Woks come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. However, the material is easily the most important consideration. It defines reliability and heat distribution properties. Carbon steel has been recommended by chefs and enthusiasts for ages. Is it still the most preferable material for a wok?
These pans have impressive benefits, but they are not for lazy cooks. As you can see from the Yosukata woks range, carbon steel is the best choice, even in 2021. There are many reasons to stick to this traditional material. Before going in-depth, you can read first the review of the Bearded Butcher seasoning.
Carbon steel is excellent for professional and home use. These woks have a natural coating created by seasoning. They are non-stick, so there is no need for oil or butter. It is easy to move the food around, so you can add more ingredients to the center in the process. Carbon steel provides:
- Great value for money (these are relatively affordable pans);
- Lightweight cookware (depending on the thickness);
- Durability (a carbon steel wok can last for many years);
- Excellent heat distribution (the woks heat up fast, without hot spots).
Cons about Carbon Steel Woks
A carbon steel wok needs to be seasoned before you can use it to ensure that the surface is properly non-stick. Also, if you want it to last for years, you must do it before you cook. Although seasoning is not very challenging, it is undoubtedly less practical than other cookware that you can simply place on your burner.
Wok made of carbon steel is not dishwasher-safe. Your carbon steel wok’s non-stick coating will wear off due to the hot water and detergents in your dishwasher. In order to make sure that it will survive, it also needs additional care and maintenance, including cleaning every time after use and making sure it is dry before storing.
Not acidic food-friendly
A carbon steel wok also has the drawback of not truly working with food that has a lot of acid. This is because its natural non-stick seasoning can be destroyed by the excessive amount of acids. Not saying that should avoid cooking acidic items in your carbon steel wok but you should avoid cooking acidic foods if you want to protect your carbon steel wok and extend its lifespan.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Wok
Type of Stove and Heating Element
Your choice of wok will depend on the type of stove and heating source, whether gas or electric, so give it some serious thought first. Experts usually always prefer a gas burner, but you can still use a wok to cook if you have an electric range, albeit one with a flat bottom.
No Non-Stick Models
They are of doubtful safety at the temperatures needed for Chinese cooking, as the most are rated at 500°F/260°C or less, and frequently you may surpass or approach that limit.
Comparison with Other Materials
As you can see, there are many reasons to choose carbon steel over its alternatives. Here are their key pros and cons. Make your own conclusion!
First, such woks are the heaviest. They are difficult to move around, so stir-frying is a challenge. On the upside, heat is retained very well, and the pans are strong enough to withstand the highest temperatures. At the same time, these woks adapt to temperature changes relatively slowly. Like carbon steel, they also require seasoning before use. Overall, this is a great option for outdoor cooking, but not indoor meals.
These woks have their benefits and drawbacks. The key advantage is the even distribution of heat and retention of high temperatures. You can use the cookware without seasoning, so it is great for beginners. However, this also means that the surface does not prevent sticking. Some food, especially products with high protein content, is difficult to cook because of this.
Cooking novices are often advised to choose non-stick models because of their convenience. No special maintenance or seasoning is required. On the downside, the sear on vegetables and meats will be worse than with other woks. The artificial coating does not allow the same temperatures, so these pans are not used by professionals.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, carbon steel remains the most versatile and cost-effective option. The thicker the pan — the heavier and the sturdier it is. You can choose a size and weight suitable for your needs. Seasoning should not take much time — you will need to rub some oil into the surface and subject the wok to high heat for around an hour.