View a video of Tane Chan of Chinatown's The Wok Shop On Wok Puns and How to Season a Wok.
1. Difference between castiron and carbon steel woks.
Carbon steel is iron with the iron ore removed. Carbon steel woks, USA made spun out or China made hand-hammered, all have to be seasoned like castiron or iron woks. Seasoning woks is relatively easy to do and instructions are included and also a video on You Tube (a link on our site will take you there). Castiron is porous and seasons quicker than carbon steel, but like carbon steel, gets better with age and use and becomes naturally nonstick. Cooking properties are very similar, no difference. More choices with carbon steel woks, e. g. handle configurations: wooden long handle w/ helper spool handle on opposite side, two wooden spool handles, two metal loop handles, single long metal handle or single wooden handle. Traditional castiron woks from China are with two metal iron handles or two black plastic handles. Available now are pre-seasoned castiron woks with wooden handles by Joyce Chen. FYI: castiron woks from China are thinner and not as heavy as USA counterpart, season very well, impart the wok flavor because wok gets super hot quicker.
2. Flat bottom or round bottom.
If you cook with gas, you have a lot of options. Round bottom, the original and traditional wok shape is used with a wok ring (adapter), if your burner cannot cradle the wok. Wok rings are inexpensive and handy also to use as a trivet when removing wok from the stove. Round bottom woks not recommended for electric, ceramic stove tops or heat induction burners. Flat bottom woks are very versatile and wok efficiently on gas or electric (coil) stoves. Hand-hammered flat bottom woks not recommended for ceramic stove tops or induction burner because of the "uneven" hand-hammered divits/markings on the flattened bottom surface, approximately 5.5" -6" diameter. Customers reviews on flat bottom woks on their ceramic stoves is 50-50; some say woks beautifully, happy with results, others have said, not stable "dances" around their burner.
Fourteen inch (14") woks are the most popular; not too big; just right and very manageable. Can cook for 1-2 or more, a smaller wok, 12", 10" limited in capacity and cannot cook for more than 3 unless your portions are small. 14" gives you a lot more room to toss and stir fry especially lots of leafy, bulky veggies before they cook down. Woks are very affordable, a small and large one will be ideal and very efficient wokking in the kitchen. 16" is rather large and a bit cumbersome and too heavy for most females but manageable with the helper handle opposite the long wooden handle. 10" is ideal for camping, a second wok or for stir frying small portions. Good for a single person, one serving, no leftovers. Woks 18" and larger are considered commercial size and usually too large for home use unless you have commercial range or cooking outdoors with a high BTU (more than 16,000 BTU) stove/grill.
4. What is a hand-hammered pow wok:
A hand-hammered carbon steel pow wok is a wok with one a single long handle, approx. 6-7" long either metal hollow handle or a wooden handle so one can flip, toss the wok over a high gas flame (like flipping an omelette). Pow woks are available in 10", 12" 14" the most popular size, and 16". We, at The Wok Shop, refer to pow woks as the "macho" wok because males are attracted to these pow woks more than females because it does take a bit more muscle to quickly flip/toss the wok over high heat with one hand, constant motion. Pow woks are round bottom but because of the popularity of pow woks for stoves other than gas, we requested China make a few flat bottom pow woks for us, which they did in the most popular size, 14" in both the metal and wood handles. The flat bottom pow wok is used without the wok ring (used to stabilize a round bottom wok) and can be used on electric stoves. Not recommended for ceramic stove tops or heat induction because of the divits or hammered marks on the 6" diameter flattened bottom. (Metal hollow handle stays cool to the touch for quick stir fries. If constantly on high heat, after 20 minutes, metal handle will be too hot to handle with your bare hands and a towel, or silicone slip-on handle is recommended, $7.95).
5. What is a USA made carbon steel pow wok:
The Wok Shop now has a USA made pow wok, spun out,made especially for The Wok Shop due to popular demand. A pow wok, a wok with a single handle so one can toss the wok over a high gas flame has proven to be extremely popular whether you want to toss/flip the wok while cooking or not. Available in round or flat bottom, just the right weight and gauge, in 10", 12", 14" the most popular size, and 16". Unlike the hand-hammered pow woks from China, only available with metal hollow handle. (Metal hollow handle stays cool to the touch for quick stir fires). If constantly on high heat, after 20 minutes, metal handle will be too hot to handle with your bare hands and a towel or silicone slip-on handle is recommended, $7.95). If handle is too hot to handle for quick stir fries, your veggies could easily become overcooked.
6. Woks for heat induction burners:
A heat induction stove needs a perfectly flat bottom wok to wok efficiently. Our flat bottom, USA made woks are purchased by many customers who have the same type range, and they said they are satisfied with the way the wok works on their range. Other customers have said they cannot get their wok hot enough, it does not sit perfectly flat on their range , etc. It will be up to you to try a flat bottom wok. The enamel exterior cast iron interior will wok. The hand-hammered woks have too many divits (dimples) on the flattened bottom area which will not be entirely flat on your stove. Definitely no round bottom wok with a wok ring...that is a no no. Wok will sit up too high from the burner and not get hot enough. Only the wok ring will get all the heat and this will not wok/work. We have the Joyce Chen pre-seasoned cast iron wok $49.95 , and a wonderful castiron wok, flat bottom by Cook Pro, $45.00 which will work. I recommend either one. Also, a 12" Joyce Chen pre-seasoned castiron, $39.95 will wok very efficiently. A 12" or 13" wok will easily serve two/three people.
7. Woks for ceramic/glass cooktops:
The only wok I would safely recommend for a glass ceramic cooktop is the Joyce Chen, pre-seasoned castiron wok. The bottom is totally flat, approx. 6" diameter and will sit absolutely flat (which is necessary) on your ceramic stove top. Our flat bottom carbon steel woks are as flat as flat can get the way they are spun out; however, some customers have told us that the wok"danced" on their stove, was just a smidge shy of being "totally flat". From the naked eye, the bottom of our flat bottom woks, look flat to me, but just not completely and totally flat on the ceramic stove. Our flat bottom woks wok perfectly, wonderfully on coil electric burners because these burners "give". Also, woks nicely on grills too and of course gas stoves. Glass top stoves are really not made for woks. There are new woks on the market from Korea that are marble and we have heard great things about them and stock them for glass top stoves. A lot of our east Indian and Korean customers purchase the marble coated woks and are very satisfied; they say marble cooks very well. (Note on our site we do mention carbon steel flat bottom woks not recommended for glass top stoves).
8. What happens when some of the patina/seasoning dissipates, cooks away, flakes off?
All is fine...remember, you cannot ruin your wok and whatever you do to it will be salvageable. Since your wok is new, the patina is not solidly " baked" or "burned" into the metal. Wok will season beautifully and eventually with use and time will be totally seasoned. You can restore the patina by stir frying a handful of pungent veggies, e. g. chives, scallions, onions, ginger, shallots, garlic (chives wok the best) with little oil, until charred. Discard charred veggies and wipe wok with paper towel which will be black, wash wok with hot water and good to go. Woks are forever; the older and more used the better. If you don't use it, you lose it.
9. Stainless steel woks vs carbon steel, castiron, iron woks:
Stainless steel does not conduct heat as well as iron and carbon steel, not evenly and has hot spots. (Wok cooking is cooking with very high heat). Food can stick to stainless thus using more oil. However, stainless steel is great for steaming ,stews, soups,long cooking and slow cooking and used with bamboo steamers. The patina/seasoning that carbon steel and iron will acquire, lends itself to becoming naturally nonstick but does require a little more care than stainless.
10. What size lid for wok:
Since wok lids are domed (high, not flat like western lids), because we steam whole chickens, crab, lobster, smoke tea duck, etc. in a wok so we need a lid with height. Wok lids are at least 1" to 2" smaller than the diameter of the wok, so when ordering, description will read: lid FOR 14" wok , etc. and we will send the correct size. Wok lids for 18" and larger woks will be 2" smaller than the diameter of the wok.
11. Woks are for all walks of life: quick stir fry/toss, steam, braise, saute, deep fat frying, smoking, boil, red stew. With a few accessories, e. g. tempura rack for deep fat frying, perforated steam racks for steaming or steam racks with legs to hold a plate to steam, your wok becomes the king of all pans. Steamed foods are easy to retrieve because of the shallowness and surface of the wok; deep fat frying in the wok uses less oil because of the conical shape and more surface area to deep fat fry more quantity, the surface area and high dome wok lids allow you to smoke in your wok with little effort (steam/cake rack, pie tin, alum foil, brown sugar, tea leaves, rice hulls). It's easy to become a wokaholic.
Watch "Wrongs in Woking" and wok right featuring Grace Young author of "The Breath of a Wok."
Care and Seasoning of your Wok -- Three Methods
The most important step in the care of your wok is to season it properly before use. As the wok is used, it will gradually become a darker color which results in a smooth, non-stick cooking surface. We at the Wok Shop recommend three methods for initial seasoning, all of which we have tested in our own kitchens. Choose the method most suitable for you.
Stovetop Seasoning Method
Scrub the wok in hot soapy water to remove the oil preservative which is applied in manufacturing. Dry thoroughly over heat. The Chinese then “burn” the wok. To do this, ﬁrst place the wok over high heat until it is hot. Put about 2 or 3 tablespoons of oil into the wok. Spread the oil completely the wok back and forth. Continue heating the wok until the over the inside surface with a spatula and by tipping oil “burns” into it. Use caution to prevent a grease ﬁre. After cooking, wash the wok under hot running water using a bamboo brush to loosen the food particles. Dry immediately by heating on the stove. A light coat of oil may be applied as a preservative.
Oven Seasoning Method
First, wash the wok thoroughly and dry over heat. Next, coat the wok, inside only, with cooking oil. Bake in the oven at 450° for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool, wash (scour) and dry over heat again. Repeat this process three or four times. Your wok should look bronze in color when seasoned this way. Note: If your wok has a wooden or plastic handle that cannot be removed, cover the handle with a damp dishcloth then cover the dishcloth with foil before baking. This will keep the wood or plastic from getting scorched or melting.
Salt Seasoning Method (gas stove only)
First, wash and dry wok thoroughly. Pour at least 1 cup of table salt into wok. Sit wok on gas burner and with gas ﬂame on high, stir salt constantly for 20 minutes, up and around the sides, too. Voila! Wok is now black and seasoned. Wipe clean and with paper towel with little cooking oil, coat the wok. It is now seasoned and ready to use.
Hints for Cooking in Your Wok
The secret of good wok cooking is using high initial heat to seal in the juices with hot oil while stirring constantly. Vegetables are probably the most important ingredients in most basic Chinese dishes, and to prepare them correctly a wok is required. Then the wok will impart "wok hee" (wok flavor). The "wok chow," or quick cook method: Vegetable pieces are dropped into a small amount of hot cooking oil in the bottom of the wok and tossed until hot oil forms a film on the sides, sealing in the flavor. The heat is then reduced and while stirring constantly, a small amount of water is added to steam the food.
Always preheat your wok before adding cooking oil. Then preheat the oil before cooking.
Hints for Cleaning Your Wok
After cooking, wash the wok under hot running water using a brush (preferably bamboo) to loosen the food particles. Dry immediately by heating on the stove. A light coat of oil may be applied as a preservative.