Woks date back 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty in China. The word "wok" means "cooking pot" in Chinese, and the pans are used for a variety of cooking tasks. While woks are best associated with making stir-fries in the U.S., any food that benefits from a centralized heat source and large, consistent cooking area can (and should!) be cooked in a wok. That means woks used for braising, making sauces, soups, deep frying, steaming and more.
Woks traditionally have rounded bottoms and very smooth, rounded edges, perfect for heating quickly and evenly over a small flame. They typically have long handles that allow them to be shaken during cooking, sometimes eliminating the need to stir at all. Some contemporary styles come with lids which help with steaming and gently finishing food.
The experts in the GolfHr Institute Kitchen Appliances Lab rounded up the best woks based on user reviews, our favorite brands, and our categorical expertise on cooking tools. We chose an assorted variety to catering to every type of chef, from the novice home cook to the professional. Our favorite woks are easy to clean and feature flat bottoms so they can be used on the average home stove. Here are our picks for the best woks:
Best Overall Wok: Calphalon Signature 12-Inch Wok
Best Value Wok: Joyce Chen Classic Series Nonstick 14-Inch Wok
Best Nonstick Wok: HexClad 12-Inch Wok
Best Heavy Duty Wok: Made In Blue Carbon Steel Wok
Best Non-Traditional Wok: Anolon 12" Ultimate Pan
Most Versatile Wok: Scanpan Classic 12 ½-Inch Wok
Best Small Wok: Lodge 9-Inch Cast Iron Mini Wok
Most Stylish Wok: Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Wok
Best Electric Wok: Presto Stainless-Steel Electric Wok
Before you get shopping, here are answers to frequently asked questions about woks, including how to find the right one for you:
Carbon steel is the most traditional material used for making woks. It heats up quickly and evenly, and, if cleaned and treated properly, becomes non-stick over time. Carbon steel woks aren't as popular as they once were since they require seasoning before use and careful washing — they can't be used with soap or thrown in the dishwasher. Carbon steel also flavors the food a little, which some people find unpleasant, though other say this means it's properly seasoned.
Cast iron requires a bit more time to heat, but retains heat very well. Like a carbon steel wok, a cast iron wok also needs to be seasoned before first use to help prevent sticking, though some are sold pre-seasoned. Like a carbon steel wok, it, too, will become non-stick over time if treated properly. Cast iron tends to be heavy, which may make moving the wok difficult. In such cases, a wok spatula may be used to stir the food; it has a shovel like design, ideal for moving food around quickly and easily.
Stainless steel woks are gaining more popularity. While stainless steel takes some time to heat, it has good, even heat distribution. Traditionalists are opposed to stainless steel woks because they can be heavy and don't respond quickly to temperature changes the way carbon steel woks do. They're durable, however, and don't need to be seasoned. Stainless steel woks are often combined with other types of metal, like an aluminum core, which help them heat up quicker. They're also usually dishwasher safe.
Non-stick woks are a no-brainer for the entry level cook: They don't need to be seasoned, and they're easy to clean — just don't use a scouring pad or anything abrasive. Nonstick woks also can't be heated too hot, so it's hard to get a sear on meats and veggies. Low and steady wins the race with nonstick, which some might argue defeats the purpose of using a wok, which are traditionally used at super high heats.
Most of today's stoves don't accommodate for woks' traditional round-bottom shape, so a wok ring accessory is necessary to prop it up while cooking. We love flat bottomed woks since they allow for the wok to prop itself up without the need for additional accessories, but some traditionalists believe a flat bottom limits the cooking surface area and the ability to cook freely. A wok with a larger bottom fixes that issue by increasing the cooking surface and sear more food at once.
Before cooking with a carbon steel or cast iron wok, you'll need to season it to make sure food doesn't stick. To season, scrub the wok with soap and water the first time you unpack it to remove any machine oils. (These oils help prevent rusting in transit.) Then, heat the wok over high heat for 10 minutes. During this time, the color may change, but this is normal!
Once the entire wok is very hot, use a dry paper or hand towel to rub it with a high-smoke point oil, such as canola or vegetable oil. After you rub it with wax or oil, wipe away any extra residue and allow the wok to continue heating for five minutes. During this time, it'll likely change more color, but again, this is normal. Let the seasoned wok cool completely.
Made from heavy-gauge, hard-anodized aluminum, this nonstick wok is durable, but still easy enough to move around. It features a flat bottom so it won't move around on your stove. We like the extra-sloped edges and comfortable handle, which make tossing foods easy. The Calphalon wok can be used with metal utensils and is dishwasher safe.
This nonstick wok is made from carbon steel, which means it heats up fast and responds to changes in temperature well, but you don't need to worry about seasoning it or caring for it a particular way. The wooden handle is designed to stay cool during cooking, while the helper handle makes transporting to the table easy. A matching domed lid is available for purchase separately.
The patented laser-etched hexagon design on this wok makes the stainless steel pan nonstick, while still delivering on all the heavy duty heating qualities of stainless steel. It can be used with metal utensils and tossed in the dishwasher.
The pattern appears on the outside of the pan, as well, to add to the aesthetic and help prevent any blemishes that come along with stainless steel's natural wear and tear. HexClad's wok is sturdy, but relatively lightweight and easy to handle. It offers a large surface area.
This Made In wok is 2mm thick, while most woks are 1.5 mm or 1.25 mm, and 12 inches in diameter. It's designed for the highest heat and can be used on any stovetop. It's also oven safe up to 1200°F! This wok does not arrive seasoned, so you have to put in a little work before using.
While this Ultimate Pan from Anolon might not look like a wok, it can be used for everything a wok is used for. It's made of hard anodized aluminum, which means it heats up quickly and is lighter than carbon steel and cast iron, but still durable. It can also be used with metal utensils. We love the large surface that reminds us of the pans we're used to, but also that we can easily shake it around: The handle is slip resistant and comfortable to hold.
We love how versatile Scanpan is with its ability to brown, braise, sear and deglaze, all while being nonstick thanks to its ceramic-titanium technology. The wok made of pressure-cast aluminum, which can be used with metal utensils and placed in the oven up to 500°F. It's also dishwasher safe with a lifetime warranty. The pictured wok is 12.5 inches, but it also comes in a smaller, 11-inch size.
Woks can be big and heavy, but this one is the perfect size for one person. It can be used for cooking, or serving, or cooking and serving! It's made of cast iron, so while it's small, it's still has all the great heat retention properties of a heavy duty pan. The two handles allow it to be transported easily — just always remember to use oven mitts; they will get hot!
Enameled cast iron makes clean up a breeze, while still getting hot enough to sear and saute. This Le Creuset wok will complete your collection, and makes a stunning (and functional!) showpiece. It comes in an array of colors and can be used on all heat sources. The lid is tight-fitting, ideal for keeping food warm.
Add more cooking surface to your kitchen with this electric wok made of stainless steel that lives on your countertop instead of your stove. It can be heated to 400ºF, and comes with a spatula for cooking. The lid is made of tempered glass and can withstand high temps. Use the wok to stir fry, make soups, sauces or anything that needs to keep warm for serving.
• Use oils with a high smoke point, such as canola, vegetable, corn, or grapeseed, that can stand up to the high heat of stir-frying.
• Heat the wok before adding oil to it. Don't heat the wok and oil together: woks take a while to heat and the oil will likely burn.
• A wok is fully heated when you sprinkle it with a few water droplets and they quickly disappear. (This trick can be used for any pan.)
• Cut ingredients into small, even pieces. The smaller the pieces, the quicker they cook — long, thin strips are popular for stir-frying.
• To get a good sear, add ingredients to the surface of the wok in batches. Then, push them to the side before adding more.
• Use a tumbling motion to toss ingredients in a wok, or use a wok spatula.