What Makes A Good Wok?
Many factors must be taken into account when determining what makes a good wok. These include the material, shape, size, style and so much more.
But not only must you take into account the different types of wok available when you’re looking to make a purchase, but also what you’re going to be using it for and how frequently.
What Is A Wok?
Firstly, let’s establish what a wok is? A wok is a deep, traditionally round-bottomed dish that originated in China over 2000 years ago, during the Han dynasty, but is now found to be popular in many countries worldwide. The name ‘wok’ is derived from the Cantonese word meaning ‘cooking pot’ and they have always been designed to be durable and long-lasting.
What Is The Difference Between A Wok And A Frying Pan?
Whether you simply enjoy cooking in your home kitchen or are a budding professional, you’ll likely have wondered about the difference between cooking with a wok and a frying pan at some point. While they look somewhat similar, they are designed for very different purposes.
While a traditional frying pan has a flat bottom and shallow, slightly sloped edges, a wok traditionally has a round bottom. This is because frying pans have been designed to allow oils and sauces to sit across the whole of the base of the pan, while woks encourage liquids to sit in one central spot. They also have much deeper walls, which help to trap in heat and cook foods more quickly than using a frying pan alone. This also helps keep food in the wok when tossing it.
What Is A Wok Used For?
Woks are for stir-frying, braising and, in conjunction with a bamboo steamer, for steaming. A wok is designed to be used in circumstances where you need to constantly stir your food, as opposed to a frying pan which is more suitable for soft foods such as fragile meats that need to be seared. This is why woks are particularly renowned for use when cooking a stir fry, with high edges that allow you to stir easier without food spilling over the top edges.
What Materials Are Woks Made From?
Carbon Steel Woks
Most modern woks are traditionally made from carbon steel. This is a lightweight, inexpensive and most importantly extremely durable material that heats up quickly and evenly, making it ideal for cooking.
In countries outside Asia, carbon steel woks with a non-stick coating have become very popular over the last 25 years, as they prevent the need for seasoning carbon steel. These days, non-stick coatings are extremely safe. Recently, some manufacturers have been offering pre-seasoned woks, which is very much the best of both worlds.
Cast Iron Woks
Cast Iron is another common material that offers many benefits of its own. One of the biggest benefits of using cast iron cookware is that will last a lifetime, offering incredible durability that offers exceptional value for money. However, while cast iron can provide indisputable longevity, it does require some attention to detail. For a start, it is a heavy material, that can make it hard to toss food in. The metal must be regularly seasoned, by infusing a layer of carbonised oil into the metal. Because the material is porous, the oil will penetrate quickly and stay there for a long time. The benefit of this is that it creates a nonstick effect, meaning you’ll never need to use a non-stick spray on a cast iron wok.
However, the disadvantage of using a porous material is that other materials can seep into it as well. This means that you should typically not wash with soap and water, since the soap could get into the metal and then leak into your food. Soap can also remove the iron’s seasoned layer, affecting the nonstick properties.
How To Season A Wok?
The purpose of seasoning a wok is to produce a nonstick effect which negates the need for additional oil or non-stick sprays and makes cooking simpler. But how do you actually season your wok?
School of Wok has put together some fantastic guides on how to care for their woks, including this useful video demonstrating how to effectively season a wok.
- 1. Scrub your wok with a metal scourer to remove the anti-rust layer off. This ensures it is clean and a little bit of detergent may be necessary at this stage
- 2. Burn your wok, twice. The first burn will take it through all of the colours of the rainbow, before leaving it a matte grey colour. Set your hob to a high heat in order to do this and ensure that you are burning the wok evenly.
- 3. Coat the wok with a high heat oil, such as vegetable or sunflower oil. Apply this coating with a suitable cloth rather than pouring large amounts into the wok itself.
- 4. Burn the wok once more. On a high heat, allow the oil to smoke up. Once the oil stops smoking, this part of the wok has been effectively seasoned. Make sure to burn the oil all around the wok.
A well-seasoned wok will no longer appear glossy and will have a matte finish instead, indicating that it is ready for use. If this all sounds like too much trouble for you, then check out our new pre-seasoned wok, where you get all the benefit of the carbon steel experience with none of the hassle.
What Size Wok Is The Best For Me?
The rule of thumb is that you will always need a bigger wok than you think. 10 inches is perfect for 2 people, 12 inches for 3-4, and 14 inches for 4-6. The key is not to try to cook too much food in the wok at one go, as it will lose the ability to stir fry. Best results come from cooking small quantities at a very high heat, and quick speed.
Cooking With Carbon Steel vs Cast Iron
As these materials both contain such widely different properties, they cook very differently. Due to its thickness, cast iron will often take longer to heat up, but this also helps it to distribute heat more evenly.
On the other hand, carbon steel heats up very quickly and is convenient for when you need to hurry, but most of the heat is retained at the bottom.
As a general rule, most dishes prepared in a wok are designed to be cooked quickly. In a restaurant setting, many chefs will tend to use carbon steel as it’s much more efficient when compared with cast iron alternatives.
Round Bottom vs Flat Bottom Woks
Traditional woks have a round bottom which means, on a modern flat stove, only a small portion of the material will be touching the base and therefore heat can be more difficult to obtain. A solution to cooking on a gas hob with a round-based wok is to use a ‘wok ring’, a simple ring of steel that provides a secure base for the wok over the heat source. Some chefs find that flat bottom woks, which are a more recent invention, simply aren’t as effective because they do not allow the food to be stirred as effectively meaning food is less likely to be as evenly cooked.
Our Range Of Woks
Here at Dexam, we have a wide variety of woks available for sale. No matter which type, style or shape of wok you’re looking for, we have something for everybody and you’re sure to be delighted with the variety of products we have available.
From induction woks, to cast iron and carbon steel, non-stick and ceramic woks, we’re proud to stock a wide range of products to offer our customers plenty of choices, while also ensuring that every product on offer is of the highest quality.
If you’re looking for a traditional cast iron wok with a rounded bottom, take a look at our authentic Chasseur Cast Iron Wok’s here.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a more modern, reliable option, our 12” School of Wok Non-Stick Carbon Steel wok could be just the thing you’re looking for.
Which Wok Is Best For Healthy Eating?
Our Skinny Wok is an excellent solution for healthy eaters who wish to enjoy delicious Asian dishes. This carbon steel wok features a dimpled internal surface that spreads oil thinly and evenly, producing healthier meals. Able to reach high cooking temperatures and suitable for all hob types, including induction hobs, it is perfect for stir-frying or flash frying and can cater for 3 to 4 people.
Heavy Duty Woks
We have recently launched a successful range of heavy-duty woks, which we have found to be a good compromise between light carbon steel and cast iron. Thicker than our original range of woks, with a gauge of 1.8mm, this wok is ideal for stir-frying and flash-frying as its thicker gauge maximises contact with the hob and therefore reaches higher cooking temperatures more quickly.
Get In Touch
Not quite what you’re looking for? Check out our full range of woks available here.
Any questions? Please feel free to get in touch with a member of our team today to find out more about our products.