The Best Wok to Buy for Your Kitchen, According to Grace Young
Grace Young has literally written the book on wok cooking. (Make that two; her second, Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge, won a James Beard Award.) Known in certain circles as the "Wok Therapist," Young wants you to rethink everything you know about stir-frying, starting with the word itself. According to Young, the essence of stir-fry has been lost in translation. In the original Cantonese, the word for stir-fry, chau, refers to a motion more akin to tumbling.
"The goal is to continually toss bite-size ingredients in a small amount of oil in a wok over high heat so that each morsel is constantly exposed to the hot wok," Young says. "The result is a light sear-ing of ingredients that allows them to cook both quickly and uniformly, without burning or charring."
It's less about stirring and more about exciting movement and interaction with the hot wok's surface. A wok spatula, with its shovel shape, is great for this, but any metal spatula will do. And it is absolutely an excellent, and accessible, technique for a home cook. Choosing the right wok makes all the difference, so Grace shares her best picks below, and three foundational, and delicious, recipes to get you started.
Pro Tip: Working with a new, unseasoned wok? Young's favorite way to season a wok quickly is to make popcorn. The high-heat frying and even spray of oil from the bursting kernels help fortify the patina of a wok, resulting in both a snack and a well-seasoned pan.
No matter your stove, Grace has your wok needs covered. See her recommendations for the best wok to buy below based on your cooktop:
Best Wok for Semiprofessional Stoves
Providing a strong and consistent heat source, semiprofessional gas stoves can evenly heat a round-bottomed wok set on a wok ring to emulate actual professional stoves in restaurants. You need enough space in the pan to move the ingredients around while cooking, so Grace recommends 14- to 16-inch wide woks for almost every cook.
For these high-powered stoves: Choose a 14- to 16-inch round-bottomed carbon-steel pow wok with a long metal handle; pair with a wok ring for stability.
Best Wok for Gas or Electric
A popular choice for many home kitchens, standard gas, and electric stoves work well with a balanced, flat-bottomed wok, with no need for a wok ring (which adds a bit of distance between the bottom of the pan and the heat source). A wooden handle lets you hold and maneuver the wok even as it heats up, with a smaller helper handle for balance.
For a standard gas or electric: Choose a flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok with a long wood handle and a short helper handle. Carbon steel heats quickly, conducts heat efficiently, and --once seasoned-- has a naturally nonstick surface. The flat bottom sits and heats evenly on the burner.
Best Wok for Induction or Glass Top
Induction and glass top stoves require even, close contact with pans to heat and cook properly, so choosing a material that doesn't warp with time and use is crucial. Because a 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok can warp slightly and wobble, choose a Cantonese-style flat-bottomed wok with a cast-iron interior and black enamel exterior with heat-resistant handles.