Carbon steel wok under fire

What’s the best carbon steel wok around?

What’s the best carbon steel wok around?

Most of the cooking utensils are universal in every kinds of cuisines.  However, there are a few unique ones that are used to cook Chinese food the authentic way. These tools help create the best flavour.  

Watch what you can cook with a wok? 

1. What would I be without a wok? 

One of the primordial chinese cooking tool is a wok, carbon steel wok preferably.  Since oven is not a traditional Chinese cookware, you won’t find it in most Chinese family’s kitchen.  However, you are likely to stumble upon a carbon steel wok in every chinese home.  The shape of a traditional carbon steel wok is hemispherical with the round bottom.  If you add a bell shape lid, it looks like a whole spherical shape together.  Stir fry, is a common way to cook Chinese food, and a wok is the best utensil for the task. It is not only used to cook fried dishes however. You can also use it to make noodle dishes, soups, and many other kinds of dishes. 

2. The benefits for using a carbon steel wok 

There are many benefits of using such a flexible tool. If you are not familiar with it, it might seems like a heavy product, but after few usages, you will see the amount of comfort it affords you, especially if you like to cook a lot and love a tidy kitchen.. 

2.1. Concentrates the heat well

The round bottom shape of a carbon steel wok concentrates the heat well, while the flat frying pan tends to spread the heat.

2.2. Carbon steel wok offers Flexibility

The round shape makes it flexible to cook different quantities of food.  When you stir fry the vegetables, especially the bulky leaf ones, the carbon steel wok depth offers a higher volume than the flat frying pan. So, the vegetables will not come out when you stir them. The round bottom is also good to cook small amounts of food with just a little bit oil without spreading oil everywhere.
The sloped interior is also perfect to turn and stir all the food evenly and effortlessly. The use of a stir fry spatula is highly recommended.

2.3. Great to cook quick dishes

The shape is also good to keep the heat/steam inside of the wok especially after covering it with the lid. More over this will shorten the cooking time and keep the moist and flavours of the vegetables.

2.4. Carbon steel wok can cook many kind of dishes

The wok is such a versatile cooking utensil.  Other than for stir fry, it can be used for stew if you add in water or soup if you add more water in.  It can be a steamer if you put a steam cage on the top (CHECK HOW TO MAKE BAOZI RECIPE).  Therefore, if you want to invest in only one new cooking utensil in the kitchen, it shall be a wok as it is so multi-functional.

Having said all of the above, I believe it is worth to invest in a good quality wok if you want to cook authentic Chinese food or even many western style foods.

3. What is a good quality carbon steel wok? 

I suggest to select one wok mainly for stir fry, as the function is difficult to substitute with another cooking tool.  Stir fry is a fast way of cooking, it normally just takes a few minutes or sometimes even less than a minute.  Within this few minutes, you need to constantly stir and turn the food to let it cook evenly but not burn it.  
Admire the skill of these chinese street food vendors. Don’t worry, you don’t need to go to their extreme at home. But watching the vigour with which they use the wok should give you an idea of how to use the tool. 

Therefore, a good wok must meet the following conditions:

3.1. Good induction rate

Your wok must be able to increase and decrease the temperature within a relatively short period of time, which means it should have a good conductor of heat.

3.2. A carbon steel wok must be resilient

Since a carbon steel wok is a tool you use on a daily basis, at times 2 to 3 times a day; it can get damaged by the constant stirring from a hard spatula. Therefore, you want a product that can resist both manipulation with different kinds of spatula but also the intense fire. A quick note on the spatula. The wood or silicone ones are not convenient for scooping the food out quickly.

3.3. A carbon steel wok must have good weight balance

Too light either means the material is light such as alumina which is not good for health as it releases bad chemicals; or the wok is too thin which will easily burn the food.  One the other hand, a wok that is too heavy normally means that the wok is thick and it takes too long to heat up or cool off.  A Chinese chef will not choose a very heavy wok, as he needs to shake the wok constantly while stirring the food by spatula.

4. Woks to avoid

There are few woks out there that are not of great quality or that can even be harmful from a health stand point. 

4.1. Non-stick coating wok

The coating material is definitely not resilient for constant stir fry and high heat.  No matter how good the coating technology is, it will eventually fell off within a short period of time.  It is also said that the coating material is toxic which is not good for health. You can have a look at the recent movie Dark Waters to get an idea of the effect of bad coating on health.

4.2. Stainless steel

Although it has the benefits of not rustic and easy to clean, there are some issues with the material.  One drawback is that the induction rate of steel is low, hence it does not heat up or cool off quick enough, or it does not heat up evenly when turning on the fire to high level.  Hence, the food won’t able to be cooked evenly within a short period of time, which loses the meaning of stir fry.  For a good comparison between stainless and carbon steel head to this link Differences between Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel Pipe.

4.3. Titanium

In recent years, a new material made out of titanium has been used to make wok.  The material is more stable hence does not release bad chemicals. However, the drawback is also the same as the steel. On top of this, the price is much higher.

5. Carbon steel wok provide resistance, lightness and flexibility

In the end, I still recommend the traditional hand forged carbon steel wok for the following reasons: 
–       The conduction rate is perfect for the requirement of stir fry, the temperature can be increased or decreased quickly.  
–       The material is very resilient for the stir by hard metal spatula;
–       The price is affordable;
–       The weight is not too heavy to handle if you want to shake the wok while stirring the food;
The only drawback of carbon steel wok is that you need to season it before use it. However, if you season a new wok well, the more and longer you use it, the better it will become.
I found a comprehensive guide of seasoning and storing your wok on the internet and here is the link for the guide.

5.1. How long can a carbon steel wok last?

My mum owns a wok which she has used for more than 40 years. It’s still shinny and resilient, which is even better than when it was new.  From time to time, she heats up the wok and uses a piece of pork fat to season it from the bottom to the rim.

6. What I recommend

In the same spirit of convenience and ease of choice, I will only recommend a very few numbers of carbon steel woks to choose from; instead of swamping you with a multitude of products.
They are handmade woks.  Because I still own the woks I bought many years ago, the list I give you is the closest in terms of quality to what I currently have. 

7. The Budget carbon steel wok for First Timers

carbon steel wok

This carbon steel wok will suit first timer well. If you just want to cook great food, but you don’t feel you have the skills to play with stirring heavily while using strong fire, that one if perfect. It will deliver on quality and budget. After a few usage, if you decide, you can upgrade to something more advanced.

This product will cost you a less that $60.

8. The Traditional carbon steel wok

carbon steel wok

This traditional wok is hand made and as traditional written all over it’s face. With this product, you are entering the craftsmanship league of cooking. It is not suitable for flat electric or flat induction stove. The steel helper handle will not burn when you stir fry over high heat. It’s also convenient to hang on high ceiling after you finishes. The wooden handle is not slippery and will afford you good comfort.
Before you use it, you will need to season your wok. Check the description on how to season your wok here.

The product also cost less than $60.

9. Going at the source for a carbons steel wok

Chinese carbon steel wok

On TMall which is the biggest on-line shopping platform in China (by the way, AliExpress is the overseas version for TMall), there are so many choices, I provide the link below in case you want to buy one from China.  If you need help from me to order or ship it from China, please let me know.  At last, wish you find a good wok and try the Chinese dishes.
Contact me

We Recommend:

mi size electric rice cooker

How to Select a Great Electric Rice Cooker

When it comes to recommending the best electric rice cooker, many blog posts or retailers don’t seem to care about the views of the ones that matter most. Those who use electric rice cookers over…
Read More
Chinese ladies rehearsing salsa dance moves

Why Dance is So Popular in China

Dance in China is so popular that one of the favourite activities of mid to old Chinese men and women is to gather in front of commercial centres or parks early in the morning or…
Read More
When you live in china you can see protitution late at night

What you should Not Do when you live in China

Generally speaking, it is better to focus on the things you can do rather than those you should not. After-all, if everything you think about is the forbidden, you will never get-out of your bed,…
Read More

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *