There is almost no method of cooking that is as entertaining as cooking in a wok. From the high heat to the flipping of the contents, just watching someone use a wok is nearly as good as the final dish. It’s clear that woks do not look like any of your other cookware, so what are woks made of?
What is a Wok
A wok is a bowl-shaped cooking pan that is used, especially when preparing Asian meals. It originated from China, but spread to other countries.
Woks are now used all over the world. The most popular dish usually made in a wok is stir fry.
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History of Woks
The wok originated from Asia before spreading to other parts of the world. The first ones were pottery models. It was first in use during the Chinese Han dynasty, where it was used for drying grains.
During the Ming dynasty, it became popular for stir-frying. The wok has been in existence for over two thousand years.
Benefits of Using a Wok
Cooking using a wok is quite different than using a traditional skillet or cooking pan. Here are a couple of the best benefits of using a wok.
1. Uniform Cooking
The wok has a round bottom and sloping sides that allow heat to distribute uniformly. This allows food to cook evenly. The shape provides a larger surface area compared to a frying pan.
It is suitable for cooking tough meat and hard vegetables. With the even heat distribution the chances of hot spots are nearly eliminated, allowing foods in the wok to finish cooking at the same time.
2. Large Size
A wok is large compared to normal frying pans. It can handle large volumes of food due to its high edges. You can toss around your stir fry without having to worry about your ingredients leaping out of your pan. Now try that with your average frying pan?
Are Woks Only Used For Stir Fry?
Woks are more versatile than you may think even though the history of woks mainly consists of the pan being used for stir fry. The deep shape of the wok allows it to be used for so much more.
- Boiling – Rice or other foods
- Braising – Especially useful for reducing sauces
- Deep frying – Woks can especially handle high heat and the deep sides prevent splashing
- Steaming – Add a lid and you can steam seafood or veggies
- Roasting – You can make the best roasted nuts in a wok
What Are Woks Made of?
We now know that woks are capable of so much more than most people know. But what are woks made of that make them stand apart from other cookware?
1. Carbon Steel
Carbon steel is a commonly used material since it is cheaper compared to other materials. It is also light; hence it heats and conducts heat faster. Being lightweight makes it easy to handle.
Another great thing about carbon steel woks is that this material is magnetic. The magnetic nature allows this type of wok to be used on induction ranges. In order to use on an induction range, be sure to purchase a carbon steel wok with a flat bottom.
It is essential to season the cooking surfaces of a carbon steel wok so food doesn’t stick or have a metallic taste and odor. Woks made from carbon steel come in different styles, quantity, and price. Cheap woks get deformed easily and lose their shape, while they can also make cooking difficult.
Handmade woks are of higher quality. They are made into shape using hands by hammering them together with two or more sheets. They are then shaped into a final form through the hand forging process.
2. Cast Iron
Cast iron woks take longer to heat due to the thickness of the material. On the plus side, once they heat up, they hold on to that heat much longer than other wok materials. They can make stir-frying a little, mainly because of their heaviness.
Cast iron woks are extremely durable. Much more so than the carbon steel wok.
But just like the carbon steel wok, it will require seasoning. The more these woks are seasoned, the more non-stick it eventually becomes.
One of their other characteristics is that they respond slowly to any heat adjustment. When I take a wok off the fire, it continues to cook the food as cast iron woks take longer to cool.
For this reason, when I cook food using a cast iron wok, I must transfer the food to another pot or container to prevent it from overcooking.
3. Stainless Steel Woks
Woks that are made of stainless steel material are durable and have an excellent and attractive appearance. It has a very smooth surface making it easy to clean.
It has excellent performance and it is less porous compared to woks made of other materials. Unlike carbon steel and cast iron woks, they do not require seasoning to achieve outstanding performance.
Why You Shouldn’t Buy a Non-Stick Wok
It is essential is that the bottom of a wok is extremely hot to cook a proper stir fry. This requires that the the food be stirred onto and off the hot areas of the pan. This way, it is possible to brown the food and add flavor without burning it.
The level of high heat that you need is just not possible with a nonstick pan. High heat on a non-stick pan destroys the Teflon and can release carcinogens onto your food.
Basically, purchasing a non-stick wok is defeating the purpose of wok cooking. My suggestion is to do yourself a favor and get a real wok made of carbon steel, cast iron or stainless steel. If wok cooking intimidates you, a great cookbook to get started with is entitled Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge.
Types of Woks
The two commonly used woks are the Cantonese Wok and the Mandarin Wok. We details the differences between the two below.
1. Cantonese Woks
Cantonese Woks have U shape handles located on both sides. They are useful when serving large quantities of food or when cooking large amounts of food. The shape of the handles makes food difficult to flip.
2. Mandarin Woks
The Mandarin wok is the type that most of us are accustomed to. The have a distinct round bottom and one long handle that is made of wood or metal.
I can easily flip food when stir-frying using the handle. The handle also allows me to easily carry the wok around and serve food to my guests.
To make my cooking easier and also get maximum benefit from my wok, I incorporate a couple of accessories. They include:
1. Wok Rings
I sometime have access to a wok range but when I do not I use a wok ring as an alternative. The round bottomed shape of the wok can cause wobbling.
The ring prevents the wok from wobbling, thereby making it stable when cooking. A majority of rings have holes that allow heat to escape from the pan when there is excess heat.
2. Wok Covers
A wok cover prevents oil and juices from splashing outside of the wok. Besides, it maintains the heat in my food, which would otherwise have been lost.
Wok covers come in different shapes and sizes with a majority having a dome shape. The dome shape allows free circulation of air and prevents the loss of moisture.
Our Final Thoughts On What Are Woks Made Of
Woks are made of a few different materials, ranging from the reasonably priced carbon steel to the more expensive cast iron. As the history of woks goes back to a couple thousand years, their usefulness has been more than proven. To have a unique and authentic cooking experience, I recommend that you give a wok a try.
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