Woks are a must-buy if stir fries and East and Southeast Asian cuisine are a staple in your household. But these curvy kitchen accessories are also extremely versatile. They are, of course, perfect for frying, but can also be used for steaming, boiling and even making soup.
The most traditional woks are made using cast iron or carbon steel, which builds up the “wok hei”. This concept roughly translates to the flavours created when ingredients are cooked in a seasoned wok placed on a high heat, which builds with each use.
But improved non-stick woks that are able to withstand high heats are also now available, meaning food doesn’t simply sweat but fries. For those short on space, a non-stick wok is a useful jack-of-all trades in the kitchen – it’s as handy for Thai Green Curries as it is pasta.
Woks generally come with long handles, which originate from northern China, or a pair of looped handles, which are popular in the south. Both are used to toss and continuously stir sizzling food. The best woks heat up quickly, are sturdy but not too cumbersome and have a handle which offers a good grip. They are also versatile for the modern kitchen: as suitable for whipping up an authentic stir fry as a fry-up.
1. Ken Hom Performance Non-Stick Stainless Steel 2 Piece Wok 32cm: £65.99, Ken Hom Woks
Said to be the pan that chef Ken Hom uses himself, this is a pan that marries traditional and modern wok cooking. It features both a long and shorter black phenolic handle, so it’s suitable for those who use a variety of cooking techniques. The non-stick coating sees meat and veg slide about and cook evenly. Meeting in the middle between heavy and lighter models, the flat base and lid means it can also be used for boiling, steaming and braising. The coating makes this wok simple to sponge clean. It comes with a five-year guarantee.
2. Wing Yip Hancock 14 inch Flat Bottom Wok: £8.34, Wing Yip
This traditional, hammered wok is amazing value for money considering what you’re getting for less than a tenner. The light pan heats up quickly and the attractive wooden handle stays cool during cooking, making it easy to manoeuvre on the hob. Like many steel woks, you need to season it before use, by heating it up and treating it with oil, to help build up that “wok hei”. But be warned: the dishwasher and this cheap and cheerful-looking wok don’t get along. It’s ideal for those new to the wok world.
3. World Of Flavours Oriental Carbon Steel 30cm Non-Stick Szechuan Wok: £12.99, Amazon
As it’s made from carbon steel, this traditional-style hammered wok gets hot in a flash and is relatively light. The non-stick coating, meanwhile, allows the food to dance about the pan with ease. It has a minimal flat bottom to keep it grounded on the stove, while its deep bowl lets heat spread evenly, keeping food from flying out the pan too. It also requires less oil than a regular frying pan and the riveted loop handles come in safe, heat-resistant plastic.
4. Ozeri The 12 Inch Green Earth Wok: £39.99, Amazon
A departure from traditional models, this stylish green wok is a winner for those looking for a more eco-friendly pan. Made from aluminium, it has a natural ceramic coating to make it non-stick. That means it doesn’t contain the dangerous substances PTFE or PFOA which can release harmful chemicals when heated to a high temperature, and can be harmful to the environment. The pan, including its plastic handle, can also be used inside the oven up to 180˚C, and it doesn’t take too much energy to heat up. There’s also a nifty fabric pan protector to keep the non-stick coating safe during storage.
5. Le Creuset Toughened Non-Stick Wok: £139.00, Le Creuset
Fans of this cult French cookware brand will be pleased to know its woks live up to its trusted name. The bowl on this southern China-style pan is wide yet deep, so ingredients can be mixed together easily. It’s not the lightest pan, but its slight weight and flat bottom make it sturdy on the stove. At the pricier end of the market, this is a heavy-duty pan for those looking to invest in an all-rounder, and aren’t a stickler for stir-fry techniques (it’s heavier to lift and manoeuvre than others we tried). It comes with a lifetime guarantee, too. A lid can be bought separately.
6. Denby Granite Finish Cast Aluminium 28cm Wok: £54, Denby
This nifty pan is best for those with little space, need their wok to go a long way and aren’t fussed about sticking to traditional Asian cooking techniques, as aluminium isn’t a common material for this type of cooking equipment. It’s made using cast aluminium rather than cast iron or steel, so it heats up but also cools down quickly. Light, non-stick and deep, it’s as good for stir fries as bacon and eggs. Unlike some pans, it’s specially made for use with induction hobs. The speckled, granite finish and gripping handle make it a stylish piece for small kitchens.
7. Jamie Oliver by Tefal Hard Anodised 30cm Wok: £62, John Lewis
This wok is much flatter than conventional models, and a lot heavier, too. That might put off the traditionalists who are used to moving the pan a lot while cooking stir fries. However, this is a pan that’s built to last and is a very reasonable price. It has a hard-wearing anodised coating, and strong handles which are useful when serving. With a 30cm diameter, it is roomy enough to cook up large meals, and can almost be seen as a lidless one-pot-cooking pan. It’s also safe to stick in the oven up to 210˚C and can survive a run in the dishwasher, too.
8. Typhoon Living Non Stick Wok Stir Fry Pan 11 Inch: £12.99, Amazon
At just 11 inches in diameter, this is a wok for anyone dishing up one-person portions and for whom storage space is a premium. A traditional-style wok in many respects, it’s made of light carbon steel which gets hot quickly and distributes heat throughout food evenly. At the same time, it combines a curvaceous, non-stick bowl which keeps meat and veg from jumping onto the stove and a flat base that helps maintain control over this small pan.
The Verdict: Woks
If celebrity chef Ken Hom uses the performance wok himself, then who are we to argue? This wok was not only traditional enough with its relatively thin carbon steel base to whip up a terrific stir fry but also perfect for frying up dishes from other parts of the world, from sausages to pasta. The lid takes the pan to a new level of cooking by allowing you to braise, boil and steam unlike many woks. But for an authentic wok and that “wok hei”, both stir fry pros and beginners will be well-served by a simple, non-stick carbon steel or cast iron model like the Wing Yip or the World of Flavours models. No-frills, but light and quick to heat up, they’re great value for money.
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