A comparison of Carbon Steel Wok and Electric Wok – which to buy?

The carbon steel wok is one of the most important cooking utensils used in Chinese cooking or Asian food. The Chinese Wok is so versatile, and many different kinds of food can be cooked in the Chinese wok. The electric wok are the newest improvement in the wok market, and it is a strong contender to the venerable carbon steel wok. Fried rice, fried egg, fried fish, fried chicken, boiled chicken, boiled noodles, steamed vegetables, steamed dumplings are among the many Asian foods cooked with the wok. It is a must-have for every Chinese family. This versatile deep bowl-shaped cooking utensil can be used for sauteing, stir-frying, deep-fat frying, steaming, braising, roasting, stewing and even boiling.

Asian carbon steel wok frying

Most woks are made of carbon steel or iron. They may have a round or a flat bottom.  

Cooking techniques including stir-frying, braising, and sauteing are easily executable using both electric and the carbon steel woks,and there are endless choices of cuisines to be cooked in one. Here are two review articles that my team has put together about electric woks and carbon steel woks.

A comparison of Carbon Steel Wok and Electric Wok - which to buy? 2

There are a variety of woks including round-bottomed, flat-bottomed, electric and non-stick types. A wok shovel (spatula) or ladle is usually used for stirring, tossing, lifting and scooping food from the wok. 

Woks vary widely in size. A good size wok for a family of three to four is about 12 inches to 14 inches in diameter. If you are cooking for two, it is still the best to own a wok of this size. Woks can be as small as 8 inches in diameter and as large as 36 inches. Storage can be difficult for any wok larger than this size. Look for carbon steel woks that are at least about two millimeters thick which won’t bend when pressed on the sides. 

Most nonstick coatings cannot handle the high heat necessary for a proper stir-fry or deep-fry. However, if you prefer a non-stick wok, we have reviewed them in this article here.  A carbon steel wok is very safe because it only consists of carbon and iron. There are absolutely no non-stick coatings like Teflon applied to carbon steel cookware, and thus is cancer-free.

Always preheat your wok on medium-high to high heat for at least 30 seconds to avoid food sticking to the bottom of the wok as there are no non-stick surface coating applied. A wok has numerous advantages over the shallow frying pan. It distributes heat more evenly, requires less oil, and ensures that food tossed during stir-frying lands back in the wok  and not on the stove top or kitchen floor.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Carbon Steel Wok

Carbon Steel Wok Pros

  • The benefit of a carbon steel wok is its capacity to absorb high heat and quickly cook the ingredients. Traditional woks can be heated to really high temperatures due to the concave shape of the bottom, and the low heat capacity of carbon steel.
  • Traditional stove-top manual woks will clean and cook better and also control the heat better even if cooking on an electric stove.
  • Can be heated to really high temperatures without warping and will brown foods attractively.
  • A carbon steel wok is usually cheaper than an electric wok as it does not have any electronic parts.

Carbon Steel Wok Cons

  • A round-bottomed wok is not suitable on an electric stove. A flat-bottomed wok is recommended.
  • Carbon steel woks need to be seasoned, which is done by heating the wok over low heat with a small amount of cooking oil like olive oil applied using a mister. This creates a patina to avoid food sticking to the wok. If you wash the wok in soapy water, however, the patina is washed off and the process must be repeated.
  • Not suitable for hot pots

The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Electric Wok 

Electric Wok Pros

  • Easy to use without the need for an external heat source.
  • Electric woks have an advantage over stove-top woks. They do not need to be seasoned. A traditional wok needs to go through a period of seasoning its metal to avoid future sticking problems.
  • The electric wok comes with its own stand. It can be used independently, hence avoiding taking up precious stove-top space.
  • A traditional carbon steel wok is harder to clean compared to an electric wok. Electric woks can be washed using dish soap.
  • Can be used for hot pots sitting on the dining tables.

Electric Wok Cons

  • The main shortcoming of an electric wok is the heat. Electric woks are simply incapable of heating to as high a temperature as a stove top, steel wok. This under-heating often results in a dish that is more boiled than fried. 
  • Vegetables cooked in an electric wok do not crisp as well, neither does meat.
  • You need a higher wattage to increase the heating capabilities.
  • There is no control for stir-frying. They are not good for deep-frying

Summary of how to choose the best Wok

What type of wok should you buy? 

A good carbon wok is an indispensable part of the amateur and professional cooks’ arsenal alike. Not only is it inexpensive, it also conducts heat evenly and requires less oil for deep frying. Another notable alternative is copper pans as they share the benefits of a carbon steel wok. If you’re looking for a cookware with a perpendicular edge, you might be looking for a carbon steel pan instead.

Flat or round bottom? 

If you are cooking with an electric cooker, your best option is to use a flat-bottom wok as it allows better heat distribution with a larger contacting surface. 

Design Considerations 

Originally, woks came with two metal ears to make them easy to lift. A new advancement in wok technology resulted in modern flat bottom woks having long bamboo handles. The long handle makes it easy to move the wok and toss the food when stir-frying. Most woks also have a small ‘helper’ handle on the other side to enable easy lifting. Round-bottom woks may have two small metal “ears,” or a single long metal or wooden handle.

What about non-stick woks? 

As the current rage is with low-fat and low-calorie cooking, many major manufacturers now market non-stick woks as the newest advancement.Unfortunately, carbon steel do not handle non-stick coatings well, and will peel if subjected to high and cold temperatures simultaneously. Furthermore, non-stick coatings can’t withstand abrasion at all.

Choose a Wok that comes with a Lid

With a lid, you can easily make stir fry recipes without relying on other unconventional covers. It is a common practice to let the food simmer on low heat before finally serving, and the lid helps the food to cook in a more balanced way.

Care and Maintenance for your Wok

It’s very important to season the wok before using it for the first time. Seasoning removes the preservative oil wok manufacturers place on the wok to prevent rusting.To season the wok, heat the wok over low heat with a small amount of cooking oil. It is also important to clean your wok after each use. 

Choosing the Right Wok Size

Electric and carbon steel woks come in a variety of sizes.A good sized wok for a family of three to four is about 12 inches to 14 inches in diameter. The size of the wok you choose will depend on several factors, including your own preferences, the type of stove you have, and the depth of the wok. Look for carbon steel woks that are at least about two millimeters thick so that it lasts longer. 

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