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Wok Buying Guide
What is a Wok?
Due to their high level of popularity woks are in high demand. There is a wide range of products on the market and it is not necessary to spend a lot of money in order to get a high quality wok. When choosing which model is best for your needs there are several things you want to consider.
What will you use the wok to cook? A wok can cook a lot more than stir fry. If you want to use the wok for other things then you will want to ensure you have the right accessories which may include a lid, and inserts that can assist with everything from deep frying to steaming.
What Kind of a stove do you have? Gas and electric stoves can accommodate most woks. If you have an induction stove, you will need to make sure the wok will work on it. The other concern with stoves is whether you get a rounded bottom, which is the most commonly used in China, or a flat bottom, which is most commonly used in the US, to accommodate typical stove burners.
What material will the wok be made of? The material used will determine the care and maintenance of the wok as well as features like how fast the wok heats up and whether or not it is non stick. The material will also impact the total weight of the wok. For example cast iron is heavier than stainless steel models.
How many people will you be cooking for? This will determine the size of pan you need in order to cook for your family and friends. If you entertain frequently you may choose a larger wok in order to accommodate larger cooking requirements.
What kind of handle do you prefer? Woks come with two basic kinds of handles. They can have two short handles or a long handle on one side and a short handle on the other. Some handles do not get hot and others require the use of an oven mitt. Handles with wooden grips tend to stay cool during cooking and metal handles will get hot. If you are using a wok for other things beyond stir fry the handles will impact how easy it is to move. Soup, deep frying and other cooking methods can result in a very heavy pot that must be moved.
Features To Consider
Woks all come with the basic reverse dome shape but include different features which impact the way they cook food and the level of versatility the wok can provide. A few valuable features to look for include:
What material is the wok made of? Woks are typically made from one of three materials; carbon steel, cast iron or stainless steel. Carbon steel is considered the strongest and heats up the fastest. It also requires the most care and maintenance and must be seasoned regularly. Cast iron woks are the heaviest and also must be seasoned. They heat up faster than stainless steel and are naturally non stick as long as they are cared for properly. Stainless steel is the most popular material because it is easiest to clean and maintain. These do not need to be seasoned and are dishwasher safe. They however, lose their non stick properties when used in the dishwasher and heat up the slowest.
Skillet versus a Wok? Stir fry must be cooked at a high temperature. When you flip food in a skillet it transfers the food to the other side of the skillet where it instantly changes the temperature of the skillet. The wok is designed to draw food downward allowing the food to remain in the hottest concentration for effective searing. This reduces the amount of oil that must be used and produces better tasting foods.
Non stick coatings are impacted by the quality of the pan. Many non stick coatings found on standard cook ware are not meant for higher temperatures and can release chemicals and toxins into your food. Woks are specifically designed to withstand the higher heats and use non stick materials rather than non stick coatings to produce a surface that with crisp and sear foods properly.
Caring for the wok. Carbon steel and cast iron woks must be seasoned. They should not be used in the dishwasher and soaps should not be used. Do not use abrasive cleaners and was with hot water and a sponge. Because they are non stick they are easy to clean. If food gets stuck heat up water and let it rest for a few minutes and then wipe clean with a soft sponge. Dry immediately to prevent rust. Stainless steel woks are dishwasher safe but also must be dried immediately.
What size do you need? 13 and 14 inch woks are common and the perfect size for a single family. They can easily cook a meal for four in a single batch. For larger meals using two woks or a larger surface will give you greater cooking capacity.
How is the wok made? Woks are made in three different ways. The first if hand hammered which produces excellent woks but are hard to find today because they are hammered by hand. Stamped woks are made by cutting a single piece of metal and they pressing it into a mold to shape it. Three ply models compress two layers of stainless steel on either side of an aluminum core. This provides a strong wok and the aluminum core heats up faster and provides even heat distribution throughout the woks surface. Spun woks are built with a lathe and creates a ringed pattern inside the wok. This can help grip the food against the side of the wok.
Woks are a unique pan design that cannot be replicated by any other pot or pan. It is almost a cooking instrument in between a pot and a pan. It contains the high sides of a pot and the mass of a pan. This makes it extremely useful in the kitchen and allows you to get high heats for stir fry and searing and the depth for soups and deep frying. Regardless of the cooking you complete in your kitchen a wok will add to your arsenal and become a most valuable player among your pots and pans.