The Best Woks and Stir-Fry Pans
This top-rated wok might become your new favorite fry pan!
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Traditional woks are not exactly compatible with modern kitchens: Their round, wobbly bottoms beg for traditional Chinese burners. Even the wok rings designed to support these types of pans elevate the surface too high above the heating element, defeating the purpose of this high-heat, flash-searing cookware. Luckily, there are now flat-bottomed woks which work perfectly with electric, induction, and gas ranges.
Still, you might be wondering why you should even bother buying a wok when your cookware set came with a perfectly good skillet. These pans like our favorite, Cooks Standard 13-inch Wok with Dome Lid (available at Amazon for $59.13) are designed with stir-frying in mind. Their concave shape concentrates the heat to the bottom of the pan, creating a super-hot area that cooks your food more quickly. Furthermore, the steep sides prevent splatter while giving you space to push cooked food up the sides as you go. And if all that’s not enough, you might be surprised to learn that woks aren’t just for stir-frying. They can deep fry with less oil, and covering them with a domed lid creates ideal conditions for steaming, smoking, or popping popcorn.
You’ll find that woks come in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes, all with different handle types and construction materials. Without trying them out, it’s hard to know which one is right for your kitchen, so we took the guesswork out of it. We tested eight woks made from carbon steel, cast iron, and stainless steel. Some came with nonstick coating while others could be seasoned to create a nonstick patina. We didn’t hate any of the pans—and they all made delicious bowls of stir-fried noodles—but the ease and comfort of a few definitely made them stand out as our favorites.
Here are the best woks we tested ranked, in order:
- Cooks Standard 13-Inch Wok with Dome Lid
- Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick 10-Inch Stir-Fry Pan
- All-Clad Stainless 14-Inch Open Stir Fry
- Lodge 14-Inch Cast Iron Wok
- Joyce Chen Pro Chef 14-Inch Excalibur Nonstick Wok
- T-fal 14-Inch Nonstick Jumbo Wok
- Craft Wok Traditional Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Pow Wok
- Joyce Chen Pro Chef 14-Inch Carbon Steel Wok
There’s nothing traditional about the Cooks Standard 13-Inch Wok, but it was our favorite out of the group. It had more surface area on the bottom as compared to the other woks, making it a true hybrid between our favorite skillet and a wok. The rounded, sloped sides were effective at holding cooked food as we went, and it was light enough to toss the vegetables while we stir-fried. This pan was also our favorite for deep-frying potato chips, creating minimal splatter and perfectly browning the chips on all sides.
It’s worth noting that traditionalists don’t like stainless steel woks because they take longer to heat up and don't usually heat as evenly as carbon steel pans. While the former was definitely true when we tested the Cooks Standard, we were impressed at how much more effectively it retained that heat once it got there. The aluminum core and multi-clad metal construction was a game changer, making the pan light enough to use comfortably while also creating even heating with little to no hot spots.
It was not only our favorite wok to use, but it was also the only one that came with a dome lid. Put it all together, and you’ll see why the Cooks Standard is our choice for Best Overall.
If you’re specifically looking for a nonstick wok, we’d recommend the Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick 10-Inch Stir-Fry Pan. This little pan surprised us by getting a great sear on the chicken. Pans with nonstick coating usually can’t be exposed to high heat, making them less than ideal for stir-frying. Since this pan is made from hard-anodized aluminum instead of containing a Teflon-style nonstick coating, that stereotype doesn’t apply! This type of construction heated up quickly and was sturdy enough to handle the high frying temperatures during our tests. It was also super light, which made tossing vegetables an effortless exercise. That coating also made it one of the easiest pans to clean, too.
Since the Calphalon Nonstick is smaller than most of the woks we tested (10 inches in diameter as compared to 13- and 14-inch woks), it wouldn’t be the best choice for cooking for a crowd. That compact size worked to its advantage, though, when it came to ease of storage. We also didn't encounter any problems when we cooked the same amount of food that we threw at the larger woks.
At the end of the day, we were pleased with its performance and the ease of use, so it was a no-brainer to name the Calphalon our Best Nonstick wok. (This wok is also available in a 12-inch version. )
How We Tested
Hi, I’m Lindsay Mattison, a trained professional chef and a vegetable lover. It’s not uncommon to find veggies taking up half of my dinner plate, which is hilarious because I was the pickiest eater as a kid! While I’m all about cooking up a sheet pan dinner or grilling my vegetables, high-heat searing is my favorite way to cook these gems. Using a wok to stir-fry vegetables is a nutritious, colorful, and delicious way to put dinner on the table–fast!
We chose eight highly-rated woks made from carbon steel, cast iron, and stainless steel. We picked a good mix of non-stick and seasoned woks to see if any particular design or construction stood out from the rest. To test their searing ability, overall ease of use, and durability, we stir-fried chicken, vegetables, and noodles before tossing them all together to create a deliciously saucy bowl. We also heated the empty pans and measured for hot spots with an infrared thermometer and deep-fried potato chips to see how well the woks would retain their heat.
In the end, we were surprised to find that the woks were all on a relatively even playing field when it came to overall cooking ability. That’s actually great news: All the pans not only cooked beautiful food, but they were all easy to clean, too! So where did the top pans pull away from the pack? They had lightweight construction and comfortable handles. We also awarded bonus points if it was easy to remove the food from the pan, too. It doesn't matter if the wok is a joy to use while cooking if the pan is poorly balanced and you sprain your wrist when serving it up!
What Kind of Wok Should I Buy?
Woks are famous for high-heat searing in stir-fry dishes, but these pans are incredibly versatile. They’re great for cooking down bulky vegetables like spinach, and you can deep-fry foods with a fraction of the oil required in a straight-edged pan. And, if you have a dome-shaped lid for the wok, you can also use steamer baskets to make dumplings, smoke whole chickens, or pop popcorn without any splatter.
To accomplish all these tasks with ease, you’ll need a pan with a large cooking surface that’s lightweight enough to toss vegetables but heavy-duty enough to avoid warping at high heats. There are a few different materials that can handle these activities: carbon steel, cast iron, and stainless steel.
Carbon steel is the traditional wok material. It’s a light-weight metal that’s effective at conducting heat. It heats evenly and retains heat well, but it requires a time-consuming seasoning process to prevent it from rusting. Once it's seasoned, though, it will develop a nonstick coating over time.
Cast iron is another excellent choice for heat retention, although its heft makes it nearly impossible to use for tossing vegetables. Most cast iron comes pre-seasoned, and that seasoning will continue to improve over time.
Today's stainless steel pans are an ideal mix between the two. They have more heft than carbon steel but they're lighter than cast iron. Like cast iron, these pans take longer to heat up, but they end up retaining that heat better than carbon steel. And since these pans don't have any coating, they're usually dishwasher safe, too.
Finally, you’ll find woks with nonstick coating or pans made from hard-anodized aluminum. These pans are ideal for ease of cleaning, but the same coating that keeps food from sticking makes it hard to get a high-heat sear.
How Do I Season a Wok?
Most cast iron and nonstick woks come pre-seasoned, but you’ll need to season any carbon steel wok before its first use. The process is relatively straightforward, albeit time-consuming. Start by scrubbing the pan with hot, soapy water to remove the manufacturer’s coating. Then, dry it thoroughly and set it over high heat. The wok will start to turn a blueish-blackish color.
When the wok is hot, coat it with a teaspoon or two of neutral cooking oil (such as canola, vegetable, or peanut oil). Hold a wadded-up paper towel with a set of tongs and rub the oil over the interior of the wok. Heat over medium-low heat for 10 minutes and wipe off the oil with a new paper towel. Let the pan cool before repeating the oil-and-heating steps until the paper towel does not have any black residue (it usually takes about three or four times in total).
Once the pan is seasoned, you don’t want to use any detergents to clean the wok—that will remove the seasoning, and you’d have to go through the seasoning process again. Treat these carbon-steel woks like your favorite cast iron pan and rinse them with hot water before drying them thoroughly. After each use, rub them with a thin layer of cooking oil before storing to prevent rusting.
Other Woks We Tested
This 14-inch wok doesn’t come cheap, but it's constructed from American-made steel and it also comes with a lifetime warranty. If you do a lot of stir-frying, it might be worth the price tag: The All-Clad Stainless Open Stir Fry is the only pan we tested that didn’t have a single hot spot. Although it took longer to heat than any of the other pans, the tri-ply bonded steel heated evenly once it got there and retained that heat just as well. While it was a contender for our top pick, a few little things dropped it out of contention. Beyond its pricey cost, the contoured handle was too uncomfortable to flip vegetables with ease and its flat, wide slope made it difficult to remove the potato chips as we fried.
There was a lot to love about the American-made Lodge 14-Inch Cast Iron Wok, but one major flaw dropped it down a few notches on our list. Cast iron is heavy, and this pan weighs more than 10 pounds! The Cantonese-style handles on each side made it easy enough to lift, but between the pan’s heft and lack of a long handle, it was impossible to toss the vegetables. On the plus side, the Lodge wok created beautifully seared food, and it didn’t budge on the stovetop as we used it (even when we really tried). That stability makes it ideal for deep frying, and the beautiful pan can double as a serving dish if you bring it straight to the table. Just make sure to grip the handles with oven mitts, because they got super hot.
As compared to the other pans, the Joyce Chen Pro Chef 14-Inch Excalibur Nonstick Wok was heavier than we expected! Most nonstick pans are relatively light, but this one definitely had some heft (especially when it was full of food). We weren’t impressed with the evenness of heating, and it had hot spots all over the place. While we loved the traditional shape, we found the slopes too slippery to move food around effectively.
You might be attracted to the budget price of the T-fal 14-Inch Nonstick Jumbo Wok, but it definitely wouldn’t be our first choice. The PFOA-free nonstick coating made the pan easy to clean, and on the plus-side it was one of the lightest pans we tested. It was fun to flip vegetables, but it was nearly impossible to get a hard sear on the food. This type of coating is not ideal for use in high-heat cooking as it can break down quickly over time. Since that's kind of what woks are all about, it's a bit of a deal-breaker.
Overall, we were pretty happy with the performance of the Craft Wok Traditional Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Pow wok. It looks absolutely gorgeous, too, with it hand-hammered carbon steel and a wooden helper handle. Unfortunately, the rounded bottom means this wok isn’t for everyone. If you own an electric stove, you’ll need to pick up a wok ring so the cookware can balance above the element. And while we love the quick-and-even heating of carbon steel, keep in mind that the seasoning process requires some patience. It was easy enough to season, but time-consuming nonetheless.
We were less than impressed with the Joyce Chen Pro Chef 14-Inch Carbon Steel Wok. Like the other carbon steel wok we tested, it heated up quickly and didn’t have many observable hot spots. However, we had a hard time seasoning this wok, and it left us with a burnt base and nearly clean sides. Overall, it did a nice job at stir-frying our vegetables and deep-frying potatoes, but it was too heavy and the back handle got in the way as we tossed food. All in all, we prefer some of the other woks better than this one.
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