When I was young, maybe 15 years of age, there was a place called Mr. Wiu, just a few hundred meters from my house. It was my first experience with Asian food. I remember it so well, sweet and sour pork, Gong Bao chicken or spring rolls.
I grew up eating them. Even though we had many local fast-food restaurants in my neighborhood, this one had “something” that bought us for life.
Tastes were amazing and sweet, and sour mixes blew up our teenage minds.
Even then, I have seen that Asian food is prepared in some steel “plate, ” but just after few years, I have realized that the main tool in the hands of Mr. Wiu was the carbon steel wok.
Related: Learn To Find The Best Electric Wok With Barbara
What is a carbon steel wok?
As we remember it from some Asian movies or from local Chinese fast-food restaurants, the carbon steel wok is usually round bottom vessel, used for stir-frying, steaming, deep-frying, and poaching.
It originates from China but nowadays is used all over the world for the preparation of Asian cuisine. Woks used in China usually have rounded bottom because they are used on gas stoves, and they are never placed down on the cooking surface.
Since we live in “modern” times, woks today have the flat bottom for us to be able to put them down on our gas or electric stoves.
During cooking, wok bottom gets extremely hot, allowing you to quick sear ingredients in oil and then push them to wok sides while you cook remaining ingredients. In the end, with a quick move of our wrist, you mix them all together.
Wok is a very versatile utensil, used for many cooking techniques
The carbon steel wok is an interesting kitchen tool and it will definitely expand your horizons when it comes to everyday cooking. You can use it for many cooking techniques such as:
- Boiling – you can use it for soups or cooking rice
- Deep-frying – frying food with significant amount of oil, usually in deeper woks
- Pan-frying – frying small in small amount of oil at the bottom of the pan
- Braising – the most common use of wok is for this cooking type
- Stir-frying – frying food in small amount of oil on high heat and stirring continuously
What to look for when choosing wok for your kitchen?
The ones made from carbon steel are widely used. What is also good about them is that they are light, easy to lift (have in mind that when used, wok full of vegetables and meat is quite heavy). Carbon steel is also a very good conductor of heat meaning that it will heat up quickly.
Cast iron woks are less prone to sticking of food, but the ones produced for the US market are quite thick (almost 9 mm), making them seriously heavy for cooking. The downside of using cast iron is that this material responds slowly to temperatures adjustments, so food prepared in this type of wok should be removed immediately after preparing to avoid overcooking.
2. Appropriate sizes for each occasion
When trying to select a good wok for your kitchen, always have in mind the number of people you might cook for. Always consider that sometimes you will not cook only for your closest family.When considering wok size it’s good to know that:
- 12″ wok is used for meals up to 5 people
- 14″ for meals from 6 to 12 people
- and 16″ for over 12 people.
It is best to choose based on your experience with the number of people you are having for lunch or dinner. I decided to test 14 inches carbon steel woks since their size can fit our regular family meal but can also be used when we have guests.
Woks do not have many features. The main “thing” the wok must have is a handle. The main wok handle is long and similar to standard pan handles and it is called “stick” handle (check out the Red Copper Pan). The second handle is called “helper” and it is located on the opposite side of the main one (like the Copper Chef set).
Related: Most Recommended Woks
What you need to do before first use
The carbon steel wok is specific, and you have to follow some rules before using it.
There are two reasons for that, one is that you need to remove factory protective coating prior to cooking and the other one is that seasoning will act as natural non-stick coating and will protect carbon steel wok from rusting.
Every wok should be thoroughly cleaned before first use. What I did is I filled 2/3 of every wok with water and boiled that water for approximately 8 minutes.
After that, I used a soap and scrubbing pad and scrubbed vigorously inside and out to remove every single piece of a protective coat. Immediately after that I have rinsed wok into the water and wiped dry.
2. Initial Seasoning
- This step is of utmost importance for wok and your future cooking in it. Adequate seasoning will prevent sticking of food to wok surface and will act as non-stick coating.
- For this purpose, I have used two tablespoons of cooking oil, rubbed them onto wok’s interior. Then I placed wok on my electric stovetop and heated it on medium heat for 10 minutes.
- During heating, I have used a paper towel to distribute cooking oil evenly on the inner wok surface. What is also important, I tilted the wok upside down to heat the complete inner surface evenly.
- After ten minutes I removed the wok from the stove and let it cool for ten more. I repeated this process three times to make sure that my wok is properly seasoned and ready.
Most Recommended Carbon Steel Woks: Detailed Reviews 2020
Few thousand years of wok history is in my kitchen – how I am going to test ones I have selected:
I decided that this has to be a real test. Reviewing other experiences of the most probably oldest utensil used today, would not be fair to thousands of years of its history.
But, this time I also involved my husband. He is quite a good cook when it comes to Chinese food, so aside from advice from another “chef,” I will also have male insight, which I do not often have.
We bought the following five carbon steel woks, and after we tested them, one stayed in our kitchen and others will be shared with our friends and family. And for sure I needed someone strong to scrub and clean factory coating before initial seasoning!
So it’s Asia time in Barbara’s home!
If you decide to invest in this top of the line traditional, hand-hammered Pow Wok by Chef’s Medal, you will be making a wise choice, and getting a kitchen utensil which can last for generations to come.
The round-bottomed wok is made of 1.8mm high-quality carbon steel, which has been hand-hammered by wok experts in Guangdong in China.
The wok has a beautiful, stay-cool and comfortable bamboo handle, and an added help handle on the other side for safe carrying and holding when full of food.
As with all other carbon steel woks of this quality, it will need to be seasoned and taken care of until it forms its seasoning and becomes completely non-stick.
Chef’s Medal has added detailed instructions on how to do so.
Once it is properly seasoned, you can use this traditional wok to make stir fry in a matter of minutes and will also be able to use it for deep frying, boiling, and stewing or steaming too.
With time, and with proper care, the wok will develop a beautiful black patina and will offer a completely natural and safe non-stick cooking experience. Plus, you will have a utensil that you can pass on to your children.
It is a standard 14-inch size and weighs 4.59 lbs.
The wok comes with a 100% money-back satisfaction guarantee by the manufacturer.
Things I liked:
– It is one of the best-made carbon steel woks on the market
– Hand hammered and made by wok pros in China
– A comfortable and beautiful bamboo handle with a hole for hanging
– A traditional round-bottomed design and size of 14 inches
– If taken care of properly, this wok will last for generations to come
Things I didn’t like:
– Once again, due to the round-bottomed design, it is not the best choice if you want to use it on a traditional flat stovetop
– It requires seasoning and proper care over time to develop the patina and seasoning it needs to become completely non-stick
– It is more expensive than some of the other woks on this list
If you would like to give wok as present to someone, this would be a perfect choice. It comes very nicely packed and with all features included – lid, spatula and recipes book.
It’s made out of 1.6 mm carbon steel, and it is within the average weight of wok. It features a flat bottom design so it can be used on any gas, electric or induction stove. Concentric grooves of carbon steel are visible, and they are providing rapid and constant heating and cooling of this wok.
This wok features two handles – one main “stick” handle and one helper handle. Both handles are made from wood, and they look very nice and in line with ancient wok tradition. This carbon steel wok also features a domed metal lid.
As I have mentioned, this wok is 14 inches in diameter, meaning family size – its capacity is more than enough for a family of 4-6. I did the cleaning as recommended, using soaking in hot water for five minutes and then used clean water and sponge to remove the food residues. As all woks, this one also requires initial seasoning.
I used it to prepare soup and boiled rice with vegetables and eggs (also check out some of the best egg cookers here). For soup it was perfect. For rice, it was quite ok, but it heats up fast, and if you are not careful, you will not avoid sticking of rice to your wok. It looks a bit shallow for the preparation of a meal for 5-6 people but for a family of four is just about right.
Things I liked
- Superb wooden handles
- Cleaning was quite comfortable even when rice was sticking to it
- It’s very light wok which is good since most of the times you will hold him in the air
- High domed lid allows steaming and can accommodate bamboo steam baskets
- In the package, I also got 13 inches spatula and book of recipes
Things I didn’t like
- It’s a bit shallow for the standard wok
- Carbon steel walls are a bit thinner than on some other woks
- Even after it is used just twice, cleaned and seasoned as recommended I have noticed to rust spots
The carbon steel used for making this wok is lightweight and yet sturdy and offers quick and even heating, which is essential if you want to cook the best Chinese and other Asian style stir-fries and meals.
The wok comes with a beautiful and useful wooden lid, and also with a metal spatula.
The handle is also made of wood so that you can hold the wok safely and comfortably during the cooking process.
The wok has a 12.5-inch diameter and a gorgeous printed hammered texture without any harmful or flimsy coating.
The wok will need to be seasoned, but the manufacturer offers a detailed video guide on how to do so, and how to clean and keep the utensil in pristine condition for long.
It is produced by the popular Souped Up Recipes YouTube channel, where you can find hundreds of recipes and tips on how to make the best out of this fantastic wok and cook restaurant quality Chinese meals in it.
Things I liked:
– It doesn’t require the purchase of a dedicated wok burner, because it has a flat bottom
– It can be used on any standard and induction stovetop and cooktop
– The design and hammered texture, along with the natural wood lid makes it one of the most beautiful woks on the market
– It comes with a spatula
– Once seasoned, this wok will offer easy cleaning and a natural and safe non-stick surface
– The handle is made of wood and comfortable to grip
– The Souped Up Recipes video channel on YouTube offers a wide variety of tips on seasoning and maintaining this wok, as well as recipes for it
Things I didn’t like:
– With a diameter of 12.5 inches, this wok is smaller than a traditional one, so it may not be suitable for larger families
– It has a flat bottom which is something that traditional wok users may not appreciate
– It does require seasoning and maintenance until it builds up the seasoning it needs to become completely non-stick
This carbon steel wok comes with all the things you might need even if you are novice in the kitchen. As soon as you unpack the wok, you can start cooking since the package includes 14 inches wok, dome lid, 12 inches bamboo spatula and book with recipes. More than enough to start immediately!
The wok is made from 1.5 mm carbon steel, and it provides fast and even heating on the whole wok surface. Its size is enough to prepare a meal for a big family. Design features two birch wood handles, one main and one “helper”.
For better usage of the wok, the producer also provided the lid with non-stick coating and knob on top of it. This cover will keep heat, moisture, and nutrients and all of them are important for the final result. Like any other wok, this one also requires seasoning as I mentioned before.
After initial cleaning and seasoning, I stir-fried bok-choy (for all of you who never used this one it looks like cabbage) with ginger and garlic, with just a little bit of cooking oil and two spoons of soy sauce.
The meal ended up very sweet, crunchy and fresh. Cleaning of wok after soy sauce was easy, I just boiled a bit of water for a few minutes, and it came off quickly.
Things I liked
- A non-stick lid to keep steam and flavors inside
- Very usable spatula comes within the package as well as a book of recipes in case you need it
- The lid has a non-stick layer which I find excellent
Things I didn’t like
- I think that using 1.5mm carbon steel is too thin for extended periods of high heat
- The lid gets extremely hot during steaming and knob is too small, so you might end up burning your fingers
The same as all others, this wok is made out of carbon steel in size f 14 inches, which should provide you enough space inside wok to cook for your family. The material will provide fast and constant heating of the complete surface.
A small thing that differs this wok from others are handles. This one has plastic ones. They do not look so nice, and they are not in Asian style, but they are staying cool during the whole time.
The flat bottom will allow you to use it on, any modern stove. What I have found out important for this wok is that it would be good to place it on high heat after cleaning. It will smoke and burn some factory residues.
Initial seasoning is a must, like with all other woks that I was using. The seasoning of this one took me a bit longer until I was satisfied. It took around 45 minutes for me to be sure that it is seasoned properly.
I used it to stir-fry mixed vegetables and meat but with particular attention to the onion. I wanted to get delicious brown onion, which is almost sweet. It tasted good, but cleaning was a bit of a nightmare. In the end, I ended up scrubbing residues, and then my wok needed seasoning again.
Things I liked
- Feels very nice in hand even it has plastic handles
- It heats up fast which is good but needs more attention
Things I didn’t like
- Seasoning lasted a bit longer than planned
- It rusts super-fast, so you have to be quick with cleaning
- Cleaning after making brown onion was tough
What have I concluded at the end?
Let me just emphasize a few things that I was considering with my husband before we have decided which model is the best for us.
As you have noticed, initial seasoning and cleaning are seriously necessary. You also need to have in mind that rusting of the wok is a standard process, so if you treat it correctly this would not be a problem.
Another thing is that we did not consider the price during our discussion. The price difference among tested woks is slight, so it should not affect your choice, and it did not affect ours either.
As for our decision, we think that our winner is Helen Chen’s Asian Kitchen 14-inch Carbon Steel Wok with beautiful wooden handles. It’s made from carbon steel, has the high lid which we use for steaming and has beautiful wooden handles.
Its capacity is more than enough to cook for our family and some friends, which will eventually stop by. In the end, I pushed my cooking skills to the limit this time, so you should also decide, buy and start using your carbon steel wok! 🙂
Last update on 2020-07-03 at 21:53 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API