A popular, all-purpose Asian pan, it is distinguished by high, sloping sides, resembling a bowl. Hammering looks nice, and does not make a wok better. Expect a carbon steel wok to turn dark (to oxidize) with repeated use; this is a desirable quality.

The traditional wok is 14 inches in diameter and is made of carbon steel.

Iron woks take a long time to heat up, but hold the high heat very, very well.

Stainless steel’s inherent qualities make this a poor metal for a wok and also make it much more expensive.

An electric wok is an inefficient and expensive alternative that, with few exceptions, is best avoided.

Non-stick surfaces are unnecessary and don’t last long.

Aluminum gets hot all over and considered overkill.

If you have electric burners, you may need to use a flat-bottom wok in order to get enough heat. Or turn the ring to the side that keeps the wok closer to the burner.

Round-bottom woks are best for flame burners. Use a wok ring to keep them stable on the burner.

The idea is to have a hot spot at the bottom of the wok, where the actual cooking takes place. The sides are used to rest the food that is cooking at slightly cooler temperatures. Moving the food about gives you great control and versatility, while enabling you to cook each food perfectly to enhance its flavor and retain its nutrients.

Combined with a bamboo steamer, woks are ideal for steam cooking and, with a tempura rack, make excellent deep fryers or tempura pans.

  • carbon steel wok (uncoated woks)

  • Before cooking with your new wok, it is important to clean off the protective coating from inside the bowl. The coating will cause no harm but might taint food of not fully removed.

  • First heat your wok over low heat with a small amount of cooking oil (any oil except olive oil) ? this will burn off the protective coating.

  • Then scour the wok thoroughly, inside and out, with a brillo pad or something similar. Rinse and dry thoroughly over heat. Rub the inside of the wok with oil, using a kitchen towel and heat for 20 minutes to season. Your wok is now ready for use.

  • The wok will have a blackish hue on the bottom underneath. As it is used more and more it will become blacker and blacker ? this is a normal condition for a well-seasoned wok. It will in effect give you a natural non-stick surface.

  • Never wash your wok in soapy water ? always use hot water to clean and soak if necessary. Dry thoroughly and finish with paper towel or cloth, or even put back on low heat to totally dry. You can rub a drop of oil onto the interior surface and put in a plastic bag to store when not in use.

  • If your wok becomes rusty it is because it has not been dried thoroughly or has been left to soak for too long. This is not a problem; just repeat the scouring and seasoning procedure.

A flat nonstick skillet cannot come close to matching the degree of proficiency and pleasure the wok provides in stir-frying, not to mention the flavor enhancement a well-seasoned wok is capable of imparting. In a wok, you can toss vigorously and with great satisfaction without the worry of splattering and spilling of food particles over onto the stovetop. With a good, deep wok, your stove will remain much cleaner after stir-frying than when a flat skillet is used. Try stir-frying a big batch of leafy greens, such as chard or spinach, and you’ll see what I mean.

Because tossing is easier in a wok (uses fewer muscles too!), food is cooked more evenly and is less likely to burn. Of course, maintaining a high degree of heat is essential in stir-frying, so knowing how to adapt the wok to your stovetop is a key to success in its usage. For most home cooks preparing meals for two to four people, most stovetops provide sufficient heat for successful stir-frying.

Each stovetop differs. On some, the wok balances well enough on the grate without the need to use any special stand. For greater stability when stir-frying on such stovetops, simply hold on to a wok handle with one hand while tossing with the other.

On other stovetops, the grate may be removed and a wok ring fitted down onto the indentation of the burner to bring the wok as close as possible to the heat source. Many people use their wok rings inefficiently. The wok is better balanced and brought closer to the flames if the wider end of the ring is placed facing up.

Wok rings come in different sizes and depths, so find one that fits the burner you plan to use for wok cooking. Do not settle for the ring that comes with your wok set; if it does not fit your stove, hunt for one that will. Check Asian markets near your home.

Wok rings also come either with open sides or closed sides with a series of small holes around the ring. The latter type is especially important if you have an electric stove as it helps concentrate and direct heat. Wire rings with open sides work best for powerful gas burners (10,000 b.t.u.'s or hotter), allowing air circulation to nurture the flames.

Select a wok that is deep and well-rounded, made of heavy carbon-steel for maintaining good heat and for easy seasoning. Flat-bottom woks are now commonly available and though they provide good balance on flat stovetops, I still prefer the old-fashioned round bottoms. It is much easier to remove all particles of food from round woks without scraping the seasoning, enabling you to stir-fry two or more batches of food without having to clean in between batches.

For a successful stir-fry, always start by heating a wok before adding anything to it. Wait until the surface literally begins to let off smoke. Then dribble in the oil to coat its surface and wait a short while longer to allow the oil to get hot. Now you may begin your stir-fry. The rule of thumb is: always add cold oil to a hot wok and never cold oil to a cold wok. Pre-heating before adding oil will prevent food from sticking. It will also ensure that the oil does not burn and smoke up your kitchen before the upper surface of the wok is heated. You may also avoid the risk of burning in overheated oil the garlic and onions, which should be added early on to flavor the oil, and in turn for the oil to flavor the meats, seafoods or vegetables to be stir-fried in it.

Listen to the sound of food cooking in your wok. The sizzling should be loud and lively. If it slows down, slow down also on the stirring as this can dissipate heat. Spread the food up along the heated sides of the wok rather than lump them in the center. Stir only as needed to cook food evenly and prevent burning. For an average home stove, try not to stir-fry more than a pound to a pound and a half of meats or seafoods at a time.

With an average-size wok and a hot burner, you can cook for two, four, six or even eight, but if you use a flat skillet, you will need different size pans for cooking different quantities. A large skillet is inefficient for stir-frying small amounts and is more likely to burn food should you try to do so. On the other hand, using a small skillet to stir-fry a large quantity of food will likely mean a messy stove when you are through.

Besides stir-frying, a wok is an excellent and very safe utensil for deep-frying. It provides a wide area to work with and makes it easy to scoop up crisped food quickly with a large wire-mesh strainer-spatula. Because of its shape, the oil is far removed from the flames, such that even if a few drops dribble over the sides, they do not endanger the remaining oil inside. Just be sure to fill the wok no more than two-thirds with oil.

For Asians who love their fish whole, nothing works better than a wok in frying a whole fish. A standard 14-inch wok can easily fry a one to one-and-a-half pound size fish, browning it evenly from head to tail when tilted from side to side during cooking. If you love to entertain and do not yet own a wok, I advise you to acquire the next larger size - a 16-inch wok, which can fry fishes large enough to feed six to eight with ease.

A wok this size can be used to cook for two just as well as for eight to ten. Of course, to stir-fry large quantities of food at once, it helps to have a gas range with burners that have an output of at least 10,000 b.t.u.'s. Many of the newer gas stovetops provide at least one burner with this heat capability. As greater numbers of people discover the joys of cooking, more companies are making more powerful gas ranges available to consumers.

A well-seasoned wok is worth its weight in gold. Not only will food not stick to its blackened surface, flavors are greatly enhanced. It is as if the wok has stored memories of the many meals it has cooked and calls on this storehouse of experience to enrich the food it is now asked to cook.

Season a wok as you would any cast iron pan by brushing the surface with oil and baking in a medium oven for an hour. Or do it stovetop, by alternating heating and cooling of the wok surface, each time brushing in a new layer of oil following heating and allowing the layer to burn in before cooling. Until the wok turns completely black, wash only with water and no soap, and dry by heating over the stove rather than wiping with a towel. Season by burning oil onto the surface before putting away. This will prevent the wok from rusting. Probably the best fat to use is lard ? traditionally when you bought a wok you were given a piece of pig fat to season it. I have also used peanut oil. Polyunsaturated oils are not recommended as they can make the wok very “gunky.”

If you have an electric stove, you might find that the flat-bottomed woks work better, but because the wok shovel is intended for a round-bottom, you might substitute with some other implement (such as a wooden spoon) that would not scrape off the seasoning at the corner where round sides meet flat bottom.

Make sure you season the wok well: the same way you would season a cast-iron skillet. Once it is seasoned it will have a wonderful black patina: of course never scour a wok as this will take away your hard-earned seasoning! Lard is an excellent choice for seasoning. Peanut oil also will give acceptable results. Never use your wok for steaming as this will quickly remove the patina. Re-season frequently, as necessary, until a permanent coating of black is achieved. Always heat a wok BEFORE adding any oil for your stir-frying ? this will season the wok before each use and prevent food from sticking to the surface. Clean only with water and a soft sponge ? do not wipe dry but dry instead with heat on the stove-top. If the wok surface appears dried out, re-season quickly before putting it away so that it will not rust.

As for where to purchase a wok, you ought to find stores in your local Chinatown that sell a wide variety. Most Asian markets sell woks of varying sizes. Look for one that is heavy and deep, made of carbon steel. It will be coated with machine oil to keep it from rusting. Rinse away this oily covering before seasoning with cooking oil.

A stainless steel wok (it does not season and food is more likely to stick to the surface) is not a good choice when buying a wok. Also stay away from teflon coated woks (they do not heat up very hot) and NEVER an electric wok!