On test: The best woks

Are you a fan of stir-fries and Asian food? Read the BBC Good Food review of woks to discover the pans you should be buying to sizzle your way to perfection.

Best multi-purpose model

Colourful Ceramica lidded 28cm wok

If you are adamant that you want non-stick then go for ceramic non-stick. The main reasons for this are that you can use (within reason) metal utensils without damaging the surface and also, if for some reason it is left on a very high heat, the surface doesn't peel or give off damaging fumes. This wok is made from cast aluminum, which is an excellent heat conductor with no hot spots and the ceramic-based coating inside makes the wok incredibly non-stick, durable and easy to clean, even after repeated use. This is shallower in shape than a normal wok, so best used for frying off veg or even making curries in. You can use it on all hobs, except induction and it goes up to 180C.

£31.99, from Lakeland

Best for cooking on gas

Wing Yip 32cm stainless steel wok

Traditional steel woks are some of the cheapest around. This is on the larger end of the scale (so do consider where you will keep it), which makes it the ideal size for a stir-fry for four people. It does require pre-seasoning, by heating and rubbing with oil,  plus regular oiling to build up a protective coating and preventing rust. The handle is really sturdy and the deep domed shape means you can really get stuck in and toss the food quickly. However, it isn't as sturdy as some I tested, though it heats up fast (especially on a gas hob – it took less than 20 seconds) and for the traditional wok experience you can't beat it on price.

£7.50, from Wing Yip

Best shape

Cadac 30cm carbon steel wok

If you are anything like me, every time you stir-fry more beansprouts end up on the floor than in the pan. So I was delighted to find this wok! The body of the wok has large sloped sides that allows food to be tossed and stirred easily. The idea being the high sides 'catch' the contents and minimise any spillages. I was skeptical but it really works! My main concern was whether it would be stable. But I found it to have great balance – even on the barbecue. Being made of carbon-steel it can go up to very high heats too. Although you do need to season it to maintain the natural non-stick. The handle looks spindly but was very easy to hold, although it does get hot, fast, so you need to use a handle cover to avoid burnt fingers.

£32.99, from Internet Gardener

Best lightweight cast iron pan

Stellar 30cm easy lift cast iron wok with lid

Cast iron is a great material to go for as it gives the high heat of carbon steel without the maintenance (it rusts far less). A brilliant price, it's made from a new, super-light cast iron, which means it weighs no more than a heavyweight non-stick pan. It needs a serious amount of concentrated heat to get it going, but once hot it retains heat amazingly well. Its flat base makes it suitable for all hobs, including induction and was incredibly easy to clean.

£33.99, from For House and Home

 

Buyer's advice

Why buy?

You don't absolutely need a wok to create satisfying Chinese meals. Nonetheless, the bowl-shaped utensil has several advantages - it spreads heat evenly, uses less oil for deep-frying than a traditional deep-fat fryer, and ensures that food tossed during stir-frying lands back in the pan. It also can double up as a frying pan.

What should I buy?

The key things to consider are shape and material used. Shape-wise, if your best option is to use a flat bottom wok. Round bottom woks can reflect heat back on the element, damaging it. Round is good for gas, but make sure you use a heat diffuser. The material is also important. Carbon-steel is the traditional choice, primarily because it is durable, lightweight, and inexpensive, yet still provides rapid heat conduction so that food can be quickly seared - an essential task in proper stir-frying technique. However, without regular seasoning (coating with oil) they rust, so cast iron is a good alternative. Non-stick is another option, but it's worth noting results will not be quite the same as when using a traditional, metal-only wok. This is because the non-stick surface inhibits true browning, which means that foods will tend to retain more of their own juices. They also can't get up to searing high heats (180C is the normal top temperature). Having said that, if you are looking for something to gently stir-fry veg on a gentle heat and is easy to clean, go for this.

What we looked for:

Size: Anything under 35cm is the best choice for most home cooks. A larger wok becomes unwieldy in the kitchen (not to mention where would you store it) and a  very small wok (around 16cm in size) doesn't always hold all the ingredients, causing overcrowding and making it hard to cook food evenly.

Handles: I wanted a wok that was easy to hold and, more importantly, kept your hand away from the flames. It had to be sturdy too.

Cost: Woks take a battering, and for that reason, even though they can last a lifetime, if you do care for them realistically they are a once-a-decade purchase. For this reason my choices all come in under £35.


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This review was last updated in November 2016. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at goodfoodwebsite@bbc.com. 

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