Woks come in such a rich array of shapes, sizes, and materials that making a choice is challenging. A high-quality pan is reliable and versatile. It is great for stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming, and even smoking indoors. You need a perfect combination of material, production method, shape, and handle.
The best woks are made of carbon steel. Their surface is heated quickly and evenly. The professional wok range by Yosukata provides durability at a reasonable price. If you care for your pan properly, it will have a virtually non-stick surface. Recommended models are around 2 mm thick (14-gauge).
Stainless steel is found at the other end of the spectrum. Not only is this material too heavy, which makes maneuvering difficult. Heating up and cooling down also requires a lot of time. For tasks involving quick heat changes (e.g., stir-fry), this is nothing short of a disaster. Moreover, food, especially products rich in protein, sticks to the surface.
Cast iron has its benefits and drawbacks. First, heating up and cooling down is also relatively slow. If the iron is too thin, the wok is too fragile for heavy use. On the other hand, thick durable pans are extremely heavy. The upside is a better non-stick surface.
Finally, non-stick woks are another poor option. Their coatings are too weak to withstand the stir-fry heat. The chemicals vaporize, so you will end up breathing harmful fumes even before heating the wok to the necessary temperature. Browning is a challenge. Lastly, it is impossible to get the food to stay in place when you need to clear some space in the middle.
Woks can be produced in three ways. The cheapest method is stamping. This is when a round piece of thin carbon steel is machine-pressed into a mold. These pans are perfectly smooth, which complicates stir-frying. They are usually made of low-gauge steel. It is not uncommon for them to develop cold and hot spots, or feel flimsy.
The best woks are hand-hammered. This method leaves minor indentations, which facilitates cooking. You can easily push cooked food to the sides to add ingredients. On the downside, it is next to impossible to find a perfectly flat bottom.
The final option is spun woks, which are manufactured on a lathe. The concentric circles left by the equipment provide the same benefits as indentations, so you can easily move food during cooking. Some of these models come in heavy gauges, with convenient handles and flat bottoms.
Traditional models are bowl-shaped. Steer clear of round-bottomed woks if you have an electric or gas stove. At the same time, the bottom should not be too flat either, as this makes flipping difficult. Your best bet is a pan with a flattened area between 4 and 5 inches in diameter. The model should also have gently sloping sides flaring out to 12 — 14 inches.
Finally, pay attention to the size of the handle. Choose woks with a single long handle on one side and a smaller helper handle on the other. These are known as the Northern-style models. The first handle is perfect for flipping and stir-frying, while the shorter one helps you lift the pan.
The performance of woks made of carbon steel and cast iron improves with time. Some of them come with a protective oil film. This prevents rusting and tarnishing in the store. Note that the layer must always be removed before use.
- Scrub the surface with hot soapy water and dry it thoroughly.
- Place the wok over a burner and turn the heat up to maximum until you see smoke.
- Turn the pan around, exposing every area to maximized heat.
- Finish by rubbing the pan with oil — use a paper towel and tongs for the task.
This is enough to get your brand-new wok ready for use. Scrubbing is only required during the preparatory stage. Doing this after cooking is not a great idea — scrub your pan only when it is absolutely necessary. Woks need gentle care.
Normally, rinsing and rubbing down with a soft sponge is enough. Do not be afraid to use soap provided that your wok is properly seasoned. After rinsing it, use paper towels or a kitchen towel for drying. Vegetable oil rubbed into the surface prevents rusting, and it ensures a vapor-proof coating.
Gradually, oil heated in a wok breaks down. The polymers penetrate tiny pores on the surface of the metal, giving it non-stick properties. As you use the item repeatedly, its material will change color — first from silver to brownish, and then to deep black, which is your goal.