Straight to the Point
Our favorite overall wok is the The Wok Shop Carbon Steel Pow Wok. It's lightweight, heat responsive, durable, and easy to season. It's worth noting that because Wok Shop is a small business, shipping delays can be significant when order volumes are large and customer service can falter. If you're not willing to risk a long wait, we also like the Yosukata Black Carbon Steel Wok, which is pre-seasoned and has a helper handle. Another great option is to head to your local Chinatown, where you can find fantastic 14-inch, flat-bottomed woks at great prices.
A dependable wok is the cornerstone of so many cuisines across the globe—the key to executing stir fries and dishes like gai pad king or red-cooked pork. So, how do you choose one? If you live in a city, one good option is to visit your local Chinatown, where you can find a number of woks for an affordable price while supporting local businesses. That said, if you don't know what to look for, that strategy can be hit-or-miss.
For those seeking more guidance, we decided to test woks from online vendors, evaluating six popular models. After roughly 40 hours of testing, several pounds of fried rice, and smoking out my apartment kitchen almost daily, here are a couple of reliable options for a great flat-bottomed, carbon steel wok.
The Winners, at a Glance
The Best Overall Wok: Wok Shop Carbon Steel Pow Wok with Hollow Metal Handle, 14-Inch Flat Bottom
The Wok Shop Carbon Steel Pow Wok strikes the perfect balance between lightweight, heat conduction and transfer, durability, and handling. It features a large bottom surface area, and seasons quickly and easily. The Wok Shop also offers a model with a wooden handle and helper handle, which was not available for this review. Based on our findings, we would imagine the wooden handled version performs equally well.
It’s worth noting that Wok Shop is a small business and ships in batches, which could delay delivery depending on when an order is placed.
The Best Pre-Seasoned Wok: Yosukata 13.5-Inch Black Carbon Steel Wok
The Yosukata Black Carbon Steel Wok is a heat-treated, pre-seasoned option with added durability and solid heat responsiveness. Its smooth, slick surface is easy to clean and seems built to last.
- Pre-Seasoning Step: Prior to testing, season each of the woks (using these instructions and a total of four rounds of seasoning), to level the playing field.
- Egg-Frying Test: Over medium-high heat, fry an egg in two teaspoons of vegetable oil, to assess any imperfections in the existing seasoning. Repeat this test twice in each wok.
- Stir-Frying Test 1: Stir-fry greens, looking at how easy it is to stir-fry and toss in each wok.
- Stir-Frying Test 2: Make garlic fried rice, evaluating stickage and assessing batch-cooking, stirring, stir-frying, and saucing capabilities.
- Responsiveness and Conduction Test: Boil six cups of water over high heat, studying heat responsiveness, conduction, and uniformity.
- User-Experience Evaluation: Throughout testing, assess how easy each wok is to use, paying attention to the wok’s handle and build quality and how balanced it feels in hand.
- Ease of Cleaning: After each test, clean each wok, following these instructions.
Why Carbon Steel? Why Flat-Bottomed? And Why Northern-Style?
Woks come in virtually all kinds of materials—from nonstick surfaces to cast iron to stainless steel. But for this review, we chose carbon steel woks. Why? Carbon steel heats quickly and evenly; it’s exceptionally responsive to the heat source and stores that heat reasonably well; it’s both durable and affordable; it’s generally suited to both gas and induction burners; and when properly seasoned, will have a practically nonstick surface (read more about why carbon steel is a great cookware material). Carbon steel shares many of the advantages of cast iron, but cast iron woks are heavier and thicker than carbon steel, a consequence of their different manufacturing processes.
This review only includes flat-bottomed models, since most home cooks don’t have access to a traditional high-output wok burner. Flat-bottomed woks sit easily on modern gas or electric ranges, whereas round-bottomed woks require a wok ring or some other mechanism for stability.
Finally, we chose to review Northern Chinese-style or “pow” woks with a single long handle. This style of wok differs from the Cantonese-style wok, which features two shallow handles and requires a different method of handling. For most casual cooks, the long handle of the pow wok is more intuitive—closer to a Western skillet—and is generally safer for the average home cook in terms of handling. Cantonese-style woks have shallow “pig ear” handles that tend to heat up quickly, which requires using a towel or pot holder to maneuver the pan.
A Note on Seasoning
Some woks come pre-seasoned, which typically means that they are heat-treated and possibly seasoned with a thin layer of oil to jumpstart the seasoning process. In other cases, the carbon steel undergoes bluing, an oxidizing reaction in which the surface is treated with a compound and typically heated to produce magnetite, which is rust-proof, corrosion-proof, and reasonably nonstick. In still other cases, the metal is merely coated in a thin, protective film of oil to keep rust at bay. To level the playing field for testing, I gently scrubbed each surface with steel wool, a scouring pad, and salt to remove as much of any pre-seasoning as possible (in some cases, it was not possible). Then I wiped a thin layer of oil and seasoned each wok in a 500°F oven for 45 minutes, repeating each seasoning step for a total of four layers of seasoning on each wok.
Why You Should Trust Us
I grew up cooking with a wok. It was one of the first cooking tools that I encountered in the kitchen. In fact, my parents still use the same dinged up Cantonese-style wok from those early years. Its handles have been replaced three or four times, the seasoning is jet black and about two millimeters thick, and honestly, it will probably outlive me. Now that I’m a full-fledged cook with some years of experience in restaurants and test kitchens, this review is a great opportunity for me to revisit a piece of equipment that has provided a large foundation of my cooking life.
What We Learned
Fried Eggs: Evaluating the Woks' Nonstick Abilities
Cooking eggs is the benchmark for testing the nonstick properties of virtually any cooking surface. Why? Eggs are rich in protein, which bonds to the surface of a hot pan in a process known as adsorption. Eggs are also mostly liquid, so they tend to seep into the cracks of the imperfect metal surface of a wok. Unless a wok is well seasoned, the amount of adsorption can be significant, which leads to lots of sticking.
In a perfect world, every wok would be well seasoned after years of cooking, practically guaranteeing a nonstick surface. But all of the tested models were brand new with only the four layers of light seasoning that I added. To maximize nonstick properties in this test, I made sure to heat each wok until it showed faint wisps of smoke, then swirled in a measured amount of vegetable oil until the surface was coated and just short of smoking. I fried one egg at a time, noting the time it took to release from the pan, as well as how much scraping was necessary to release the egg fully. I then repeated the test for each wok.
Top performers like our favorites from Wok Shop and Yosukata and the Helen’s Asian Kitchen and Zhen San Huan woks exhibited minimal (though not zero) sticking on the first fry, and the eggs released with gentle scraping using a fish spatula. By the second fried egg, sticking was virtually nonexistent in these models. Most notably, these woks had ample flat surface areas—between five and six inches—which meant more direct contact with the heat source.
Poor performers in this test were kind of a nightmare in comparison, showing plenty of sticking. The Made-In was perhaps the most egregious example: the eggs were completely stuck to the pan, and the yolks were either broken or overcooked by the time I managed to scrape everything off. Craft Wok was another subpar performer, but for a different reason. This hand-hammered model showed an uneven distribution of heat, which led to uneven cooking. While one side of the egg released reasonably well, the other side was stuck.
How Easy Was It to Stir-Fry Greens?
Unlike frying eggs, stir-frying greens is primarily a test of movement: How effectively does food pass through different zones of heat, producing a cooked but vibrant and fresh quality? For this test, I stir-fried multiple batches of leafy green vegetables like yu choy and Shanghai baby bok choy in each of the six woks in the lineup. I standardized each batch of vegetables by weight, using a measured amount of cooking oil, salt, and garlic as a simple aromatic. I tossed each batch every 30 seconds until the greens were cooked through.
The best performers in this test were the Wok Shop and Yosukata woks, which cooked the greens quickly and evenly. Most importantly, these models were light enough to flip and tumble food with one hand (the Yosukata was slightly heavier)—an essential skill for keeping food moving through zones of direct heat, steaming, and convection. These models were also fairly nonstick throughout cooking, showing no signs of burning or premature browning.
Underperformers, like Made-In and Craft Wok, tended to cook greens unevenly. The Made-In wok’s limited flat cooking surface and smaller overall diameter made it difficult to toss greens effectively, and food tended to stay piled in the center of the pan. As a result, the Made-In browned the greens instead of cooking them uniformly. While the Craft Wok had a larger diameter and bottom surface area, the uneven distribution of heat made it difficult to cook the greens evenly. The walls were also a bit shallow, which made tossing a little tricky. Finally, the Craft Wok was a bit too heavy to handle with one hand. Similarly, the Zhen San Huan wok was virtually impossible to lift with one hand, so stirring was the only option (though it cooked greens much more evenly).
Fried Rice: How Well Did the Woks Handle a Multi-Stage Recipe?
Even in its simplest forms, making fried rice is an effective test of a wok’s ability to shift gears and handle multiple stages of cooking. For example, many fried rice recipes begin with frying cooked rice in batches; the rice is emptied into a bowl, then the wok is reheated to continue cooking aromatics and any additions before finally incorporating the rice again. Throughout cooking, the wok rapidly heats, cools down, then heats up again. There are several potential points of concern: Does the rice stick to the pan? Do the aromatics stick to the pan or burn? Can you toss the rice in the pan to distribute sauce and seasonings evenly?
I made identical batches of garlic fried rice in each of the six woks. I recorded any differences in rice sticking, as well as performance when tossing and stirring. I noted heat responsiveness when cooking the garlic, and took an extra step to “sear” soy sauce around the outer edge of the wok to replicate the seasoning step in most recipes. Each batch was standardized by weight for each ingredient.
The best woks in this test exhibited virtually no sticking when tossing and stirring rice. Models like the Wok Shop wok were easy to handle, and the tossing motion felt natural as the rice flipped up and cascaded back down to the center in separate grains. The top performers were also highly responsive to changes in heat, so that I could lower the temperature enough to cook the garlic without burning it. When it came time to crank up the heat, sear the soy sauce, and toss everything together, these woks heated back up in less than 30 seconds.
Underperformers like the model from Craft Wok showed some signs of rice sticking, and were generally a bit too heavy to toss food easily with the non-dominant hand. Because of that added weight, I didn’t feel particularly connected to or comfortable with these woks. Their heavier gauge also made them less responsive to changes in burner heat, and sometimes led to bits of burnt garlic.
Evaluating Heat Responsiveness
Finally, it was time to boil water: a simple test for heat responsiveness and conduction, as well as uniformity of heating. For most wok cooking applications, speed is key. I heated six cups of water over high heat, starting at the same temperature (60°F), and recorded the temperature at 30-second intervals until the water boiled at 212°F (give or take a degree).
The speediest woks in this test—like the models from Wok Shop and Yosukata—boiled water at least two to three minutes faster than all the other models. They also showed limited signs of uneven heating, and the seasoning remained intact after boiling.
The slowest woks in this test included the models from Craft Wok and Made-In, which took upwards of 12 minutes to boil water. I noted that these woks also had the smallest bottom cooking surface in contact with the burner—between four and five and a half inches—which explains why these woks didn’t conduct heat as easily or react as quickly as other models.
Despite its heavy gauge and considerable weight, the Zhen San Huan wok boiled water in about 10 minutes, which was pretty fast compared to other models. Why? If I had to guess, it’s due to the large bottom surface diameter: The Zhen San Huan wok had the largest bottom diameter (eight inches) of all woks tested, which meant a significant portion of the wok was in direct contact with the heat source.
The Criteria: What We Look for in a Wok
You can crunch numbers, nerd out on specific metallurgical properties (I’ll leave that to Kenji), or look at any number of attributes, but here’s the big takeaway: For the average home cook, a good wok should be reasonably easy to handle, should take on a seasoning well, should be durable, and should be very heat responsive.
Since the motions involved in wok cooking can be rather dynamic—think vigorous stirring, tumbling, and tossing—a proper wok should be relatively light without being flimsy. And given the lower heat output of home kitchen ranges, the ability to heat up quickly and reliably is even more important. Conductivity is key here, too, and correlates roughly with the thickness of the metal: According to Kenji in The Wok: Recipes and Techniques, “it will take about twice as long for a 2-millimeter-thick pan to conduct heat from the burner to the food than a 1-millimeter-thick pan.”
Finally, the ability to build a reliable and even seasoning is perhaps the most important feature of a wok. So, how easy is it to apply a layer of oil, heat that layer, and to what extent is that resultant surface nonstick?
The Best Overall Wok: Wok Shop Carbon Steel Pow Wok with Hollow Metal Handle, 14-Inch Flat Bottom
What we liked: The Wok Shop Carbon Steel Pow Wok was consistently a top performer across all tests. It was the lightest model in the lineup by nearly eight ounces, which made tasks like tossing and general handling fairly easy. Even with the wok full of rice, I was able to toss the wok with one hand while stirring with the other. This wok was also the most heat-responsive model, and was fairly sensitive to changes in flame output. I could crank up the temperature, but also cool down the pan on a dime.
With a generous bottom surface diameter and plenty of space above that surface, there is ample room for food to move dynamically during stir-frying. Foods also seemed to glide over the surface of the wok—especially after it was properly seasoned—so sticking was minimal. Because of its spun construction and the thickness of its metal, this wok appears to be very durable and the craftsmanship consistent. The hollow metal handle is also welded, rendering the wok a single piece of metal with no discernible points of failure. The all-metal construction makes it easy to season using any technique. Despite its light weight, this wok seems built to last and to withstand repeated abuse.
For the money and performance, exceptional heat responsiveness, durability, and ease of handling, the Wok Shop Carbon Steel Pow Wok is a great choice that will last a lifetime.
What we didn’t like: The wok’s thick metal hollow handle tends to heat up over time. This isn’t generally a problem when cooking quickly over a high-output burner. But at home, where recipes move more slowly, the handle can get a bit warm and uncomfortable. I found it necessary to use a towel at points in order to lift the pan. And if you’re not used to holding pans with a towel, handling can be a bit awkward. (Wok Shop does sell a handle cover and while we didn’t test it, it does have positive customer reviews.) The angle of the handle is a little more acute than other models, which may put some shorter cooks in awkward positions. The wok also doesn’t have a helper handle, which could be a dealbreaker for some.
- Weight: 2 lb 15 7/8 oz
- Metal Gauge: 14 (2.0mm)
- Flat Cooking Surface Diameter: 6 inches
- Lip-to-lip Diameter: 14 inches
- Depth: 3.75 inches
The Best Pre-Seasoned Wok: Yosukata 13.5-Inch Black Carbon Steel Wok
What we liked: The Yosukata Black Carbon Steel Wok is a pre-seasoned, stamped wok with a smooth, beautiful blue-black surface. It's a fast, heat-responsive pan that performed well in nearly every test. Fried rice and vegetables slid effortlessly across the surface, and despite its smaller lip-to-lip diameter, there was still enough room to toss food. As the thinnest gauge model in the lineup, the Yosukata exhibited the fastest heat gain of any model, boiling water in nine minutes flat.
This model also features a helper handle, which gives added flexibility and stability when handling large quantities of food. The wooden handle is wedged and screwed into a welded base, and it stays cool throughout cooking. Because of that welded construction and added weight, this wok feels incredibly durable despite its slightly thinner gauge. It also has a welded metal helper handle, which is a welcome feature for stability.
If you’re looking for a pre-seasoned, durable wok that transfers heat quickly and has a smooth, attractive look, the Yosukata Carbon Steel wok is a great option that won’t break the bank.
What we didn’t like: This wok is slightly heavier than the overall winner, and the handle is large, so cooks may find it a little awkward to maneuver. The wooden handle is also tricky to remove if you’re trying to season the wok in the oven (a little gentle heating expands the metal, which helps release the handle). This model didn’t cook the best eggs off the bat, exhibiting minor sticking; but after cooking with this wok for a few days, the seasoning and nonstick properties improved.
(Note: The wok comes with a protective film of oil on the surface. Be sure to scrub this film off prior to seasoning or cooking.)
- Weight: 3 lb 8 oz
- Metal Gauge: 16 (1.6mm)
- Flat Cooking Surface Diameter: 6 inches
- Lip-to-lip Diameter: 13.5 inches
- Depth: 3.75 inches
- Helen Chen's Asian Kitchen Flat Bottom Carbon Steel Wok: This spun wok performed well in testing, but its durability is suspect. The wooden handle screws into a riveted base, so there are a couple points of failure over repeated use. In fact, by the end of testing I could feel the handle start to loosen and the rivets seemed to be warping slightly. Additionally, the wooden helper handle is not removable, so it’s difficult to season this wok in the oven without burning and ruining the handle.
- Zhen San Huan Hand-Hammered Carbon Steel Blue Wok: This beautiful, hand-hammered wok is a beast of a cooking vessel. The surface is treated with magnetite, which produces a stunning blue-black surface. At more than 7 pounds, the Zhen San Huan is not ideal for traditional wok tossing. It has a massive bottom surface area (8 inches) and was the thickest metal wok in the lineup. It had superior heat retention, but it was very slow to heat up on my stove. While this wok performed well in most tests, the heavy weight made maneuvering difficult. And given the hefty price tag (upwards of $250), this wok isn’t the best choice for everyone.
- Craft Wok Flat Hand-Hammered Carbon Steel Pow Wok: Though attractive, this wok performed poorly in fried egg and stir-frying tests: Food tended to stick to the surface, and eggs needed a lot of scraping to release. Because it's hand-hammered, there are imperfections in the metal, and the distribution of heat seemed uneven. The wok is also quite heavy for its size, and felt awkward when tossing. The bottom surface of the wok I received was also slightly warped, so it was not induction compatible.
- Made-In Blue Carbon Steel Wok: The Made-In Wok was a bit of a disaster in testing. It’s a heavy wok for its size, and there is limited space both at the bottom surface (5.5 inches diameter) and from lip-to-lip (12.5 inches). Food feels cramped in the pan, and tossing was difficult given the smaller area and the weight for the wok’s size. Eggs stuck considerably, and greens tended to brown too quickly during stir-frying. Overall, this pan doesn’t feel or perform like a wok.
- Joyce Chen Flat Bottom Wok: We've recommended this wok for some time, but it has consistent stock issues and we couldn't get a new one for this review. We tried ordering a different flat-bottomed, carbon steel Joyce Chen wok (this model), but twice received a nonstick wok instead. According to customer reviews, this has happened to others.
Should I buy a nonstick wok?
Absolutely not. Most nonstick coatings cannot handle the high heat necessary for a proper stir-fry. They start vaporizing, releasing noxious fumes long before they reach the proper temperature. They make browning difficult, and it's impossible to get food to stick in place against the wok when you want to clear a surface to cook in the middle.
Should I buy a cast iron wok?
Cast iron is a passable choice for a wok. Unless you can find a thin-walled cast iron model, in general cast iron woks are a bit heavier than carbon steel versions, so motions like flipping when stir-frying are cumbersome. In comparison to other metals, it takes a relatively long time to heat up and cool down cast iron. The advantage? It offers a better nonstick surface. Finally, if you opt for a cast iron wok that's too thin, it will be extremely fragile—it can crack in half when set down too hard.
Should I buy a stainless steel wok?
Stainless steel woks are not ideal. Not only are they extremely heavy and difficult to maneuver, they also take a long time to heat up and cool down—a fatal flaw for anything that requires rapid, on-the-fly heat adjustments—like a stir-fry. Foods—particularly proteins—have a tendency to stick to steel.