If there\’s one piece of cookware that\’s often underrated for its versatility, it\’s the wok. Originating roughly 2,000 years ago in China during the Han Dynasty, the wok is probably most associated with certain Chinese-style dishes—and yet, it\’s capable of much more than that. Though it\’s true that woks are the best tool for making stir-fry, woks are also suitable for making soup, stew, steamed fish, eggs or even popcorn. The word wok itself means \”cooking pot\” in Cantonese, and it really is as versatile as that broad name implies.
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Where western frying pans offer good heat retention while cooking, woks really shine when it comes to heat reactivity. This allows them to both heat up and cool down quickly—although you shouldn\’t have trouble maintaining a high temperature if that\’s what your dish needs. This reactivity is perfect for cooking large batches of meats and vegetables, and because the bottom gets much hotter than the sides, it\’s easier to control the level of doneness of certain ingredients. With a variety of styles, sizes and materials, there\’s a wok for almost every kitchen.
What to Consider When Purchasing a Wok
Round Versus Flat Bottom: Traditional woks, as found in professional kitchens, are designed for cooking over an open flame. Each has a round bottom that creates a hotspot in the center while making it easier to stir ingredients. However, round-bottomed woks require a special stove with a burner designed to cradle a wok. You can also use round-bottomed woks on your home gas stove, but you\’ll need a special ring to allow your burner to hold the wok. As such, flat-bottomed woks are easier to use at home without extra equipment and work on both gas and electric stoves.
Mandarin-Style Versus Cantonese-Style: Mandarin-style woks more closely resemble a skillet in that they have a long extended handle, and occasionally a second short handle on the opposite side. Cantonese-style woks, on the other hand, have two short curved handles that allow you to grip the wok with two hands. Mandarin-style woks are likely to be easier to use for those accustomed to western-style frying pans.
Materials: Cast-iron was the original material of choice when woks first originated, but nowadays, in addition to cast-iron, you can find woks made from carbon steel, stainless steel or with a nonstick coating. Carbon steel has similar properties to cast-iron, such as heat retention and durability, but it\’s also lighter, less brittle and more responsive to changes in heat. Like carbon steel, cast-iron is extremely durable and can be used on virtually all cooktops. However, it requires some extra care to maintain its seasoning. Stainless steel is a good option because of its resistance to damage. Nonstick woks are easiest to clean—but usually support a lower maximum cooking temperature than woks made of other materials.
Stovetop Type: Consider the type of stovetop you have at home. Round-bottomed woks give stir-frys that restaurant-quality finish, but require a special gas stove setup mainly found in professional kitchens, so they\’re not as easy to use in most home kitchens. Flat-bottomed woks, on the other hand, work on gas, electric and induction burners without any extra equipment, so they\’re better geared towards home kitchen use.
Size: Woks generally range in size from 10 inches to 20 inches in diameter, but 20 inches is quite large for a home stovetop and better-suited to commercial kitchens. For home use, 12 inches to 16 inches offers enough cooking room for most families without making storage too difficult.
Heating Capacity: While restaurant kitchens that specialize in wok cooking often cook at extremely high temperatures (frequently exceeding 700 degrees Fahrenheit), most home stovetops don\’t reach temperatures quite as high. With that said, most carbon steel, cast- iron and stainless steel woks on the market can withstand temperatures reaching or even exceeding 500 degrees Fahrenheit, which is adequate for most home cooks. Nonstick woks, however, have a lower threshold, sometimes not even reaching 400 degrees Fahrenheit, so they\’re not the best for authentic Chinese restaurant-style cooking.
With these considerations in mind, here are the best woks on the market in 2022:
The Best Overall Wok
Calphalon Premier Non-Stick Flat Bottom Wok
$109.99 at Amazon
This high-quality flat-bottomed wok from Calphalon combines several desirable qualities that you\’d typically find spread across multiple wok types. Made from hard-anodized aluminum and featuring a triple-layer interior, it\’s nonstick and yet able to withstand higher temperatures—up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit on the stove or 500 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven—more than the vast majority of nonstick woks. Its specially-textured surface is perfect for searing and imitating the char-kissed wok hei effect of traditional Chinese wok cooking.
Another advantage is the relatively small surface area of its flat bottom compared to the sides, meaning your ingredients are less likely to pile up and burn. Measuring 13 inches in diameter, the wok comes with a low-profile tempered glass lid, so you can also steam ingredients. As if that weren\’t enough, the wok requires no seasoning or special maintenance. The only downsides are that you can\’t use it on induction cooktops and that its second, smaller handle can get really hot.
The Best Carbon-Steel Wok
Yosukata Carbon Steel Wok
$59.99 at Amazon
Made from carbon steel, this wok works on open flames as well as gas, electric and induction cooktops, so you don\’t have to worry about whether or not it will suit your kitchen. It comes pre-seasoned at temperatures over 600 degrees Fahrenheit, so its heat threshold is on the high end for non-professional woks (however, it still requires full seasoning with oil). Measuring 13 1/2 inches in diameter, the wok features a flat bottom that doesn\’t require any additional equipment and sports an ergonomic wooden handle that provides a comfortable grip. The body of the wok has been designed to gradually change in thickness, resulting in more even heat distribution.
The Best Cast-Iron Wok
Bruntmor Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Wok
$46.95 – $64.95 at Amazon
This Cantonese-style wok is made from super heavy duty cast-iron and features a flat bottom and extra-wide handles on two sides. Measuring 14 inches in diameter, it\’s safe to use on any gas, electric or induction stovetop, as well as the oven, at temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. It comes pre-seasoned and is ready for immediate use. The only caveats are that it\’s quite heavy (13 pounds) and its two looped handles can get very hot.
The Best Stainless Steel Wok
Anolon Tri-Ply Clad Stainless Steel Stir-Fry Wok
$77.92 at Amazon
The durable three-ply construction of this flat-bottomed wok consists of an aluminum core encased in layers of stainless steel. It features higher-than-average rims that not only help with heat retention but also make your ingredients less likely to accidentally slip out. It\’s on the smaller side for woks, measuring 10 3/4 inches in diameter, but it\’s usable on gas, electric and induction cooktops (as well as the oven) up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The one thing it doesn\’t have going for it is a nonstick coating—it requires a bit more cooking oil than you may be used to using in order to minimize sticking.
The Best Nonstick Wok
T-fal Nonstick Wok
$40.30 at Amazon
When T-fal says \”nonstick,\” they\’re true to their word. Made from an aluminum base with a Teflon nonstick coating (it\’s also available in an advanced hard anodized nonstick coating for double the price), even the stickiest ingredients like sliced mushrooms will slide off easily, making it easy to plate dishes and clean up. It measures 14 inches in diameter and features both a long handle and a stay-cool helper looped handle to make carrying easier. The only downside is that its heat threshold is a fair bit lower than that of many other woks—only 350 degrees Fahrenheit—so while you can still cook a variety of foods with it, you may not be able to reach the temperatures necessary for a truly authentic Chinese-style stir-fry. However, the whole thing is dishwasher-safe, which is a nice plus.
The Best Wok for Professionals
Craft Wok Traditional Hand-Hammered Carbon Steel Pow Wok
$59.75 at Amazon
If you want something that can stand alongside what the pros use, this carbon steel wok is our choice. Hand-hammered by Chinese professionals in Guangzhou, it features a round bottom that works best for quick, high-temperature dishes, just like in a professional restaurant. However, it will require you to modify your stove with a wok ring like this one and it\’s not usable on electric or induction cooktops, so it\’s not for every kitchen. It also doesn\’t come pre-seasoned. Measuring 14 inches in diameter, it includes both a wooden-grip handle that remains cool even when cooking at very high temperatures, as well as a looped helper handle. This wok may be better-suited to consummate chefs with professional equipment, but if you\’ve got the right setup, it\’s your best bet for restaurant-quality searing and stir-frys, to be sure.
The Best Electric Wok
Breville Hot Wok Pro™
$169.95 at Breville
For those without a cooktop or anyone who prefers working away from the stove, this plug-in electric wok has your name on it. The Pro model represents a significant upgrade from the standard Breville Hot Wok™, not in the least because its extra power enables it to cook hotter and more quickly than before. Among its other pluses, it features a QuanTanium coating on the aluminum bowl that\’s durable, scratch-resistant and nonstick. It also boasts a generous 8-quart capacity—two whole quarts larger than the previous model. Not only is it great for stir-frying, but also for making fajitas, steaming vegetables and even frying up chicken wings—it\’s really quite versatile. Measuring 15 inches in diameter, it includes two cool-grip handles and is dishwasher-safe. The only caveat is that it takes up a fair amount of counter space.