A large, shiny, and well-worn wok is a staple in Chinese restaurants and homes around the world. Many consider the wok to be the most important piece of equipment in a Chinese kitchen. The iconic round, high-sided skillet has a history that extends to the Han dynasty, which reigned from 202 BC to 220 AD. And to this day, cooks reach for this essential pan every day.
The best woks are designed to reach and maintain high temperatures quickly. They easily put a crispy sear on bite-sized pieces of chicken or pork and produce delightfully crisp-tender diced vegetables. But a wok isn’t just for stir-frying—its high sides make it the perfect place to deep-fry tempura, steam vegetables, even cook noodles.
The Expert: I am a trained chef, recipe developer, and writer for a variety of digital and print publications including Real Simple, Simply Recipes, and Insider. After traveling throughout China and living in Hangzhou, the capital of China’s Zhejiang province, where I studied the local cuisine and ate some of the best food of my life, I’m a firm believer that every home cook can benefit from the fast-paced fun of wok cooking.
If you’re interested in exploring the vast and delicious world of Chinese cooking, or you’re looking to upgrade your current wok, it’s important to choose the right pan for your needs. From selecting the best shape for your stovetop to finding the right size to fit into your kitchen, there’s plenty to consider before buying a new wok. Answer the questions below to find the right one for your needs.
What to Consider When Shopping for a Wok
What Shape Is Best for Your Stovetop?
The shape of a wok is fairly standard (high sides, narrow base, dome-shaped), with one notable feature that changes from brand to brand. Traditional woks have a completely rounded bottom. This allows the very bottom of the wok to come into direct contact with a gas heating element, a feature that descends from the original woks, which were designed to sit over an open fire in ancient China.
More modern woks, especially those sold in the West, have flat bottoms. This allows the pans to sit securely on an electric or induction burner. If you don’t have a gas stove with grates to secure your wok, buy a wok with a flat bottom.
Which Material Should You Choose?
The first woks were hand-hammered out of cast iron. You can still find excellent cast-iron woks today, which are heavy-duty, heat evenly, and maintain heat well. You’ll also find popular carbon-steel woks, which are lighter than cast iron and heat even faster. Both are great options, though both types require a bit more maintenance—they need to be hand-washed and kept seasoned—than modern metal woks, like the ones made from stainless steel or aluminum.
Metal woks tend to be lighter, induction stove–compatible, and in some cases, dishwasher-safe. However, stainless and aluminum may not distribute heat as evenly as denser cast iron and carbon steel. Some metal woks are treated with a nonstick coating, which can be helpful when it comes to cleaning and means you won’t have to use as much fat to cook. The drawback of nonstick is that it’s not always oven- or broiler-safe, so be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendations.
More Kitchen Essentials: Stainless-Steel Cookware Sets • Cast-Iron Skillets • Nonstick Cookware Sets • Bread Makers • Santoku Knives
How Many Handles—One or Two?
The very first woks had two small handles—one on either side—which were easy to grip and made transporting the heavy cast-iron pan more manageable. These days, it’s more common to find woks with one long handle, and sometimes a smaller helper handle on the opposite side.
If you’re getting a pan made from a heavier material like cast iron, the helper handle can be very useful. In general, these pots get very hot, so it’s nice to have a handle made from a stay-cool material like wood to prevent burns.
Is a Lid Necessary?
While woks are not necessarily designed to have lids (the fast, high-heat cooking of stir-frying doesn’t require a cover), many modern woks come with one. This can expand on the versatility of your pan, allowing you to steam, boil, and even braise (if the pan is oven-safe). The most helpful lids are made from clear tempered glass, which is heat-proof and allows you to keep an eye on your food as it cooks.
How We Evaluated
As a professional chef and lifelong lover of Chinese food, I appreciate the unique characteristics that make woks perfect for efficient cooking: They’re high-sided, fast-heating, and comfortable to maneuver over an open flame. I love how quickly a meal can come together in a great wok and think that every household can benefit from this time-saving skillet. Of course, we don’t all need the highest-end cookware to enjoy delicious Chinese food at home. So I’ve selected high-value, well-made, budget-friendly woks that home cooks of all skill levels can use and enjoy. My recommendations are based on personal experience as well as online user reviews.