Helen Chen wok heroSource: Amazon

Best Woks iMore 2020

Buying a wok can be like cooking on a wok: fast and deceptively simple. There are a dozen or so styles to choose from, but unless you're running a restaurant with industrial burners, your choices should be limited to what works best in your kitchen. The first dinner I learned to cook was stir fry on a wok, and when I moved from Texas to Boston, the only pan I didn't pack for weeks of storage was my Mamma Fong Pow wok. Wok cooking can be fast, fun, healthy, indulgent, whatever you need it to be. Here are my picks if you're looking to start wok cooking.

Best Overall: Mamma Fong Flat Bottom Wok

Mammafong Wok LifestyleSource: Mamma Fong

My favorite choice, from Mamma Fong, is a Chinese Pow-style wok. It has one long handle to shake and flip your food with a "pao" motion. A pow-style wok shape is a better choice than a Cantonese-style shape, a bowl with smaller handles on both sides, because it fits most home cooking styles of lifting, moving, and generally fidgeting with the food.

The Mamma Fong Wok uses carbon steel, which heats very well and is light enough to handle easily. This wok is hand-hammered, which gives it a beautiful look, but it doesn't actually add much in the way of function. Carbon steel seasons just like cast iron, creating its own nonstick surface. Plus, carbon steel is lighter and easier to clean. The Mamma Fong wok is under four pounds, a nice weight for flipping your food. With the wood handle, the traditional hammered look, and the flat bottom, it is better for cooking on any home stove.

Pros:

  • Lightweight with nice handle
  • Hand-hammered look
  • Naturally non-stick

Cons:

  • No accessories included
  • Must be properly seasoned and cleaned
  • Handles not welded

Best Overall

Mamma Fong Flat Bottom Wok

The wok that ticks every box

Carbon steel, flat bottom, lightweight, wooden handle; pretty much everything needed in a wok.

Best Value: Helen Chen's Flat Bottom Wok

Helen Chen wok lifestyleSource: Amazon

A wok can be an incredibly versatile kitchen tool if you have the right accessories. For boiling, poaching, and steaming, you'll need a lid that is just smaller than the wok bowl, and surprisingly, not every wok comes with a lid. This Helen Chen kit comes with a lid and a bamboo spatula. Helen's Asian Kitchen sells several other accessories on Amazon, including a deep-fry spider spatula, steamer baskets, and more.

The flat bottom wok is a bit heavy at five pounds, but it's otherwise well-designed and made of the right stuff. The wok bowl is carbon steel; the handles are both bamboo so it should be easy to manipulate. With a wok this heavy, though, you might leave it in place and let the spatula do the lifting.

I also like that the helper handle rises up a bit from the lip of the bowl. This will make it hang nicely on a hook in the kitchen. Woks tend to be very tall in your pots and pans cabinet, so hanging them is a convenient solution.

Pros:

  • Carbon steel
  • Flat bottom with wooden handles

Cons:

  • Heavy for flipping food
  • Must be properly seasoned and cleaned

Best Value

Helen Chen's Flat Bottom Wok

A solid wok with accouterments

Too heavy to be our top pick, but it meets our criteria. It comes with excellent additions for a great price.

Best Cantonese Style: M.V. Trading Flat Bottom Wok

MV Trading wok 2Source: Amazon

If you don't have the desire or upper body strength to pull off a proper "pao" flipping motion when you stir fry, you might consider a Cantonese-style wok. In the Cantonese style of wok cooking, the wok remains in place, and you stir with a spatula. For this method, you want a flat-bottomed wok that is heavy enough to sit still while you agitate. I like this very simple carbon steel wok from M.V. Trading.

This wok weighs in over six pounds, so it won't be as easy to get from the cabinet to the stove, or from the stove to the sink for cleanup, but when you're ready to cook it, should sit nice and still. Since you won't be flipping food, you don't need the long wooden handle. Instead, you get two welded metal handles, a nice touch that some cooks prefer to riveted handles.

I would recommend springing for the larger 16-inch wok instead of the more standard 14-incher. While pow-style woks are great at 14 inches, for a Cantonese wok, you want more room to move the food around, and the larger size gives you more weight for stability.

Pros:

  • Ideal for Cantonese-style
  • Carbon steel with welded handles

Cons:

  • Big and heavy
  • Not ideal for flipping food
  • More difficult to clean-up and store
  • Must be properly seasoned and cleaned

Best Cantonese

M.V. Trading Flat Bottom Wok

You do the stirring, not the wok

For Cantonese cooking, this simple carbon steel wok with welded handles will make a solid vessel.

Best Luxury Piece: Mauviel M'Steel Wok

Mauviel wok 2Source: Mauviel

Ooooh, Mauviel makes a wok. I have a few copper pieces from Mauviel that have lasted me 20+ years and are used more than anything I have. Not a wok, though. On paper, the Mauviel Black Steel Wok might seem like a great luxury upgrade, but I'd warn against some of its key components.

First of all, it is thick and heavy, weighing six pounds. For a pow-style wok in which you'll flip your food, this is too much. The thick steel should hold heat nicely, but it may be harder to get up to temperature, and it won't cool as quickly. Thinner carbon steel cools quickly, so if you want to slow your cooking, you take the wok off the heat. Thicker steel and cast iron don't have this benefit.

That iron handle also worries me greatly. I know that on my copper cookware, the handles can get hot if I'm working with the kind of BTUs needed for stir fry. Iron conducts slower than copper but stays hotter. The only benefit I could imagine is that it's oven-friendly, but you wouldn't finish any wok dish in the oven. I've burned my hand grabbing those copper handles, so it's hard to recommend with a high-heat vessel like a wok.

Pros:

  • Mauviel. They're French.
  • Thick steel should heat nicely
  • Unique look

Cons:

  • Too heavy
  • Metal handle could get hot
  • Must be properly seasoned and cleaned

Best Luxury Piece

Mauviel M'Steel Wok

The renowned coppersmith deigns to carbon steel

While gorgeous and tempting, I'd stick with a lighter and more user-friendly wok that you can get for half the price.

Best Cast Iron: Lodge Pro-Logic Cast Iron Wok

Lodge wok lifestyleSource: Amazon

There are great arguments in favor of the Lodge Pro-Logic Cast Iron Work, but a few big reasons to consider something smaller. First, cast iron is just plain fun. It seasons wonderfully to become nonstick; it lasts so long your grandchildren might use this wok. It looks equally at home on your stovetop or sitting over a campfire, and it would be kind of cool to stir fry on a fishing trip.

You could only use this wok for Cantonese style cooking because it weighs almost 12 pounds. If you can lift it, that's not a bad thing. It should sit perfectly in place and let you scrape around your spatula to flip your food. Cooking in cast iron actually imparts iron as a nutrient into your food.

One major caveat is that cast iron cools very slowly. It is easy to overcook your food in a cast iron wok because you won't be able to bring down the heat as needed. Also, if you don't plate your food or at least remove it from the wok once you're finished, it will just keep on cooking.

Pros:

  • Holds onto heat very well
  • Durable and stable

Cons:

  • Holds onto heat too well
  • Super heavy for a wok
  • Especially difficult to season and clean

Best Cast Iron

Lodge Pro-Logic Cast Iron Wok

If you want to stir fry on a campout

If you want a big, heavy wok that won't move. Probably better for campfires than your electric stovetop.

Best Round Bottom: Joyce Chen wok

Lodge wok lifestyleSource: Amazon

Ideally, I'd use a round-bottom wok in my kitchen. The conical shape keeps food and heat tumbling back to the bottom while steam escapes from the top. Unfortunately, I have a ceramic electric range, so I need as much contact with the heat source as possible. Even cooks with a gas range probably won't see flames licking high enough to heat all around the bottom of a round-bottom wok. If you're confident in your fire, you should give this round-bottom wok from Joyce Chen your attention.

If you have a high flame, you may want to pair the wok with a circular wok rack, which is a stand that balances the round bottom. Don't think a wok stand will let you use a round bottom wok with an electric or lower-power gas range. You simply won't get enough head up the sides of the wok, and your food won't stir fry properly.

This wok is carbon steel but still lightweight at only four pounds, so you'll be able to easily keep your food moving. The carbon steel will develop a wonderful, natural nonstick finish, but you'll need to season it first and then keep it clean and dry after every use.

Pros:

  • Round bottom for best technique
  • Carbon steel with wooden handles

Cons:

  • Won't heat properly in most kitchens
  • May require a ring stand to balance
  • Must be properly seasoned and cleaned

Best Round Bottom wok

Joyce Chen wok

For authentic cooking with authentic heat

If your burners can crank out serious BTUs, you can use a round bottom wok for the most authentic stir fry technique

Bottom line

A wok is also the rare cooking tool that more money doesn't significantly improve. A great wok like the Mammafong Chinese Pow Wok uses basic materials and design but nails the essentials to create a pan you'll use for years. I prefer carbon steel for its light weight, and the Mamma Fong wok is less than 3.5 pounds so that it will be easy for beginners and fun for experienced chefs. The wok requires more care and attention from the cook, so you'll have to season it before you use it, and you'll need to clean it properly after each meal, but carbon steel pays off with a naturally nonstick surface that is easier to handle than thicker cast iron.

A Pow wok should have a long wooden handle that doesn't retain heat and is easy to hold, like the handle on the Mamma Fong wok, and another for easy hanging. I love the Mamma Fong's hand-hammered look that makes it feel premium for such an inexpensive tool. The flat bottom is perfect for all kitchen ranges, whether you have electric or gas or even induction. For an excellent all-around wok, there's no reason to look for something fancier than the Mamma Fong.

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