The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Carbon Steel Wok

Woks have become practical kitchen staples because of their versatility. Initially bought for Asian dishes, it was used mainly for stir-frying and making curries. It can also, however, be used for steaming, deep-frying, boiling, braising, searing, stewing, and smoking food. To no surprise, some have started using for making Western dishes as well. 

With so many brands of woks out there, which is the best carbon steel wok in the market? Let’s find out

What Are Woks Made of

Woks come in different materials. The most usual ones are:

  • Stainless steel
  • Cast iron
  • Teflon
  • Carbon steel

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is lightweight and rust-proof so it can look new even after multiple uses. While that makes it seem like a practical choice, it is important to note that it takes time to heat up. Moreover, more oil is needed to prevent food from sticking to it. Compared to its alternatives, it also stands at a higher price point.

Teflon

Teflon is another preferred option because unlike the previous, it is non-stick and inexpensive. Despite that, it is a less than ideal choice because of the safety concerns that surround its use. Although Teflon is a generally stable compound, its surface can start to break down at temperatures above 570°F (300°C), releasing toxic chemicals. 

Cast Iron

For those who prefer more traditional woks, cast iron is a good choice. This material allows heat to spread out more evenly, providing more control when cooking multiple ingredients. It requires more expertise and patience, though, as it tends to be heavy. It also takes time to heat up. Proper maintenance would also be required as it is prone to rust.

Carbon Steel

Finally, our most recommended choice is carbon steel. 

Carbon steel woks are lightweight and inexpensive. Yet, they have the ability to withstand high temperatures without releasing toxins.

On food preparation, it allows for more rapid and even heat distribution which helps make prep time faster, and energy consumption, less.

Seasoning is required for carbon steel woks. This protects it from rust and helps create a non-stick surface. Less oil is needed when cooking on a perfectly seasoned carbon steel wok, resulting in healthier meals. 

Seasoning is not that difficult to do for carbon steel woks, especially when compared to seasoning cast iron woks. Still, it is an extra step that will require time and effort.

Carbon steel woks are also very durable. With proper care and maintenance, they can last generations.

Material

Pros

Cons

Stainless steel

  • Lightweight

  • Rust-proof

  • Expensive

  • Takes time to heat up

  • Need to use more oil

Cast Iron

  • Traditional

  • Spreads heat evenly

  • Takes time to heat up

  • Prone to rust

Teflon

  • Non-stick

  • Inexpensive

Safety concerns

Carbon Steel

  • Lightweight

  • Inexpensive

  • Seasoned properly, rust-proof and non-stick

  • Rapid and even heat distribution

  • No safety issues

  • Relatively easy seasoning and cleaning

  • Durability

  • Seasoning required

  • Not dishwasher safe

Choosing The Best Carbon Steel Wok: A Practical Buying Guide

There is a wide variety of carbon steel woks in the market. When choosing which one to buy, first, be aware of your own needs and lifestyle. 

Below are questions that you can ask yourself to determine the features of the best carbon steel wok that suits your needs.

How many people do I need to serve

Carbon Steel Wok Sizes

There are several wok sizes available. To choose which is the best to buy, consider how many people you usually cook for. 

If it were for yourself and one other person, 12 inches or under would be enough to accommodate your requirements. If you’re preparing food for a larger group of 3-5 people, then a wok that is 13-15 inches in diameter is recommended. Finally, for a really big group, larger woks would be needed.

Note that these are simply suggestions but not requirements. There are some who prefer to have their woks larger than what is indicated above so they could mix their ingredients without any fear of spilling. Feel free to explore this as well if it fits your preference.

Carbon steel wok recommended sizes for serving sizes:

1-2 people

12 inches

3-5 people

13-15 inches

Parties or commercial uses

15+ inches

What heat source do I have

Flat or Round Bottoms

Carbon steel woks come with flat or round bottoms. 

When choosing which one to get, consider the heat source you will be using when you cook. 

If you have gas flames, flat-surfaced woks would work, know that they work better with round.

If you have an electric or induction cooker, on the other hand, then you can only use flat bottom styled ones. 

Be sure to read the manufacturer of the wok’s description to know its preferred cooking sources.

Is it easy to use

Thickness and Depth

The thickness of a wok allows for better heat retention. An average wok is 1.5 mm to 2 mm. As for depth, a wok that is too deep will heat more at the bottom, not efficiently distributing heat to the sides of the wok. This will make cooking that is unevenly done. For 14-inch woks, the standard depth should be about 4-5 inches.

Handles

Carbon steel woks can come in a different variety of handles. Long handles make tossing food and handling easier without losing control of the pan. Some also have helper or loop handles that allow for hanging for easy storage. This is important as carbon steel woks can rust if not stored properly.

Handles are usually made of natural wood, plastic, Teflon, silicone, or some other pure insulate material. Phenolics are also used holding benefits over plastic. It is resistant to both high temperatures and solvent cleaners.

In the case that you are planning to season your wok using an oven, note that detachable handles are necessary.

Construction Method and Surface Texture

Carbon steel woks can be made by hammering, spinning or stamping. This affects the texture of the inside of the carbon steel pot which then affects how well it holds food. 

Stamping involves bending a piece of metal to create the wok which results in pans with smooth sides.

Spinning produces granular sides producing woks that have concentric circles that go along the sides down to the bottom of the wok. 

Hammered woks, on the other hand, come with small indentations produced by each hammer blow. 

Spinning and hammered woks are both affordable and great choices for ease of use as food does not slide down when placed on their surfaces.

What other features do I want it to have

Pre-seasoned

As seasoning is a huge part of wok preparation and maintenance, some companies provide their woks pre-seasoned for convenience.

Inclusions

Wooden spoons are traditionally used with them, so these are nice when they come with carbon steel woks. Lids also allow for more versatility allowing you to steam with your wok in addition to its other functions.

Best Carbon Steel Wok of 2020

Souped Up Recipes Carbon Steel Wok

Heat Source Compatibility

This wok can be used on a variety of heat sources: electric coils, induction glass tops, gas stoves, and other direct heat sources. With its flat bottom, standing steady when being used to cook will not require any other equipment such as rings for round-bottomed woks. 

Ease of Use

At 5.25 pounds, this wok is very lightweight. Cooking is a breeze as it heats up fast and its hammered finish helps keep food in place. The long wood handle also allows for easy lifting when needed.

Other Features

Several inclusions come with this wok: a wooden lid, a metal spatula, and a link to a very helpful user guide. Videos are also available in Souped Up Recipe’s Youtube channel which features information about the wok, proper seasoning, and maintenance.

Although the wok is not pre-seasoned, the helper video thoroughly goes through steps on how to do this using a gas stove, oven, or an electric stove. It is quite easy to do.

Souped Up Recipes is also very responsive in the case of complaints and quality issues.

PROS

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to store
  • Easy to season
  • Can accommodate several heating sources
  • Great inclusions
  • Helper videos available

CONS

  • Only allows for only a limited serving size.
  • The Lid has a certain odor which may not be appealing to some on use

Overall

This wok can easily be handled and used in a small kitchen, making it perfect for independent apartment dwellers. It can also accommodate a huge range of heat sources. 

With all the inclusions and video guides available, this purchase is great for beginners and seasoned users alike.

Joyce Chen, Pro Chef Wok

Heat Source Compatibility

With a flat bottom, this wok is ideal for electric or gas ranges.

Ease of Use

This wok comes thicker than other woks of the same diameter. Although this puts it on the heavy side, the thickness allows it to retain heat longer, albeit slower. Another benefit to its thick size is that it is more unlikely to warp in extreme heat.

Ring patterns can be felt around its surface which serves as a stopper to prevent food from sliding. 

A removable Phenolic long handle makes it easy to grip as it stays cool while cooking. The helper handle provides additional assistance in stabilizing the wok.

PROS

  • Size can accommodate small and large meals
  • Tough and sturdy
  • Seasoning is optional (but recommended)
  • Can accommodate several heating sources
  • Removable handles that stay cool during cooking
  • Easy storage with a ring at the end of its long handle

CONS

  • Handles are difficult to remove
  • No lid and other inclusions
  • Stubborn factory oil coating

Overall

The Joyce Chen Pro Chef Wok is a great choice for regular use. Made with heavy and sturdy material, it effectively and evenly distributes heat, making cooking a great experience. Although it is no longer necessary to season it on the first purchase, seasoning is still recommended as it creates a better and more authentic experience.

Craft Wok Traditional Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Pow Wok

Heat Source Compatibility

With a traditional rounded bottom, it is not suitable for flat electric or flat induction stoves. Gas stoves are recommended. 

Ease of Use

Hand-hammered by Chinese professionals in Guangzhou, this wok allows for a very authentic feel. It is built with commercial-grade 1.8mm metal and several handles: a wood handle with a hygroscopic surface and a steel helper handle helpful for hanging the wok for storage. The helper handle is guaranteed not to burn even when stir-frying over high heat. 

A little on the heavy side, lifting it to execute a flip-stir method technique using one hand may be challenging to some.

PROS

  • Professional-grade
  • Thick, durable build
  • Handles for ease of use and storage
  • Authentic feel with round bottom and hand-hammered texture

CONS

  • Can be heavy for some
  • No inclusions
  • The rounded bottom could accommodate fewer heat sources

Overall

The Craft Wok Traditional is a popular choice for professionals because of its straightforward and Spartan approach. Its handles allow for easy control and storage, provided that the weight is something that you can manage. Sturdy and thick, it is durable and is the type of ware that can be passed to generations after when properly maintained.

M.V. Trading Carbon Steel Wok

Heat Source Compatibility

With its flat bottom, this wok can sit directly on electric stoves or grills. It does not, however, work well on glass stovetops.

Ease of Use

Weighing 5 pounds, this carbon steel wok requires a little effort to lift. Still, the wooden side spool handle and helper handle allow for more control of the wok despite its weight. Heating is consistent and the thin rings around its surface allow for the food to stay put.

PROS

  • Allows for a generous serving
  • Sturdy and durable
  • Spun metal to help food stay put
  • Can accommodate a huge range of heat sources
  • Can stand directly on stoves

CONS

  • Handle needs to be checked in case loosened as the wok is heavy
  • No extra inclusions
  • Non-detachable handle

Overall

Designed for rapid cooling and heating, this well-designed wok is a sturdy option for small groups. Proper seasoning is necessary for a good experience, along with making sure that the handles are properly fastened.

Mammafong Authentic Hand-Hammered Wok

Heat Source Compatibility

Crafted with a traditional round bottom, this carbon steel pan is good for gas or electric burners. For controlling the heat better, however, the earlier is more recommended.

It is often used with a wok rack for better stability and heat distribution.

Ease of Use

At 3.31 pounds, this hand-hammered wok is light for its size. 

It is made with premium carbon steel and a heavy gauge body designed for rapid and even heat distribution. 

For convenience, the extra-long wooden handle provides a comfortable grip for lifting and tossing. It is also built with a helper handle to aid with lifting and storage. 

Seasoned well, this wok can provide an excellent cooking experience for life.

PROS

  • Hand-crafted and authentically hammered
  • Light for its size
  • Extra long handle
  • Professional-grade

CONS

  • The round bottom can tip to the side
  • Less heat sources can be used

Overall

Hand-hammered by master craftsmen from Guangdong, China, no single wok looks exactly the same. This beautiful handicraft is a sturdy and versatile addition to any kitchen that longs for an authentic, Asian feel. It can provide a very satisfying cooking experience because of its rapid and even heat distribution.

Improving with age and use, this wok is built to last for multiple generations.

Comparison of The Best Carbon Steel Woks

Carbon Steel Wok

Bottom

Weight

Handle

Current Price

Our Rating

Flat

5.25 pounds

Detachable wood long handle

Flat

4.5 pounds

Removable Phenolic handle with ring and helper handle

Round

4.39 pounds

Wooden handle and steel helper handle

Flat

5 pounds

Insulated wooden side spool and helper handle

Round

3.31 pounds

Insulated long handle and steel helper handle

Final Verdict

For beginners who are only starting to explore cooking with carbon steel woks, the Souped Up Recipes Carbon Steel Wok is most recommended because of its manageable size and make. It also comes with useful inclusions that can help slowly build one’s kitchen collection. Finally, videos are available at the Souped Up Recipes’ Youtube channel, that can help increase knowledge and appreciation for the wok and Asian cuisine.

For seasoned users, the hand-hammered Craft Wok Traditional Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Pow Wok would surely provide an authentically satisfying experience if you’re looking for an option with a round bottom. The beautifully-made M.V. Trading Carbon Steel Wok, on the other hand, is a great alternative if you’re looking for one with a flat bottom. In minimalist and straightforward packages, these sturdy pieces are built to withstand years of extensive use, making them practical choices even for professionals.

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