what is a wok

With its origins in Chinese cooking, a wok has managed to take over the world with its ability to produce a fantastic stir fry in next to no time.

But what is a wok? Have you ever put any thought into the pan aside from wok cooking?

A wok is an excellent addition to your home kitchen arsenal. It is far more versatile than most people realise. Today’s blog post will discuss everything you need to know about this practical kitchen tool, including its history, benefits, and the different types of woks available.

The Origins of the Wok

The wok goes back centuries to the Han Dynasty in China. Viewed as a traditional frying pan, it comes in two styles – round-bottom woks and flat-bottom woks. Regardless of the type, woks have higher sides when compared to the standard frying pan.

Therefore, the wok is very distinctive in its design, and it’s all thanks to those sides. There’s a very good reason why the sides are designed that way, but we will get back to that shortly.

When it comes to handles, a wok can come with either one or two handles, depending on the style.

Nowadays, a wok can be made from different materials. Nowadays, a wok can be made from different materials. Stainless steel, cast iron, and carbon steel woks are easy to find. However, there will be vast differences in the prices depending on the work material.

The Benefits of Using a Wok

So why would you even use a wok instead of a normal frying pan? That’s because a seasoned wok has a number of real benefits and advantages over a normal frying pan.

Even Heat Distribution

A good wok distributes heat evenly across the pan. Even with flat bottom woks, the high heat spreads across the bottom and up the sides.

With the heat being spread in this way, it means that searing meats and general cooking will be easier, as you don’t have any specific hot or cold points. Basically, the right wok ensures all the ingredients of your dish are finished cooking at the same time.

Easy Stirring

When it comes to wok cooking techniques, then another advantage is that it’s easy to stir the food, thanks to the non-stick cooking surface. With a wok, tossing food is the preferred method, and it’s because you don’t generally have an issue with food sticking to the sides.

Also, you can use a wok spatula to move things around, but the sides will push the food back down to the flat bottom with ease. 

Suits a Variety of Cooking Methods

A wok isn’t designed purely for Chinese food, as it can be used for various cooking methods. Thanks to their high sides, woks can also hold a lot of cooking oil at one time, making them ideal for deep frying. 

That said, you might be wondering why people assume woks are only used for stir-frying. That’s because people do tend to look at a wok as being the same as a regular frying pan. 

What Materials Are Used to Make Woks?

There are different materials used in making woks. Below are some of the most common:

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel is arguably one of the most popular materials used to make woks. It is the material of choice for professional chefs due to how it distributes heat quickly and evenly across the wok. However, carbon steel woks require a lot more seasoning to get the best results.

Stainless Steel

Another option is stainless steel, which is also used to make traditional frying pans. The surface of a stainless steel wok is smooth, whereas others have ridges. The material also makes most stainless steel woks dishwasher safe.

Cast Iron

Cast iron may not be the most popular material used to make woks, but it has its merits. Cast iron woks get better over time as more and more seasoning takes place. However, remember that it is heavier than the materials listed above, which may make a difference to some people.

Of course, the type of wok material you choose boils down to personal preference. But remember that some woks will use thicker materials than others, which could be reflected in the price.

Things to Consider When Using a Wok

Using a wok may be challenging for beginner home cooks. Luckily, there are things you can do to make cooking on a wok so much easier. Here are things to consider when planning to use a wok for cooking, whether you have a carbon steel wok, a flat bottom wok, or a cast iron wok.

Woks Can Be Used on Any Type of Flame

Woks can be used for cooking on any flame or hob type. While an open flame is the most traditional, using a wok on gas stoves is easy. Additionally, a flat-bottomed wok is ideal for induction or electric hobs.

Choose Woks With a Non-Stick Coating

pan with a non-stick coating

If you are new to using a wok in your cooking, you may want to find one with a non-stick cooking surface. While that’s not traditional, even having a wok with a light coating of non-stick material will help you master different wok cooking techniques, such as tossing ingredients as they cook. When cooking over high heat, chefs toss ingredients instead of stirring for crispier results.

Use the Right Cooking Oils

As you will be using oil, to get the best results from your wok, you need to use suitable oils.

Use an oil that comes with a higher smoking point. This is something you don’t need to think about when using a standard frying pan.

Examples of oils with a high smoke point include almond oil, avocado oil, canola oil, safflower oil, soyabean oil, and grapeseed oil. They are the best, so stick with them, and you should end up with better results.

On the other hand, oils like extra virgin olive oil and flaxseed oil are unsuitable for cooking over very high temperatures. These oils burn easily and leave a bitter taste, ruining your entire dish.

Learn the Concept of Wok Hei

man tossing ingredients

Wok Hei is what gives food cooked in woks their characteristic smoky flavour. This is also translated as the “breath of the wok”, and it’s a cool way of cooking. This smoky flavour results from caramelisation when the flame flares up and comes into contact with all the ingredients.

It takes some practice to master this technique, but it can be worth it.

Demystifying the Humble Wok

Now that you know the answer to “What is a wok?” you may have realised that there’s a bit more to it than you may have initially thought.

For example, woks may seem similar to frying pans, but they are more versatile and better when it comes to cooking stir-fries and a host of other dishes. Using a frying pan for stir-frying won’t get you the same results as you would when cooking in a wok.

Overall, the best thing about a wok is the ease of creating mind-blowing dishes at home. So are you going to make a stir-fry using a wok anytime soon? Let’s get cooking!

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