Wok Recs??

chitownfifiJanuary 7, 2005

I would like to purchase a wok - but don't know where to begin. I'm open to all price points. Any recommendations/personal experience with woks any of you would like to share? I've been using a non-stick frying pan for stir fry and I hate it. I would prefer to be able to get the ingredients more seared. Plus, I need something big! I like to cook a lot at once...

Has anyone tried the Le Creuset woks?

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The two keys to wok cooking are high heat and the ability to recover heat quickly whenever it is lost.

Non-stick is not very good for this because most non-stick surfaces should not be heated as high as good wok cooking demands. Cast iron is good at maintaining high heat, but is quite slow to recover that heat or lose it when necessary. Home stoves often lack the high-power burners necessary to provide a lot of heat quickly; electrics also take a while to cool down. Combine those properties with a wok material that is less reactive to heat and it can become very hard to cook properly in a wok.

The very best woks are carbon-steel. They require some care (no dishwasher; season them; clean them shortly after use), but their heat properties are excellent and they are not expensive.

If you have an electric stove, you are better served with a flat-bottom wok, which will provide greater contact between pot and burner. On larger woks, it's a good idea to have a "helper" handle on one side; I also like a cylindrical pot-style handle (even though it is not traditional).

If you go with a cast-iron wok to at least achieve high heat levels, be prepared to heat the wok for a while before putting in any food and be prepared to remove the food to a separate dish to cool down. Cast-iron woks are also quite heavy (if you like to move the wok around as you stir-fry); heft one before you buy it.

Finally, you may like to cook a lot at once, but simply adding room-temperature or cold food to a wok cools it down. The wok must recover the heat to cook properly. Unless you have a great heat source and a wok made of a material (like carbon steel) that reacts quickly to being heated, you may be better off by cooking in batches and then just heating through.

I know that's a lot to read, but there really isn't a one-line response to your question without knowing more about your setup. Fire away with any more questions!

    Bookmark   January 7, 2005 at 9:44AM
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I vote for the cheap carbon steel wok.....rub with oil....heat...cool down rub again with oil...heat slowly...cool and cook. Never use soap...if you have used a sticky sort of sauce and have some burned on gook....just rub with a paper towel and oil and salt....rinse and dry over a burner.
I have 2....and a non stick one...not sure why!
Linda C

    Bookmark   January 7, 2005 at 1:21PM
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Carbon-steel was all the rage for years, and we have several of them; some on the pot rack, some stored away. I kinda got carried away with woks 6-8 years ago and when one was on sale, it had to leave the store with me. The nicest of the bunch I bought at a flea market a couple years ago for like five bucks.

Having said that, and tempting the ire of wok lovers everywhere, let me suggest that you'll find any number of people here who gave up on woks, and use either stainless or non-stick skillets instead. Steve pretty much covered it when he addressed the issue of having a source of very high heat. Without a commercial-grade stove(typically gas)you won't get peak performance from a wok. And Steve also mentioned an important factor that many overlook; recovery time.

Personally, I can't much imagine wrestling with a cast iron wok. Whatever the case, carbon-steel woks are relatively cheap, so have at it, and have fun. Cheers...

    Bookmark   January 7, 2005 at 7:11PM
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I'm with Sween in terms of wok cookery as is Cooks Illustrated.

Unless you have a professional type gas stove you simply do not have enough BTU's to use the standard type of wok effectively as traditional woks are used over intensely high flames which heat the sides. The small cooking surface of a traditional wok used on a standard home stove is not the best cookware.

America's Test Kitchen did a segment on "take out Chinese dishes" done right and recommended a very large non-stick skillet. The key to success per the program is cooking small batches of the foods so that it sears properly.

I tried their cooking method with a 14 inch non stick skillet and I achieve the best results I ever had in terms of crisp rather than steamed/soggy stir fries.

I tossed my wok and have never looked back. I know lots of people swear by their woks but my experience corresponds with Cook's Illustrated.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2005 at 9:16AM
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Do you have a gas or an electric stove?

If you have gas, the small size traditional cheap steel woks work great. They are light, heat and cool quickly, and use little oil. You have to turn the flame up all the way and cook small portions. Chinese restaurant burners look like blast furnaces - incredible BTU output.

If you have electric stove only, look for a flat-bottomed wok (I've seen them at Cost Plus and other inport stores). These don't work quite as well as traditional ones, but they have higher sides than a saute pan. Again, small batches to avoid cooling the pot.

I "stir fry" on an electric stove in a deep sided Cuisinart stew pot, by dumping the stuff in and shaking the pot (with the lid on).

    Bookmark   January 8, 2005 at 11:22AM
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I do have a gas stove...carbon steel may seem like the way to go. However, I have never had a carbon steel pan, and am not familiar with how to properly care for one. How exactly do I care for it? Is there anything I need to do before I use it the first time?

Thanks for all of the helpful comments...

    Bookmark   January 9, 2005 at 3:29AM
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Wash it and dry it.

They rust easily, so make sure you don't leave it soaking in the sink or with food in it. In a damp climate, wipe them with a bit of oil before you store them or they rust on the shelf.

I've seen stainless steel woks, which are easier to care for.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2005 at 10:14AM
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After cleaning with just water and getting the tough bits off, you put it back on the stove with the burner on and let is dry properly. Wipe down with a little bit of oil and drain the rest of the oil out. Ready to store till the next use.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 9, 2005 at 6:42PM
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