The wok may seem like an incredibly specialized piece of cooking hardware — good for stir-fries and not much else, right? And while it is indeed very good for stir-frying, woks can be used to steam fish, boil a stew, or even make popcorn for movie night. The wok is also excellent for high temperatures, seamlessly cooking large quantities of vegetables, meat, and whatever else you like in just a matter of minutes.
With that in mind, we reached out to chefs, cooking experts, and one stir-fry guru — cookbook author Grace Young — to uncover their favorite woks for every kind of meal. “Woks come in cast iron, anodized aluminum, stainless steel, nonstick, and enamel-lined cast iron,” explains Young. “I prefer carbon steel because it impeccably sears ingredients and gives stir-fries the elusive, smoky essence prized by Chinese gourmands.” Ahead, the woks she and the other experts recommend.
The Best Wok for Professionals
Professional chefs who cook with woks fire them up to intense, high temperatures, often over a modified burner that shoots the flames straight up rather than in a circular pattern. If you’re serious about your wok game and have the ability to modify your burner, you’ll need a round-bottomed wok. Chef Amelia Kang of MáLà Project recommends the Pow Wok, made from conductive carbon steel. “It’s suitable for quick, high-temperature stir-fried dishes,” she says. “The flavor is better, but it’s also easy to burn the dishes if you are not fast enough.”
The Best Wok for Standard Stovetops
If you’re serious about woks — but not enough to modify your stovetop — what you need is a flat-bottomed wok. “The flat-bottomed wok, introduced by Joyce Chen, allowed woks to be used on any stove and made stir-fry a far more common dish in American households,” says Taylor Erkkinen, co-owner of The Brooklyn Kitchen cooking school. “I cook on an electric stove these days, so the direct contact of a flat-bottomed wok makes a ton of sense.” And like the Pow Wok, it’s carbon steel, so it’ll heat up (and cool down) incredibly quickly.
The Best Wok with Wooden Handles
If you’re looking for a wok that you can handle with both hands without worrying about getting burned, consider the Joyce Chen carbon steel wok with birchwood handles. “The loops on metal woks get superhot, and you need pot holders to handle,” says Matt Rodbard, founder of Taste and the co-author of Koreatown: A Cookbook. With wooden handles, that’s not a problem. And it also makes it easy for him to “flip it and use it as a fast ‘lid’ for quick steaming in my stainless-steel pan.”
The Best Hand-Hammered Wok
Young usually prefers a 14-inch, flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok with two wooden handles. But if you’re looking for a wok that is truly special, she recommends those hand-forged by Erik Newquist. “If you want to treat yourself to a wok of art,” she says, “Erik Newquist hand-hammers woks in the Pacific Northwest inspired by the Cen brothers wok, which is on the cover of my cookbook, The Breath of the Wok.”
The Best Wok Lid
If you want use your wok for making a stew or homemade popcorn, you’ll need a good lid. Young recommends the domed lids (which diverts most condensation away from your food) available at San Francisco’s Wok Shop, the go-to place for, you guessed it, wok shopping. “[Owner] Tane Chan is the most knowledgeable person selling woks in the world,” Young says. “Throughout the pandemic, she has gone into her store seven days a week and hasn’t stopped shipping woks and wok accessories.”
The Best Woklike Frying Pan
If you simply don’t have the space for a wok, then you’ll want a very good frying pan at the very least. Lucas Sin of Junzi Kitchen stands by Made In’s carbon-steel frying pan. “To achieve as high heat as I can for stir-fries, I prefer flat bottoms for as much surface contact as possible,” he says. “High walls mean that the same pan can be used for braising, steaming, boiling. And carbon steel is the preferred material, as that’s what woks are made of. At home, I prefer the dexterity of the 10-inch carbon-steel pan, which comfortably cooks for two.”