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Choosing & Using a Chinese Wok

Updated on July 28, 2014

Welcome to My Wok Corner

A wok is among the most versatile of kitchen tools. Of course, it can turn out delicious Asian dishes, but it can also be used for a variety of other foods! Even better, it's a great way to cut down on fats - you're cooking at a high heat with less oil, which translates into less calories. Here, we're going to explore the different types of woks, decide which one is best for your needs, and discuss all the possibilities of wok cooking. It's so easy and makes it even more fun to expand your recipe database.

Why Use a Wok?

The benefits and joys of using a wok are many! Traditionally, the round-bottom remains the best in our opinion, especially if it's crafted in carbon steel. Other types are available, of course, and those may suit your stovetop design - and your cooking requirements - better. But, from a standpoint of preparing foods, here are the main points.

1. It's healthier. You'll use less oil, no matter what you prepare.

2. It's fast - when the wok is hot, it's just a matter of seconds before the food is ready. (Granted, you still have to spend a bit of time prepping.

3. It's convenient - this is your chance to create all-in-one dishes that everyone will enjoy. Working in stages with tougher foods first, then a last toss with the lighter veggies, and you're done.

Round Bottomed Wok
Round Bottomed Wok

Types of Woks - Flat and Round Bottoms

First you'll need to decide between round-bottom and flat-bottom woks.

Round bottoms work best on gas burners or raised electric burner rings.

Flat bottoms work better on flat-surfaced stovetops.

Which of these is better? In our opinion, round bottoms provide easier access to contents. You can toss them, scoot them up the side, and create a well at the center for sauces. If you prefer a round-bottom work, but don't have the right stovetop, a separate single electric burner works very well. You may not have a choice, though, and flat bottoms remain a popular alternative.

Types of Woks - Construction and Style

Next, you'll have to decide on size and material construction.

Plan on a 14-inch or 16-inch wok for general purpose family cooking. These can easily accommodate four hearty servings, leaving plenty of room for tossing foods around the perimeter.

Material options include:

-- carbon steel - the best in our opinion as it conducts heat well, but isn't too heavy.

-- stainless steel - can cause sticking, may require extra oil, and can heat unevenly.

--cast iron - conducts heat well, but can be heavy to maneuver.

-- non-stick - not recommended as the surfaces can't take the high heat needed in true wok cooking.

Let's look at style. Generally, you'll find loops at the sides or a long handle with/without a loop at the opposite side. Our preference is a long handle for better control on the stovetop with a loop at the other side to grab if needed (with a potholder) for control.

Carbon Steel Woks

Here are two carbon steel woks that will provide excellent service. One is round-bottomed; the other is flat.

How to Season a Wok

If you've selected a carbon steel or cast iron wok, it will arrive with a protective coating that needs to be removed. Also, it requires seasoning. Instructions should be supplied with your wok. Generally, when it arrives, just give it a good hot wash with liquid detergent. This is the only time detergent should ever touch your work.

Next, add a nice dollop of oil to the insides and place on a hot burner. When it reaches a smoking point, lower the heat and let it "simmer" while basting the higher sides with oil. If you want a thicker coating, remove wood handles, coat with oil, and place in the oven at 150 degrees for 2-3 hours.

It's ready to go!

For details, check this out.

Caring for the Wok

Ongoing maintenance for a carbon steel or cast iron wok is easy, although you may want to re-season on occasion. Always be sure the wok is cool before rinsing. No soap, just clean hot water and a plastic scrubber or non-abrasive pad is all you need.

For stubborn baked-on food, dry the bottom of the wok and place it back on a hot burner. Those stubborn bits of food will turn to cinders. Let it cool once again and store it away. Some prefer to add a light coating of oil before storage, but that's your choice.

Follow manufacturer's instructions for other types of woks.

Hot Wok: a Favorite Cookbook

This is one of our favorite cookbooks. You'll discover many new recipes and an amazing array of sauces to experiment with. It's beautifully illustrated and also includes tips for choosing accessories and ingredients.

How to Use Wok Rings

Wok rings are used to provide stability on stovetops. They can also assist in heat conduction on electric burners.

Two wok ring styles are available:

--An open wire frame ring for gas stoves

--A closed collar-style ring with vent holes for electric stoves

The open ring style allows gas flames to wick up the sides of a wok. The closed collar style helps spread heat from an electric burner to all parts of the wok. Collar rings should be used with the smaller opening placed down while the larger open supports the wok. For gas burners, it's the opposite.

Wok rings aren't essential tools, but many may find them useful in a busy kitchen.

An easy Chicken Stir-Fry

Share your favorite wok tips here or let me know if you plan to try a wok dish soon!

Let's Talk about the Wok!

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