Woks date back 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty in China. The word "wok" means "cooking pot" in Chinese, and the pans are used for a variety of cooking tasks. While woks are best associated with making stir-fries in the U.S., any food that benefits from a centralized heat source and large, consistent cooking area can (and should!) be cooked in a wok. That means woks used for braising, making sauces, soups, deep frying, steaming and more.
Woks traditionally have rounded bottoms and very smooth, rounded edges, perfect for heating quickly and evenly over a small flame. They typically have long handles that allow them to be shaken during cooking, sometimes eliminating the need to stir at all. Some contemporary styles come with lids which help with steaming and gently finishing food.
The experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute Kitchen Appliances Lab rounded up the best woks based on user reviews, our favorite brands, and our categorical expertise on cooking tools. We chose an assorted variety to catering to every type of chef, from the novice home cook to the professional. Our favorite woks are easy to clean and feature flat bottoms so they can be used on the average home stove. Here are our picks for the best woks:
What is the best material for woks?
- Carbon steel is the most traditional material used for making woks. It heats up quickly and evenly, and, if cleaned and treated properly, becomes non-stick over time. Carbon steel woks aren't as popular as they once were since they require seasoning before use and careful washing — they can't be used with soap or thrown in the dishwasher. Carbon steel also flavors the food a little, which some people find unpleasant, though other say this means it's properly seasoned.
- Cast iron requires a bit more time to heat, but retains heat very well. Like a carbon steel wok, a cast iron wok also needs to be seasoned before first use to help prevent sticking, though some are sold pre-seasoned. Like a carbon steel wok, it, too, will become non-stick over time if treated properly. Cast iron tends to be heavy, which may make moving the wok difficult. In such cases, a wok spatula may be used to stir the food; it has a shovel like design, ideal for moving food around quickly and easily.
- Stainless steel woks are gaining more popularity. While stainless steel takes some time to heat, it has good, even heat distribution. Traditionalists are opposed to stainless steel woks because they can be heavy and don't respond quickly to temperature changes the way carbon steel woks do. They're durable, however, and don't need to be seasoned. Stainless steel woks are often combined with other types of metal, like an aluminum core, which help them heat up quicker. They're also usually dishwasher safe.
- Nonstick woks are a no-brainer for the entry level cook: They don't need to be seasoned, and they're easy to clean — just don't use a scouring pad or anything abrasive. Nonstick woks also can't be heated too hot, so it's hard to get a sear on meats and veggies. Low and steady wins the race with nonstick, which some might argue defeats the purpose of using a wok, which are traditionally used at super high heats.