Every kitchen must have a versatile pan for stir-frying, deep-frying, indoor smoking, or steaming. All of this can be done when you have excellent wok, which can make cooking a fun and enjoyable experience.
Woks are Chinese cooking pans that spread the heat evenly and require less oil than traditional fryers. These are available in various shapes, sizes, metals, and handle options. If you are considering buying one, the following section can help you gain insight into the factors you need to consider before buying and how to season and care for it.
Stainless steel: Stainless steel woks are heavy and difficult to manoeuvre. Moreover, they take a lot of time to heat up and cool down. So, it probably won’t be the best choice if you require on-the-fly heat adjustments for making stir-fry. Also, if you’re cooking proteins, the food tends to get stuck on stainless steel surfaces.
Cast iron: Cast iron can be better than stainless steel as the food doesn’t stick to the wok. However, cast iron woks that are too thin can be extremely fragile, and when they are thick, it isn’t easy to lift and flip the ingredients.
Carbon steel: Carbon steel woks can be your best bet as these get heated evenly and quickly. Also, these are inexpensive and durable.
Another additional factor that you should consider is not choosing nonstick woks. Nonstick coating can’t handle the intense heat needed for stir-fries and may start vaporising or release toxic fumes to reach the required temperature.
Woks usually have a deep bowl with round bottoms that sits perfectly over stoves with round openings and even heating on all the sides. Choosing one with a 4-5 inch flattened bottom surface with gently sloping sides flaring out to 12 to 14 inches is best. This shape will provide adequate high heat space for searing vegetables or meat while providing ample room to flip the ingredients.
The handle must be solid and sturdy and should be cool to touch. Traditional woks have two small metal handles at opposite ends, while modern woks have a single long handle. Larger woks used for stirring or cooking large quantities of food also have two metal handles.
Wooden handles offer the best grip but are not oven safe, which limits their versatility. Handles made of stainless steel can be good as they are a poor conductor of heat and remain cool for a long time.
Seasoning and cleaning
The performance of carbon steel and cast-iron woks improves with their use. These woks come with a protective film of oil that prevents rusting. However, you need to season them to remove the preservative. First, scrub the wok with hot and soapy water and dry it. You should place it over the burner on the highest possible heat until it starts smoking and rubs the surface with oil.
It is better if you don’t scrub your woks unless necessary. Usually, rinsing and a good rubdown are enough. After rinsing, dry it using paper or kitchen towels and rub some vegetable oil to prevent it from rusting.
With repetitive use of woks, the oil you heat breaks down into polymers filling the metal’s surface, making the material completely nonstick. The material’s colour changes from silver to brownish and eventually deep black, which is precisely how it should look.
You can get the best quality woks at affordable prices that can last several years. However, before buying, ensure it fits the electric coil or the gas ring perfectly. Also, you can consider buying lids separately to help you cook faster.