to add rust resistance makes stainless steels (with names like 18/10 18/0 18/8). Highly corrosive and high temperature applications (like the inside of jet engines) require even more elaborate and refined alloys (superalloys).

              1. http://www.ironcasting.org/Gray%20Iro...
                is an article that probably tells you more than you (CK excepted) ever wanted to know about gray iron, the iron most common used for casting. It is gray because much of the carbon is actually in the form of graphite.

                3 Replies
                1. re: paulj

                  Paul,

                  You are an engineer, right? :) You know more about these things than I do. I got a hand hammered wok from Williams Sonoma. I kinda regret now. :P

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Regret it why?

                    1. re: GH1618

                      I don't know. I went to Chinatown today, and the stores there seems to offer a better price. Anyway, I bought another hand hammered wok from the Wokshop. I will see how these all compare.

                2. http://tinyurl.com/psc695f Asian Origins Cast Iron Wok

                  I purchased this wok a few weeks ago at Costco. It is described as being cast iron, not hand hammered. I have no idea if iron can be hammered into a wok, but this wok is definitely iron. I had to buy a new wok because I bought a new induction cook top.

                  I've used this wok and it work well. I does exactly what I understand a wok is supposed to do, which is cook food quickly at high heat.

                  Whether hammered or cast (actually the texture of the interior reminds me of spun aluminum) I think an iron wok is a good thing.

                  Mine is a good weight too. Not too heavy or light.

                  1. I bought an iron wok at Costco very reasonably. I am still learning to use it properly on my induction cook top, but it seems to work like a carbon steel wok does.

                    Since it is so reasonable, why not just buy one and try it? If you want something else, you can easily give it away or donate it. These are not all that expensive, and there is not need to wonder about them, the way you might wonder about a $250 enamel braiser.