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Traditionally made of cast iron for its excellent heat conductivity, it cooks food quickly and evenly (known as ‘wok hei’ or wok’s breath), which is precisely what you want for a stir fry.
The 2021 wok is now constructed from many different materials, from carbon steel for even heating and aluminium for lightness.
The new-style wok now has added non-stick coatings and may have single handles, single with a grab handle for easier moving around, and many with two.
These less traditional woks have taken the versatility of this pan off the scale as they can double up as steamers, a deep frier and a sauté pan. As many are also oven-proof, they can be used as a casserole, all of which is hugely helpful if the kitchen space is small.
Though wok purists will always reach for cast iron and carbon steel, these pans need seasoning - oiled and heated - which prevents rusting and seals the pan’s surface and prevents staining over time. With regular use and re-seasoning, the pan will develop an attractive natural patina on the surface.
Getting the best from your wok
Always follow the instructions from the manufacturer if a pan does need to be seasoned. If you are not inclined to nurture your wok this way, you will be better with one of the many non-stick or ceramic coated ones.
Avoid metal utensils unless the manufacturer says it is OK. The metal will damage the surface over time. Use wood or heat resistant silicone instead.
Cooking with your wok
Heat a wok slowly and gradually bring it to heat; this is especially important when using induction.
Chop your ingredients roughly but evenly to allow best cooking.
Use your ingredients at room temperature to maximise the heat and speed of cooking in a wok.
Cleaning your wok
Once cooking is over, never plunge a hot wok into hot or cold water as this can warp the pan and damage a non-stick coating if there is one.
Season regularly as recommended by the manufacturer.
A wok in the dishwasher is usually a no-no, but some manufacturers now say theirs can; a wok will quickly fill it. Usually, all woks need is to be wiped clean and, if required, washed with a bit of hot water and a few drops of washing up liquid.
Should you inadvertently burn the wok, put it on the stove, half fill with water, bring it to a boil for a few minutes and give it a flick round with a washing-up brush, and all should be fine.
How to choose a wok; a few questions you may want to consider
How many are you cooking for? If you need a large wok (30cm+), these will also be heavier.
What heat source are you using? Induction, electric and halogen hobs need a flat-bottomed wok.
Determine your budget as there are considerable differences in the price.
Do you want to use your wok for more than simply stir-frying? If so, maybe a two-handled wok or one with a lid will be better.
Interest in more kitchenware? Look at our round-up of the best rice cookers, to prepare rice for your stir-fry as you cook, or consider a multi-cooker for another great hands-off kitchen tool.
Interestingly, Salter does not call this pan a wok, but in every aspect, it is one, and a lovely looking one too with its silky champagne colour. At 28 cm and shallower than others, this would suit a smaller kitchen, plus it is ideal for new cooks being so light and easy to handle.
The Megastone non-stick of the inside of the pan is quite rough but also tough enough to cope with metal utensils which we tried but didn’t like the grating noise it made, so we returned to our silicone.
There’s absolutely nothing to not like about this pan; it heats well though not overly fast. Food cooked evenly, and it is dishwasher proof, but we found handwashing a doddle, to be honest. However, Salter gives a lifetime guarantee on this, so they have confidence, and so do we; for a pan at this price, it delivered so well.
Being able to wok fry if the only heat source you had was induction at one time was never going to happen. Thankfully, with some redesign, there’s now a good choice out there.
Tefal specify induction clearly with this wok; as they should, it works incredibly well on it. In addition, the pan has a heavy bottom (which induction loves), giving a good weight but not overbearingly.
The USP of Tefal is the useful thermal red-spot technology which once darkened, tells you it is time to get cooking. Though we found the spot was a good indicator, we were happier leaving it just a while longer.
At 28 cm, this isn’t an overly large wok yet roomy enough for family cooking, with a good depth to it and softly curving sides which food slips and slides around effortlessly. Tefal says you can use metal utensils thanks to the scratch-resistant titanium non-stick coating, and it’s more than happy to be put in the dishwasher. Only time will tell; we don’t have months of testing to say for sure one way or the other, though we suspect it will do.
The School of Wok pan may be entry-level, but the design, weight, and ease of use by no means reflect that price. All the looks of a traditional wok but with a non-stick coating, you can use it straight from the box after a quick rinse.
The lightness of the pan meant a rapid, even heating and with a long, slightly curved, comfortable bamboo handle, it will hold well, so moving the food around was very easy, needing just a gentle flick of the wrist and tossing in the air was super easy too.
A wok can take up a lot of room in a kitchen so, the steel loop on the handle is a helpful addition for hanging the pan.
The School of Wok may have been one of the cheapest we tested, but it delivered as well as some of the more expensive.
The dome lidded Circulon wok is undoubtedly impressive. At 36cm, it is a beast of a size and demands space in the kitchen and on the stove.
The wok is also oven safe up to 240 C, so a large oven is also needed. If you have the space and the people to cook for, then this is the one for you.
There are two securely riveted stainless steel handles, but these do get hot and need oven gloves. Other than that, this is a lovely pan to use. There’s a durable three-layer non-stick and Circulon’s hi-low groove design, making it hard to scratch the pan if you are using metal utensils, and there’s a hassle-free lifetime guarantee if it does.
We had no problem stir-frying as the even heating and room to move made it great fun to flick things around. This pan will be perfect for family cooking or if you are feeding a crowd.
There was some excitement in the kitchen when this pretty wok from Smeg was unboxed. The striking colour and retro good looks are too stylish to shut away in a cupboard.
Cookware is a new venture for Smeg, and this pan certainly lived up to the high expectations we have come to expect from this brand.
There’s a patented thick, ridged base making it suitable for all types of heat and one that works supremely well on induction. The wok heats rapidly and evenly, and food was cooked in no time at all.
For those who have the bad habit of banging spoons and spatulas on the edge of the pan, the Smeg has a stainless steel rim protecting the non-stick coating, which should mitigate too much damage.
All this hefty construction does make the pan heavy even without food which may be a consideration for some. Otherwise, we loved everything about this excellent pan.
Towards the top end price for the woks we tested comes this two-handled black forged aluminium pan and, at a super-generous 32cm, is well-suited for family cooking or a crowd of friends.
Apart from its super-good looks, as the wok is made from forged aluminium, it is also light, giving it a distinct advantage over other woks of a similar size.
The wok heated super-fast, evenly, and right up to the rim. The food flew around the pan with a mere shake with lovely even cooking and colouring.
The Le Creuset goes straight from the stovetop to the table and safe use up to 260C in the oven. Lids are available for around £25, adding to the versatility. Washing this pan up is a doddle; it need never see the inside of the dishwasher.
The price may be high, but this is an investment piece and looked after should last a lifetime. We loved it.
The Netherton is a beautiful wok, handmade in Shropshire of spun iron with a comfortable, smooth oak handle fixed with brass.
The wok weighs just over a kilo yet was light and easy to use despite its generous size
The pan comes pre-seasoned with oil and is ready to use out of the packaging; just a quick rinse is needed. The wok heated up well and right the way to the rim, making cooking super-fast and even.
Deep-frying was easy with great results, and all that oil added a lovely glossy coating to the inside of the pan after cleaning.
The wok must be re-seasoned periodically, especially when using acidic foods like tomatoes, and washed only by hand without detergent to keep from damaging the lovely surface which builds up.
For all the extra work, though, you will be rewarded with a fabulous looking, deeply patinated wok that will last you a lifetime with care. The purist wok cooks pan for sure.
The French-made Staub cast iron wok was the most expensive tested but lived up to every expectation given the cost. However, the Staub was also the heaviest and may be an issue for some, especially when filled with food.
The pretty red colour looks good and, as it is a two-handled pan that likes the oven, is a great all-rounder. Heating was delightfully quick, stir-frying was fast with great even cooking, and frying produced mouth-watering, crisp results.
As the pan is cast iron, lower temperatures are needed than other woks as it retained its heat long after being taken from the stovetop, making it great for serving straight to the table. Washing under the tap was easy.
The pan is an investment for sure, but it delivers in spades and will be one to pass onto the grandkids as, with care, it will last forever.