Wok talk (help me buy a wok)

I’m browsing over at The Wok Shop because I am tired of making stir-fry in my electric skillet - it just doesn’t taste right. But I’m utterly clueless about wok selection. I know I do NOT want a stainless or a “non-stick” wok, which leaves carbon steel or cast iron. Can anyone give me the rundown of the benefits stainless vs. cast iron? I lean toward cast iron by natural affinity but I am sure there are things I am ignorant about.

I should add that I cook on propane.

My advice is, don’t buy a wok. Buy a good skillet with fairly high sides and a flat bottom, much more suitable for an American stove. Cook’s Illustrated or America’s Test Kitchen are good sources of information.

I have an excellent early 20th century Griswold cast iron skillet - several in fact - and find that they do not quite get the job done. The shape, for one, is all wrong.

i have one like this and I have an electric stove. It works great and it’s very low maintenance once it’s seasoned. Remember three things:

-for cooking, heat it to the approx. temperature of the hobs of hell

-don’t wash with soap. Soak it in water to loosen stuck on stuff after cooking, then scrub with a plastic scrubber

-once you’ve washed it, put in back on the stove on low heat to dry it. Otherwise, it can rust.

Damn.Now I covet this guy!

Wikipedia has some good information:

You want carbon steel, no smaller than 12", with 14" being ideal. Don’t buy pre-seasoned, either. The round bottom (‘pow’) style is the best, but if you have an electric stove don’t feel bad about settling for a flat-bottomed one; they work fine. If you can, find one that comes with a lid. I’ve never used a “hand-hammered” style wok, and although this looks very nice, I would be concerned about food getting caught in the grooves and burning, so be careful.

If you’re not particularly strong, get one with a handle on the end. It’ll take up extra room, but it’ll ensure you don’t spill food everywhere. I don’t use one, but I’ve got a lot of practice (worked in a Chinese restaurant for over a year, work now in another kitchen that occasionally uses them).

The Other Perfect Master has some tips.

Meh to Alton Brown’s advice. Nothing bad, but he lost a couple of points by saying that thin layer of crap that comes on Woks will just go away in time. That doesn’t go into the air–that crap goes into your food! To clean that layer of gunk off, fill the wok about 2/3 full with water and bring it to a boil for 10 minutes. Then run over it with a soap and steel wool–really scrub the shit out of it, you want to be absolutely sure you’ve got only steel there, and then go about seasoning.

I seasoned my wok three times before cooking with it. If you don’t do a good job, food will stick and you’ll have to take a strong abrasive to it, taking off all work you put into the first seasoning job.

Hmm, I’m leaning toward the carbon steel now (I also think I like the pow style), but I’m concerned whether the metal on these is thick enough. I know that the Wok Shop is pretty highly regarded though.

I love The Wok Shop. The retail store is in San Francisco’s Chinatown. i buy all my Chinese cooking crap there. Personally, I find the thin carbon steel woks to work fine. Just make sure you have a burner that will throw out the BTU’s, or at least, constrain the quantity of ingredients to be commensurate with your firepower.

I bought all my nieces and nephews woks from The Wok Shop last Christmas. My sister the grinch has since canceled gift giving to the kids. i still suspect that she had some bizarre objection to me giving cooking gear to her daughters. Of course, she’s the one with the $100,000 kitchen who can’t cook worth shit.

That diatribe aside, what I did notice was that the cheap woks I bought had raised rivets on the handles. Try to make sure that the rivets or welds are ground flat or rounded on the cooking surface, or else they willl interfere with cooking and cleaning. Also, pick up a spatula and a ladle (insert Doper joke here) while you are at it.

Darryl, thanks for your input - I highly regard your opinion. I am slightly concerned about my stove putting out enough BTUs. It does seem to have issues with uneven heating, which is partly why I’ve used an electric skillet for stir-fry in the past. It may be time for me to invest in a separate heavy-duty propane burner for higher-heat applications. Cheez_Whia has always said that woks are great because you can do freakin’ everything with them - but can I use it on my charcoal grill? The AB transcript that **Oslo Ostrogoth **linked to mentioned it, but I’d like a first hand opinion if anyone has one…

(And Darryl, your nieces and nephews are quite lucky! The Griswold skillets I mentioned above were a quite delightful gift from my favorite aunt. I cherish them beyond most of my possessions.)

Good point. I’m sure that I would burn off any factory gunk several times before I would trust food to it.

Thanks Queenie, what the hell happened to the Bruins today? Oh well, so long as they make it to the tourney, they’ll be OK. I’ve been told that some stoves can be retrofitted with a higher BTU burner. I’ve got a '50’s era Wedgewood, and the guy I bought it from told me this was possible. Generally, it has been adequate for all my experiments as far as firepower goes. From what I’ve seen, most electric woks suck due to the thermostat kicking on and off, thus not providing an even consistent temperature. Perhaps newer electric woks do not have this design flaw, but IMHO, gas is the only way to go. If you’ve ever been to a hole in the wall Chinese restaurant with an exposed kitchen, you know they aren’t fucking around with the heat.

Oh yeah, and you’ll need a lid and a wok ring also to support the thing.

That’s where I bought mine. It is the hand-hammered traditional style made of carbon steel. I bought the 16", and wish I’d bought a smaller one. It cooks great, though! Lids can be bought separately.

And make sure you’ve got a good vent or a window nearby. Woks put out a lot of smoke. Not usually enough to set off a smoke detector, but enough to leave your kitchen hazy for a few hours.

My smoke detector go off ALL THE TIME! Between the wok and the cast iron flat top griddle/grill, I smoke my house up all the time. I have no vent or hood to use. Try making a chicken breast on the indoor grill without a hood sometime :eek:

Anyway, I have a 14" carbon steel flatbottomed wok. It’s great but it has a wooden handle. I wish I would have gotten the metal handled kind so I could season it in the oven.

I probably need a 16" though for my crew. Especially when the damn teenagers are around.

Darryl, I blame the Bruins’ performance yesterday on midterms. I know that what I’m blaming all MY problems on this week anyways. :stuck_out_tongue:

The one I bought is this one. The lid is sold separately. They sent a bunch of stuff for free along with it: rice paddle, spider, burner ring, and a back scratcher. I had to buy a steaming rack at the Oriental store here.

You can always buy a 14" with lid, and I’ll trade you in June.

Ah yes, The Wok Shop. I wander through it every single time I’m in San Francisco. I love their woks. You should be pleased with whatever you get- I like carbon steel, 14-16".

Oh, sweet jeezus, I have to go to SF and get this!