Woks are one of the staple kitchen cooking equipment which have been around for more than a hundred years. Often involved in Asian cuisines, especially Chinese, they are used in a variety of cooking purposes which include deep-frying, stir-frying, steaming, and even baking.
While they are often made of different materials, carbon steel woks have been known to be among the best choices due to their non-stick nature and even conduction. Apart from that, woks offer a number of advantages which are as follows:
- They use less oil compared to other pans
- They come with a larger space which would allow you to cook recipes in bulk
- Ideal for deep frying, steaming, and sautéing
- Perfect for preparing fried dishes, both veggies and non-veggies
Table of Contents
I. Our Top 5 Picks for Carbon Steel Woks
II. History of the Wok
A wok is a piece of multipurpose cookware first used in China. With deep sides and a flat bottom, the vessel can be used for a wide variety of recipes.
The wok spread from China throughout Asia and it’s now commonplace in kitchens the world over.
The exact origins of the wok are unclear. It’s believed, though, that pans resembling a modern wok were introduced during the Han period coming from either south Asia or south-east Asia.
The word “wok” is English and it’s derived from the Cantonese “wog” or “wok”. This Cantonese word comes from the Mandarin words “Guo” or “Kuo.”
While woks commonly now have a flat bottom, they first came with a rounded bottom. Rounded models don’t work well on electric stoves, though. That rounded bottom doesn’t come into full contact with the heating element hence the redesign for the western world.
It’s estimated that woks have been part of Chinese cookery for two thousands years or so. What, then, are these vessels actually used for?
Cast iron woks have been the traditional choice but carbon steel is being increasingly used. We’ll look at the differences in materials after glimpsing at what you use a wok for.
III. What Is a Carbon Steel Wok Used For?
A carbon steel wok can be used for a broad spread of cooking applications including the following:
- Stir Frying
- Deep Frying
Whipping up a stir fry is simplified with a great carbon steel wok.
Chop all your food in advance when stir frying since the process is so swift. You should aim to cut the food into roughly similar sizes. This ensures that everything cooks evenly and at the same time. A bite-size chunk is a decent benchmark.
Heat the wok on high for a few minutes before adding your cooking oil. Use 2 tablespoons of your preferred oil and make sure the whole surface is coated. Olive oil, sesame oil, peanut oil and safflower oil all work well since they have a high smoke point.
If you notice a little smoke at this stage, that’s normal. Too much smoke indicates that you’ve overheated the wok so dial it back next time.
Add your food bit by bit. Don’t just chuck everything in and hope for the best. Cook ingredients with dramatic flavors first. This will infuse the oil wonderfully. Push these ingredients to the edges of the wok when they’re cooked and add a single layer of protein. Once this is almost cooked, remove it and set aside along with the aromatic ingredients. Power through cooking the hard veg first. Move on to the medium-weight vegetables and finish up with the soft, leafy veg that cooks through in no time.
Once all the vegetables are stir fried to your liking, return the protein and aromatic ingredients to the wok. Deglaze the wok with soy sauce, coconut milk or stock.
As you stir fry, you should constantly move your food around as it cooks using a thin metal spatula.
If you plan to steam in a wok, you’ll need a rack or basket so your food is suspended above the water.
Make sure you place all the vegetables in a single layer to promote even steaming.
A traditional bamboo steamer basket is highly effective as it absorbs surplus moisture and keeps it from dripping back into the food and making it soggy. If you use this type of basket, line the bottom with some parchment paper to stop food sticking. A cabbage or lettuce leave serves the same purpose if you prefer.
Boil some water in the wok. Use roughly 2 inches of water so that the level reaches roughly halfway to the basket you’re using. The food should sit slightly proud of the water.
Make sure you use long-handled tongs when dealing with the steamed food.
Woks work brilliantly for deep frying thanks to the concave design.
Add 2 inches of oil. Under no circumstances fill the wok more than halfway. Use cheap, flavorless oils with a high smoke point. Peanut oil, safflower oil and canola all work well.
Heat the oil using a thermometer to check it’s at the correct temperature for frying whatever you have in mind. If you don’t have a thermometer to hand, dip a chopstick into the oil. You’ve hit the right temperature when you see steady bubbling. Too much bubbling indicates you’ve overheated the oil while too few bubbles mean you need to go hotter.
Add food in evenly sized pieces in stages.
Use a slotted spoon to move the food around in the oil. This ensures everything is evenly cooked.
Remove the food when it’s a golden brown color. Soak up the surplus oil on a paper towel before serving.
Season and serve up your deep fried delicacies.
This is by no means the limit of what you can do with a carbon steel wok. You’ll also be able to smoke and braise food but this is outside the scope of what most people use woks for.
Now you have a sound overview of just some of the ways you can cook up a storm with a wok, what material should you choose?
IV. Carbon Steel vs Stainless Steel vs Cast Iron Wok
Woks are normally found in 3 materials:
- Carbon Steel
- Stainless Steel
- Cast Iron
You should completely disregard stainless steel woks. Not only are these woks too heavy, they take ages to heat up and cool down. Food also sticks to stainless steel so it makes a poor choice.
While cast iron is slightly more effective, it can be quite flimsy and also takes much too long to heat up.
This leaves you with the connoisseur’s choice: carbon steel. What makes this material such a strong option for woks, then?
Benefits of Carbon Steel Woks
- Affordable: While woks come in at a range of price-points depending on the brand and overall quality, carbon steel woks are cheaper as a rule so you’ll get superior value along with show-stopping performance
- Lightweight: Carbon steel is much lighter than cast iron or stainless steel. If you’re planning to do a lot of stir frying, the last thing you want is a bulky and heavy wok that’s awkward to maneuver. You’ll be able to lift and toss with abandon if you roll with carbon steel so you’ll end up less tired and also stay safer while you’re cooking
- Rugged and Durable: Despite being lightweight and easy to move, you won’t end up stiffed in terms of durability. Carbon steel is remarkably strong so you won’t end up with any unsightly chips or cracks. Investing in a carbon steel wok should give you cookware built to last for years. If you season it properly, this might be the smartest investment you make this holiday season
- Super-Swift Heating and Conduction: Carob steel woks heat up in a flash. This is great if you’ve got a busy lifestyle and you’re disinclined to stand around waiting in the kitchen. Unlike a stainless pan, you’ll also find the heat is conducted optimally so you’ll use less energy while guaranteeing your food is cooked consistently and evenly every time.
- Completely Safe: Carbon steel is built to withstand high temperatures without warping. You’ll also be protected from toxins leaking into your food. After all, what’s the point of a veggie and protein-dense stir fry if you undo all that good work with a wok that ends up creating health problems?
As with any product, it’s not all smiles with carbon steel.
You will need to carry out some basic maintenance to prevent rusting and spotting from spoiling your wok. Clean it immediately after use and make sure you dry the wok thoroughly before storing it.
Carbon steel woks are generally not dishwasher-friendly even if the manufacturer claims they are.
If you cook lots of highly acidic ingredients – we’re thinking tomatoes and lemons – carbon steel doesn’t work so well. Why is that? Well, these ingredients will break down the non-stick coating on your wok so use alternative cookware when you’ve got acidic foods in the mix.
Overall, though, these minor drawbacks are more than compensated for by the shower of advantages you’ll enjoy if you treat yourself to a carbon steel wok.
We mentioned seasoning your wok and this is an essential step you should not overlook. How do you go about seasoning a wok, though, and why should you bother?
If you’re not good at selecting the right product on the market or simply don’t have the knowledge on how to choose one, then you’re in luck! We have taken the liberty of doing market research and came up with our list of the 8 best carbon steel woks which we believe are the best on the market.
V. Top 8 Best Carbon Steel Woks
1. Our Pick – Mauviel Black Steel Wok
We consider the black steel Wok from Mauviel as our top pick, and it’s all for the right reasons. Owing to its extra-thick carbon steel construction, the Mauviel black steel wok is excellent at conducting heat, allowing you to sear food and brown veggies and meat with the utmost ease and perfection.
It also comes with a steel handle which is quite lengthy, though it can get really hot after a while. Over time, the wok tends to darken due to the buildup of its natural non-stick film. In such a case, you will have to season it first before using. Fortunately, its aftercare requires little to no soap while cleaning.
Weighing at just 6 pounds, the Mauviel wok is very lightweight, allowing you to flip and sear food with ease. It’s fairly huge at 20.9 x 11.8 x 3.8 inches and has a flat base which allows it to be used on just about any stove.
Things We Like:
- Comes with a flat base perfect for all types of stoves
- Excellent heat conduction due to its carbon steel construction
- A thick body which allows for even longer heat retention
Things We Dislike:
- A bit too expensive, but a great buy nonetheless
- Doesn’t come pre-seasoned
2. Craft Wok Carbon Steel Pow with Wooden Handle
Compared to the previous product, this carbon steel wok from Craft Wok comes with a round bottom. Despite that, it won’t wobble as long as it’s placed properly. It’s made of 15-gauge carbon steel which makes it thick and strong enough to resist high heat and deformation.
One of its most notable features is its hand-hammered construction which makes it as close as possible to the traditional woks used by Chinese cooks. That and the fact that it doesn’t feature any bells and whistles which are common in most conventional units make it a popular option among professional Chinese chefs.
Like most woks on the market, this one requires to be seasoned before use. It also comes with a long handle along with a helper handle for added support and a more stable balance. However, the helper handle is made of steel, so you have to be careful while handling it.
Things We Like:
- Hand-hammered construction which makes it quite close to a traditional unit
- Includes a helper handle for added stability
- A solid thickness for superior durability
Things We Dislike:
- Not ideal for electric and glass stoves
3. Helen’s Asian Kitchen Flat Bottom Wok
Made of the traditional carbon steel, this flat bottom work from Helen’s Asian Kitchen has, as the name implies, a flat bottom design which allows it to be used on a variety of stoves such as electric, gas, or induction.
If you look closely, you’ll notice that the wok features concentric carbon steel grooves which are perfect for providing quick and steady heating and cooling. Like most carbon steel woks, this one comes with two handles – a main stick and a helper handle – both of which are made of bamboo. As such, you don’t have to worry too much about them heating up, though extra precaution is still advised when cooking in very high temperatures.
Moreover, it has a domed metal lid which is perfect for covering your food when cooking. Measuring 14 inches in diameter, it is fairly large to accommodate a family size of around 4-6. Cleaning is fairly easy as well as you only need clean water and sponge to get rid of all the residues. Just like all woks, this one requires pre-seasoning as well.
Things We Like:
- Comes with a heat-resistant bamboo handle and spatula
- Excellent conductivity and even heat distribution
- Features a flat bottom design for use on a variety of stoves
- Cleaning is quick and easy
Things We Dislike:
- A bit thinner compared to the other woks
4. Chef’s Medal Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Wok
Another traditional and hand-hammered carbon steel wok, this one from Chef’s Medal is ideal for all your daily sauté, frying, or steaming needs. At 16 inches, this one is fairly huge, allowing you to cook a huge meal with ease. Moreover, it also features a bamboo handle, round bottom design, and a metal helper handle.
The wok’s inner surface can cook your food without sticking provided that it has undergone seasoning. Perhaps the best part about it is that its metal structure turns blue once heated, making it a wonderful piece of equipment in your kitchen.
Lastly, it’s been hand-hammered to provide it with the quality and appearance which are quite close to the traditional woks.
Things We Like:
- Perfect for cooking food in bulk due to its large space
- Features a heavy-duty bottom
- Hand-hammered construction
Things We Dislike:
- Comes with a bit of a sharp rim work
5. M.V. Trading Carbon Steel Wok
Made of a heavy-gauge carbon steel wok, this carbon steel wok from MV Trading features a flat bottom and includes a wooden handle as well as a helper handle. Its design allows it to be used on a variety of stoves including grills and ceramics.
That aside, it’s also fairly lightweight at 6.5 pounds, making it perfect for stirring and tossing ingredients. It also has a dimension of 16.5 x 16.5 x 8.6 inches which is fairly large to accommodate a large amount of food. In fact, the manufacturer claims that it can hold enough food for feeding up to 12 people!
Things We Like:
- Allows you to cook a large amount of food
- Fairly lightweight and very easy to handle
- Comes with wooden handles for easy control
Things We Dislike:
- Not well-balanced
6. Joyce Chen 22-0060 Pro Chef Flat Bottom Wok
Perhaps the lightest carbon steel wok on this list, the 22-0060 flat bottom wok from Joyce Chen is a durable wok which measures 14 inches in diameter. It has black square phenolic handles which are ergonomic and stays cool for long, allowing you to handle it with ease when cooking.
Performance-wise, you will be able to try cooking anything on it. After all, it’s thick enough to retain heat while cooking. Just make sure you only use low to medium flame to prevent burning your food.
Owing to its flat bottom design, you can use it on any type of stove, whether gas or electric. Its 2mm thickness makes it tough and durable enough to last for the many years to come. However, it will require handwashing for maintenance, so make sure you don’t put it in your dishwasher to avoid issues.
Things We Like:
- Comes with a phenolic and ergonomic handle
- Allows more cooking versatility due to its flat bottom design
- Made of heavy-gauge carbon steel
Things We Dislike:
- The handles tend to wobble when the wok is overfilled
7. Joyce Chen 21-9978 Carbon Steel Wok
Yet another quality carbon steel wok from Joyce Chen, the 21-9978 wok is part of the Classic series which includes products that feature only the basics, making them perfect for both amateurs and even professional chefs.
Like the other products on this list, this one is made of natural carbon steel. It has a 1.55m thickness which makes it durable and long-lasting. Moreover, you won’t even experience any risks of warping regardless of your style of cooking.
Compared to the other Joyce Chen wok, this one comes with a wooden handle made of birch wood. This makes it quite durable and solid. That aside, it also features a side handle which can stay cool for a long time and offers added support and balance.
Things We Like:
- Comes with a flat bottom design
- Offers extra stability thanks to its extra handle
- Features a handle which is made of birch wood
- Offers excellent heat distribution
Things We Dislike:
- Doesn’t have a non-stick surface
8. Sur La Table Professional Carbon Steel Wok
Courtesy of Sur La Table, the 21-9969 carbon steel wok is a Taiwan-made product which is ideal for stir-frying and deep cooking a wide variety of food in large amounts.
It has a .8 mm thickness and features a handle made of maple wood. Due to its fairly thinner build, it can heat up pretty quickly, though you can expect its even heat distribution. This makes it really ideal for high heat cooking.
Thanks to its maple handle, you can stir and flip your food easily, thereby adding to the overall fun in cooking. That said, regardless of your cooking style and preference, you can surely achieve the results you need a lot faster.
Additionally, its design allows it to be used on a variety of stoves such as gas, ceramic, and electric variants.
Things We Like:
- Designed for high heat cooking
- Can be used on a variety of stovetops
- Long and sturdy maple handle
- Ideally used with metal utensils
Things We Dislike:
- Can be prone to rust if not stored and seasoned properly
VI. Tips for Choosing the Best Carbon Steel Wok
As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of carbon steel woks in the market. Therefore, if you want to come across the best woks, you need to know how to pick the right one.
Without further ado, let’s get straight into the factors you have to consider when looking for a carbon steel wok. They’re as follows:
Carbon steel woks come in a variety of sizes. Traditionally, Chinese woks tend to range from 10 to 16 inches. However, depending on your preference and cooking needs, you might want to go for a smaller or even larger wok.
In most cases, a 14-inch wok is enough to get all your cooking jobs done. This is the ideal size which is perfect if you’re just going to use it for home cooking. On the other hand, if you need a wok for your restaurant, then it would be ideal if you go for the largest variant at 16 inches. You also have to take note of your stove’s size and the available storage space in your kitchen.
- Construction Method
Carbon steel woks can be manufactured using a variety of procedures. Typically, they are made either through the use of spinning, hammering, and stamping.
Stamping normally involves bending a piece of metal which is then machine pressed. This results in a wok with smoother sides. Moreover, the process of stamping prevents the food from being moved around easily since it will just slide toward the middle.
The hammering offers some versatility since you can easily move the food around to make space for additional ingredients in the middle. The process involves the use of hammer blows which result in small indents on the wok’s insides.
Lastly, spinning is a method used for manufacturing woks that come with granular sides. Woks made through the spinning method come with concentric circles which allows you to place the food on their sides without sliding. This makes it easier to take full control of your cooking.
Carbon steel woks could come in either flat or round bottoms. Typically, round bottoms are designed to cook food a lot faster, though flat bottom variants are also easy to handle on flat stoves.
Keep in mind that the shape of your carbon steel wok is an important consideration since not all shapes are compatible with your stove. A flat bottom design will work best on electric and induction stoves. On the other hand, round bottom woks are ideal for use on gas stoves.
Before you purchase, make sure you read the description of each product so you can have an idea of its preferred cooking surface. By choosing a pan which is compatible with a variety of stoves, you will be able to have the freedom of choosing the way you cook.
Another important factor to consider when buying carbon steel woks is the handle. Typically, woks come in different handles made of different materials. Moreover, the way they are placed can vary as well. For example, you can find woks with small loop handles placed at opposite sides. You can also find woks with straight long handles coupled by a helper handle.
The way a wok’s handle is designed will help you determine your cooking experience. Ideally, you want to take a look at how a wok’s handle is designed. For example, a long handle makes it possible to toss your food without having to lose control of your pan. This tends to make cooking a lot faster and easier.
You should also take note of the material used for the handle. Most modern handles use natural wood, plastic, or phenolic since they have poor heat conductivity, allowing them to remain cool even when cooking on high heat temperature.
Phenolic handles are slightly beneficial compared to plastic and wood since they are slightly more resistant to high heat and solvent cleaners. However, if you want to enjoy a better cooking experience, it’s ideal to go for a heat-resistant one instead.
- Additional Accessories
Some carbon steel woks are available as a one-piece set, though you can find others which comes in a complete package. A wok with a lid included in the package is an important consideration, especially since there are some recipes that require simmering.
You’d also want to consider a recipe booklet which can be quite handy for learning new tips and even cooking recipes.
VII. How to Season a Carbon Steel Wok
Before you get started with seasoning, make certain you’ve got sufficient ventilation in the kitchen. You’ll be kicking up plenty of smoke during this process so make sure you’ve got doors and windows open if possible. Ideally, use an exhaust fan, too.
The purpose of seasoning a wok is simple: you want to create a non-stick surface the natural way. No questionable Teflon, no harmful toxins, just an all-natural approach to preventing your food from sticking to the surfaces.
Your final preparatory step is to double-check you don’t have any flammable materials in close proximity to the stove. We reiterate, you’ll be creating a fair amount of smoke here so safety is paramount.
You’re now all set to kickstart the seasoning process.
Wash Your Wok
When you first get your wok, it will have a coating of oil applied in the factory so the surface is protected and rust is staved off. You’ll need to wash this layer of oil away. If you fail to do this, it will burn during the seasoning process.
Use some mild soap and hot water along with some steel wool. Make sure you attack all surfaces of the wok, inside and out.
You now need to allow the wok to dry thoroughly before you push on with seasoning proper. You can pop it on a burner over a low heat for a couple minutes. Heat until you see no more droplets of water on the surface then you’re all set to press ahead with the seasoning.
Add Some Fat
You need to strike while the wok is still warm from drying over the heat.
Apply a layer of fat all around the inside of the wok. You might like to use a brush to apply the fat. Use a light touch and don’t be tempted to ladle too much on. Less is more here.
Lard works well but any oil with a high burning point is also effective. Grapeseed, palm, canola or peanut oil all make good choices if you don’t have any lard to hand. Sunflower oil, fish oil, and margarine are all poor options which will end up leaving a sticky residue.
If you’re a fan of Asian cuisine, then you no longer have to worry as you can make one straight from your kitchen through the help of carbon steel woks. Compared to other types of cooking pans on the market, carbon steel woks tend to cook meals quickly, can provide you with healthier meals, and are energy-efficient to boot.
However, as mentioned earlier, not all pans are created the same. Therefore, if you want to come across the best carbon steel wok in the market, you have to consider the important buying factors particularly the pan’s design, quality, and performance. Of course, you shouldn’t forget to factor in your cooking preferences.
Hopefully, this buying guide will help you decide on the ideal carbon steel wok which can suit all of your cooking needs.