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buying a wok

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what makes a good wok?

if you were making a checklist to ensure someone wasn't buying a terd (roughly 90% of consumer products are garbage that falls apart and status symbol junk), what would be on it?

do you need (or ever use) a lid?
is a long handle bad for some reason?
why do cast iron woks even exist?

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  1. Carbon steel.

    Lid? Yes, nice to have.

    Now pick it up. Feel comfortable in your hand? Too heavy? Find another one. Too light? Keep looking. Get one that you can pick up and work with -- with ease.

    It's a piece of cookware. Not a wedding dress. Don't sweat it too much.

    1. <what makes a good wok?>

      Carbon steel and thin cast iron are both good. I prefer carbon steel. It should be more than 1 mm thick, but does not have to be thicker than 3 mm. A hand hammered wok is great. I have one.


      <if you were making a checklist to ensure someone wasn't buying a terd>

      It somewhat depends what you want to do with a wok. If you want nonstick, but don't mind cooking at low temperatures, then you can even use a nonstick Teflon wok. If you like to cook watery food, and rarely cook proteins (meats), then you can even use a stainless steel surface wok. However, if we are talking about real Chinese wok cooking with high heat and tossing food, then you really need to go for carbon steel woks. The real first question for yourself is: What do you want to do? That you have to answer for yourself.

      <do you need (or ever use) a lid?
      is a long handle bad for some reason?
      why do cast iron woks even exist?>

      Lid -- nice to have.
      A long handle -- there are two styles of wok. The Cantonese (Southern) style and the Peking (northen) style. I don't know what you like.
      Cast iron exist because it is one of the two best material for woks. The better question is: Why does an enameled cast iron wok exist? Or Why does a copper wok exit?


      1. I prefer cast iron. Be aware that there are two types: the massive, sometimes porcelain coated so-called woks (like those made by Le Creuset) that in fact should not exist, and Chinese style cast iron woks that are wafer thin and every bit as good as steel.

        As for long the long handle, if you want to toss the food by flipping it in the air like a fried egg, you need a long handle. Otherwise, either style will do.

        Lid. If you want to use your wok as a steamer. Otherwise, no.

        And don't even think about getting a non-stick wok. High heat and chemical coatings do not play well together.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Zeldog

          <sometimes porcelain coated so-called woks (like those made by Le Creuset) that in fact should not exist>

          Maybe it is not illegal, but definitely immoral.


          P.S.: You know sometime is seriously messedup when a wok is described in volume (Quarts)

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            I know what you mean, I have an LC bare cast iron wok, not like the one in the photo, and while it is morally dubious it suits me. Perhaps because it's morally dubious it suits me.

            And on your PS, reading this site down in Australia when people talk of quarts etc for LC and other dutch ovens really confuses me. All the pots we have down here have the circumference on them and no mention of volume. I'm old enough to be able to immediately convert inches to cm but volume eludes me, especially when I have no idea of the volume in any unit.

        2. I thought the reason to use cast iron woks is because most home ranges don't get hot enough to really wok but you can get the same effect with cast iron because cast iron does such a good job retaining heat.

          1 Reply
          1. re: SeaKoz

            Not for thin cast iron. For thick cast iron, then what you said is true. For thin cast iron, you aren't going to get that much more heat capacity. So the whole idea of "storing heat" in the cookware does not apply.

          2. flat bottom versus round?????

            i'm not worried about accidentally getting a le creuset. abject poverty takes care of that one.

            3 Replies
            1. re: j8715

              Depends what stove you have. If you have an electric stove and a weak one, then a flat bottom wok may be the way to go because the flat bottom allows better theraml conduction and sit steadily on an electric stove. If you have a gas stove or that you have a moderately powerful electric stove, then a round bottom wok is better because of better food handling.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                round it is. my gas stove burns things pretty easily on low.

                1. re: j8715

                  Get a long handled version one size larger then you think you want. I'm using a turkey fryer with mine and wish I had more space even though I only cook for one most days.

                  Larger ones are easier to flip IMHO too. Also, don't forget the wok spatula. It's pretty easy to "toss" stuff with the spatula and great for heat control too.

            2. Does anyone know if there is a difference between a "mandarin style" wok and a "pow" wok? They both have handles but I'm not sure if it is a matter of the angle of the handle or not. I see both on Amazon. Thanks.

              1 Reply
              1. re: seamunky

                I believe they refer to the same style.

              2. The true value of a wok comes with how well you cure it. And unlike anything else in this world I can think of, it seems to me that the cheaper a wok is, the more likely it is to be an excellent wok! Would that all else worked that way. Flat bottoms work best on electric, round bottoms and a wok ring work best on gas. And you reverse the ring for hotter or less hot cooking. And for me, carbon steel is the ONLY way to fly! Good luck!

                1. My suggestion would be to read Grace Young's book, "The Breath of a Wok", and take a look at her web site. She's the "Stir Fry Guru" and gives lots of great wok advice.


                  1. Good woks are built to withstand high heat, develop a seasoned-on non-stick surface, and be able to handle almost any type of stovetop cooking.

                    My checklist would be: 1) carbon steel with reasonable heavy gauge/thickness; 2) riveted construction connecting handle; and 3) some flat bottom surface (yes, woks come with flat bottoms and no they don't have to be big flat surfaces, just enough for the wok not to wobble if set on another flat surface).

                    I use both a lid and a splatter screen. I use the lid primarily when trying to trap heat to speed up cooking. Steam-frying with water and just a hit of oil benefits from lid-trapped heat.

                    I prefer long handles because I my high power burner puts out 18k BTUs. The handle allows for easy handling without requiring use of mitts or silicone to move the wok around.

                    Cast iron woks work best on outdoor cooking where burners can go even higher than 20k BTUs. Cast iron's very easy to clean once seasoned properly, but it's too heavy for wok use in any useful size.

                    I have a traditional hand-hammered wok that a friend from China gave to me as a gift (her family comes from a village that makes them by hand), but I now use a DeBuyer carbon steel chef's pan instead about 99% of the time. It does everything a wok can and more, but it's built better. It's a bit heavier, but I prefer that as I often cook in batches or with meat separately (for vegetarians) and the DeBuyer retains heat during changeovers much better.

                    1. Another vote for carbon steel here. I'm still using the carbon-steel wok I purchased in a little Asian grocery store back in 1974. Still going strong, & has a lovely seasoned non-stick surface. Cover is a necessity in my book - particularly if you plan on doing any braising or steaming.