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Why Wok?

Would love some opinions--

I just bought a pow wok from the Wok Shop in San Francisco. I'm excited to get it seasoned and start using it--but my husband just asked, why use a wok? What does it do that our other cast-iron or stainless steel pans can't? I realized that I didn't have a great explanation. Anyone want to help me out?

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  1. You may want to post this on the Cookware board
    Wiki explains some of them near the end of the page

    1. It's easier to stir fry, because based on its curved shape you create different temp zones (e.g. center is hottest, edges or cooler) which helps in stir frying veggies, meats, and esp. veggies and meats in combo.

      1. Consider finding a copy of Grace Young's Breath of a Wok. She defines so well, why the wok is perfectly suited for the recipes that are in that, and many other , books.

        1. You can also deep fry and make soup.....

          1. It's the only single pan or pot in your kitchen than can do almost anything. And for all that, it's pretty cheap.

            1. It's got a greater surface area than a saute pan. I hate steamed/boiled cabbage and brussel sprouts. If I fry them in a saute pan, it is too crowded and the greens don't get fried properly.

              1. As chefj allued to, it's about achieving what the Chinese call "wok hei". If you've had any great Chinese food in Chinatown that's been stir fried in a hot wok, you'll know what I'm describing. It's the super high heat from the wok that creates intense maillard reactions on the food.

                The problem with wok cooking at home is that most burners are not powerful enough to do the job correctly. Most of the foods we stir-fry release alot of water as they begin to cook, which lowers the temperature of the wok. This means the food stews in the liquid and juices that will inevitably accumulate. The burners in most professional chinese kitchens are really strong and keep the wok temperatures well above boiling point so that moisture never builds up.

                That doesn't mean the wok doesn't have other uses and functions in a home kitchen.


                1. A wok functions differently than a fry pan for many reasons. The short answer is that a wok is better for Chinese stir fry. Stir fry is a bit of a confusing term anyway, because Chinese wok cooking involves 8 major techniques, and most people refer only 1 or 2 of the techniques as stir fry.

                  "The term stir-fry was introduced into the English language by Buwei Yang Chao, in her book How to Cook and Eat in Chinese, to describe the chǎo technique"


                  Anyway, back to your wok. The curvature of a wok allows you to easier toss foods. If you ever toss foods, then you will find it is much easily to toss and move food in a wok than most other cookware. Remember. Much of the wok surface is not for cooking. It is for maneuvering the food.

                  The curvature of a wok also allows two other things. First, the heat is concentrated at the bottom. This allows very high heat cooking for short duration as you toss the foods in the wok. The foods will be moving in and out of this very high zone. Second, the cooking oil concentrates at the bottom. This means you can use very small amount of oil to stir fry a relatively larger amount of food.

                  Finally, it is also a very useful tool for deep fry too. Let's say for some reasons you want to deep fry just a few pieces of chicken. Ordinarily, you will have to use a lot of oil to fill up a sauce pan to do this, but with a wok, you can use much smaller amount of oil to fry a pieces of chicken.

                  At the end, it is about how you use your wok. You can use it in a way that no cast iron pan can do what a wok does. Or you can use it in a way that any cast iron pan can do the same thing. It has a lot to do how use your wok.

                  By far, I think the easiest demonstration is fried rice. You can never make fried rice the same way in a cast iron pan vs a wok.


                    1. But some of us, sadly, bought older houses with electric ranges in them...it impedes my wokking.

                      Any tips for better wok use on an electric top? Just had to replace the hot water heater AND furnace this year, so I'm not up to the expense of re-doing the oven/stove to gas (though I'd sure like to as a frequent home cooker).

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: HillsofBeverly

                        <bought older houses with electric ranges in them>

                        I have used electric ranges for a long time. It can work. You can either use a flat bottom wok to capture most of the heat, or you can use a wok ring which allows you the full motion of moving foods around a round bottom wok.