I want a wok

Since wok is a 3 letter word I can’t search for prior threads on the topic :frowning: so forgive me if it’s been discussed.

We owned one years ago. Some sort of steel - maybe carbon, though we never seasoned it (wouldn’t have had a clue how to do that). We rarely used it, and we were moving, so it went to a thrift sale.

Now we want to do more stir-frying and we really need one - the big frying pan just doesn’t cut it for various reasons. I gather carbon steel, thoroughly seasoned, is The Way To Go.

Only… I’m lazy. My beloved cast iron dutch oven got the seasoning messed up and we still haven’t gotten around to successfully scrubbing it and re-seasoning it, so maybe carbon steel would not be my friend.

There’s a Calphalon stainless steel wok at Amazon. I could pay 160 bucks for it and get Prime shipping, or get it for half that through a third-party seller. Oh, and it doesn’t come with a nice dome lid like the carbon steel (40ish bucks) one does.

How badly would I regret getting a stainless steel wok? We’re not restaurant-quality chefs and this would not be used every day, so The Perfect Wok isn’t a requirement… just one that’s “good enough”.

And, how badly would I regret not having that domed lid?

Don’t get a stainless steel wok. Most authentic wok recipes rely on constant tossing which means stuff can’t stick to the wok. Carbon steel is the best but the next best would be teflon IMO.

I never properly seasoned my carbon steel wok; I just cooked in it, soaked it in plain water to dislodge the goo, scrubbed said goo with a plastic scrubbie, then most importantly, put the wok back on a low stove to cook off the residual water to prevent rusting. A year later, seasoned wok. For the first year, a little more scrubbing. Years 2-14 it’s worked great. Also, if you have a Chinese kitchen store/supply/chain grocery store in your area it shouldn’t cost too much. I’ve seen them for $40.

I don’t have a lid, but I should get one

Yeah, seasoning just makes it a little more non-stick, and it’ll get seasoned eventually anyway. The main thing you want to do is not let it rust, which means letting it sit on a hot burner for a few minutes once you’ve cleaned and hand-dried it.

Carbon steel woks are best by far in my opinon. They heat and cool quickly and are fairly lightweight. Stainless steel is problematic in terms of weight, time to cool and food sticking. Cast iron takes a long time to heat and heats too thoroughly (you don’t want the sides as hot as the bottom), is heavy, and requires seasoning and drying just like carbon steel. And teflon generally means a flat-bottom wok where there is too large a hot spot, and where due to the slipperiness of teflon the food won’t stay put on the sides when you move it away from the hotspot.

And if seasoning is still a concern, el cheapo woks (which is all you really need) from places like Target, Wal-Mart, etc., usually come with instructions on how to do it. I’ve used this set for twenty-five years and I can’t think of anyone I’ve cooked Chinese food for with it that hasn’t asked for an encore, often multiple times. :smiley: It’ll do just fine. (I haven’t seen this particular set around in a while though other than on ebay, but it’ll give you an idea of what to look for if you don’t want to go that route.)

You guys have just about convinced me.

Are the outsides of your woks unseasoned at this point?

Do you use metal utensils with it or just the bamboo stuff I’ve seen online?

We’ve got an electric stove which I believe means a flat-bottomed wok is what we need, do they work “well enough”?

And how often do you rely on the lid, steaming rack, etc.?

Mine are, just like I don’t season the outside of my cast-iron pans.

I mostly use a simple wooden spatula, but AFAIK it’s fairly safe to use metal utensils in a properly seasoned pan.

Hmm… I’m not sure you can get a flat bottomed carbon steel wok. They’re really only any good on a direct flame, as far as I know. But maybe someone else has more experience with electric. Ultimately you could get a stand-alone wok burner (which is probably the best way to use a wok anyway).

Don’t have a lid, and I don’t really miss it, since most of my wok recipies are stir-fry and you don’t want anything sitting in a carbon steel wok after it’s done cooking anyway. I steam stuff in a steal colander on top of a normal pan. Takes less space on the stove, and I can use the wok for something else :slight_smile:

Quite a few stir fry recipes also have a steaming step for which a lid is required. eg: Stir frying broccoli usually involves frying and then adding 1/4 cup of water and clamping on the lid for 3 - 5 minutes.

Recent wok thread.

I’ll repeat what I said there - I yearn for kitchen equipment. I have just about everything I can possibly use when it comes to pots & pans. But I have no wok.

I had a nice one for years. Carbon steel, the whole deal. Then I read Cook’s Illustrated assertion that on a standard American stove, a frying pan works as well or better than a wok. Heck, I think, I’ll try it. I never used the damn wok again. Results were the same, cleanup was easier, food was plenty yummy.

I’d say this was doubly true if you’re going for a flat-bottomed wok. There’s not much difference at all with flat-bottomed versus a frying pan.

Here’s some other interesting threads, from eGullet:

Wok Versus Skillet.

Some pretty amazing looking chinese recipes. If you click on the picture, you’re taken to a thread with recipes. Note that the stir-fry recipes are done in skillets.

I bought a flat-bottomed cast iron wok from The Wok Shop and it’s worked pretty well on my glass-topped electric stove. They also have some hammered carbon steel woks that look pretty good. Prices seem pretty reasonable to me, as well.

Flat bottomed carbon steel wok!
Thing I really like about it (and this one) is no wooden handles, so seasoning can be done in the oven, not on the the stove-top. I agree with this guy, you really want to get the thing as hot as possible when you’re seasoning it, 500°-550°. Upside down so any extra oil/Crisco (inside and out, why not?) can drain away instead of pooling in the bottom of the pan, you know it’s done when the smoke stops :eek:. I always try to do some baking when I use my cast iron so the oven is hot anyway. My griddle/grill has been seasoned so many times because of that, the carbon layer is starting to hide the bad finish* on it :).

I never used any of the extras; tempura rack, steaming rack, or lid either. Looking at the prices at The Wok Shop it’s $40 of stuff you just don’t need and will probably never use.

*Mama Zappa is that dutch oven new or vintage? Vintage just needs cleaning, lots of links here. If it’s new then I’m betting it wasn’t finished properly in the first place. My Grandma’s cast iron is silky smooth 'cause the texture the sand casting process left was ground off, my new stuff is anything but smooth (:mad: cheap, lazy bastards). New stuff IMHO really needs some resurfacing with power tools (flap sander in a drill, or a detail sanding tool/die grinder).

CMC fnord!

Sure you can, just like this. SDMB googling instructions here.

Great, now I have that song in my head.

Forgive my ignorance but how does one go about “seasoning” a piece of metal? I’ve never heard about this and am curious to know more.

You can indeed - there are a number of them on Amazon and I just got back from Bed Bath & Beyond, where they had several woks available (including a couple of the big stainless steel ones).

I took everyone’s advice and got a cheap (30 dollar) set. Includes the handle, a wooden stirrer, a tempura rack, and a lid. As you note, I don’t think I’ll use the lid much, and I also suspect I won’t use the tempura rack much. With our old wok, 20+ years ago, the one time we used the lid was to steam something and I remember it seemed to make the inside of the wok rust a little - we didn’t know about seasoning the pan at that point.

I’d have been happy enough to get one w/o the lid etc. but the only one they had was a bit smaller, and part of the reason we want this is because we need a larger pan for the stir fry.

I wasn’t sure it was carbon steel at first - the box didn’t say so, just “steel” (and it didn’t say “stainless”). I opened it up and checked and the instructions do say carbon steel.

The biggest pain will probably be removing the lacquer it’s coated with. Either I use a chemical lacquer remover, or I heat oil in it and scrub with steel wool.

Are you sure it’s lacquer? Both the ones I bought just had some kind of thin coating on it that was easy to remove with soap and hot water.

The insert in the package said lacquer. I’m assuming it’s not a furniture-grade product, obviously, but it specifically said “lacquer remover” or as an alternative, heat some oil up inside and use that + steel wool to scrub the interior.

Elmer Fudd signing Twisted Sister

It’s a process of building up a layer of carbonized fat on the cooking surface of cast iron (or carbon steel). Makes the surface much less prone to sticking, and protects it from rusting.

crowmanyclouds, the dutch oven is indeed a newer one - a Lodge pre-seasoned pot. For what I used it for - stew / chili / spaghetti sauce and the occasional sauteed thing - the less-than-perfect surface was just fine. Unfortunately, one day I made chili or something… and FORGOT TO CLEAN IT. When I realized my error the next morning, I cleaned it immediately - but then every time I used it after that, little bits of black flaked off into the food. Which was no doubt harmless enough, but unappetizing.

The problem with the flat-bottom carbon steel one is it’s flat on the inside. Kinda defeats the spirit of wok cooking that way. Might as well go skillet.

Here’s a blurb from Le Creuset, where I got my cast iron wok (mine isn’t enameled though; thank goodness I got if before it was discontinued).

The flat bottom on the outside and curved inside makes a big difference, IMHO.

The thing with carbon steel is it’s light weight, and designed for tossing around over a high flame, which most people don’t have. If you’re going to set the wok over a flat heating element or low flame and not physically toss the pan around, then a heavier cast iron wok makes sense to me.