The best woks for making stir-fried food
From traditional carbon steel and wood, to cutting edge non-stick technology, read the BBC Good Food review of top wok pans for flash-cooking speedy stir-fries and more.
The wok is a bowl-shaped utensil that 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 as a frying pan.
Traditional woks are made from carbon steel, which require regular seasoning with oil to stop them from rusting. Modern woks sometimes come with a non-stick coating, plus you can choose between a round- or flat-bottomed wok, depending on your preference and hob type.
When choosing a wok, think about how much time you'll want to spend taking care of it. You can go for an authentic piece that you may need to care for and season, or a non-stick throw-in-the-dishwasher pan for all uses.
Remember, a wok can be used for so much more than just a stir-fry; use it for searing and sautéing ingredients over a high heat before long, slow bakes, or choose a wok that comes with a lid so you can simmer and steam your way to perfect dishes.
The best woks at a glance 2023
- Best for taking to the table: Le Creuset toughened non-stick wok, £175
- Best lightweight quality wok: Netherton Foundry 33cm iron wok, £79.35
- Best wok for heavy-duty heat retention: Tramontina Trento 32cm cast iron wok, £79.99
- Best gift wok for a real foodie: Samuel Groves classic non-stick stainless steel tri-ply wok, £170
- Best wok for students: Progress Scandi 28cm non-stick wok, £27.99
- Best wok for tempura making: Prue’s World dual-handle lidded wok, £36.99
- Best for style and substance: Smeg 50s-style wok, £149.95
- Best for easy stir frying: Kuhn Rikon easy induction wok, £74.95
- Best non-stick wok: TEFAL Unlimited ON wok, £45.98
- Best traditional carbon steel wok: School of Wok Wok & Roll 33cm round bottom wok, £31.50
- Best wok for families: Circulon Ultimum high-density forged 36cm wok, £165
What wok to buy?
Round or flat?
If your hob is gas, a traditional round-bottomed wok is a great option, but bear in mind you will need a wok ring to keep it steady. For electric, flat is best as round woks can reflect heat back on the element, damaging it. Similarly, for induction hobs you'll need a broad, flat base for decent contact between hob and wok.
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Traditional carbon steel woks are durable, lightweight and inexpensive. They provide rapid heat conduction to quickly sear food, which is essential for stir-frying. However, they do require more maintenance, as without regular seasoning (coating with oil) they will rust.
Similar to carbon steel, cast iron needs to be seasoned. It takes longer to reach a high heat, but will maintain temperature well. Cast iron is very heavy, so not the best option if you like to toss your stir-fries.
Non-stick coatings have developed over the years to withstand the higher temperatures needed for stir-frying. They still don’t sear the food in quite the same way as carbon steel, but they do a good job and are certainly easier to clean and maintain.
Best woks to buy 2023
Le Creuset toughened non-stick wok
Best for taking to the table
Absolute quality is achieved by Le Creuset, who use a toughened non-stick coating on this forged aluminium wok. The two riveted handles are unlikely to come loose or wobble, even after years of use. This wok reaches a searing heat without a problem, retaining the temperature as ingredients cook and even after the dish is finished and taken to the table for guests to help themselves. The pan isn’t too heavy at all, although obviously in a good grade of metal. A useful pan we’ll use for so much more than stir-fries.
Netherton Foundry 33cm iron wok
- Available from Netherton Foundry, £79.35
Best for lightweight quality
Netherton Foundry is a popular choice with serious cooks because it combines everything you’d want in a pan, but make it light, easy to use and lovely to look at. We love the branded oak overlaid handle on this wok, which, like other varieties in the range, is constructed from spun iron. Not only does it have superior heat-conducting qualities, there’s none of the extreme heft of some of the big cast iron models in the test, making it easier to use. Although you can use this wok straight from the box, it’s best to give it a seasoning first. It’ll be the start of a long cooking adventure – this one is made to last.
Netherton Foundry, £79.35
Tramontina Trento 32cm cast iron wok
Best for heavy-duty heat retention
This is an absolute whopper of a enamelled cast iron wok from this Brazilian brand. Don’t limit it to frying – there’s a lot more it can handle. For starters, it’s far and away the heaviest model on test, so you’ll need muscles to move it around. Because of its sturdiness, this is a great choice for those times when stability is key – for tempura frying in hot oil, for example. It’s also going to keep heat in your dish with its stainless-steel handled lid, and looks great as a rustic table centrepiece. A no-frills classic, this is a pan that will only get better over time, adding flavour to dishes if you allow it to build up a patina and keep it oiled every month or so.
Samuel Groves classic non-stick stainless steel tri-ply wok
Best gift wok for a real foodie
This top-quality British-made wok comes in a hessian presentation bag. When cooking, the riveted long handle and grab bar opposite feel great and secure. Because these are also in tri-ply steel, this wok can be placed in the oven and under grills, too. Admittedly, this doesn’t crop up in Chinese, east, south or southeast Asian cooking very often, but it adds to the versatility of such a quality pan, which is a bonus considering the higher cost. You can also brown steak mince in this for ragu, which adds a nice char and colour to the meat. Samuel Groves pans are always a delight to use and this wok was no exception.
Progress Scandi 28cm non-stick wok
Best for students
We like the chunkiness of the faux wood handles on this budget-friendly option, which is perfect for young cooks. The handles are made of plastic, however, so you'll have to keep a close eye on the gas flame to ensure it doesn’t creep round its base for unexpected meltdown. That said, this is a good-quality grade of wok for the money, and with a grab handle on the opposite side to the handle, it's easy to move a full pan around. What's more, a new green initiative from Progress means they'll plant a tree for every wok bought. There’s a snug-fitting lid with this one, too, so it’s great value.
Prue’s World dual-handle lidded wok
Best for tempura making
Part of a range of kitchen equipment for international dishes, the dual bamboo handles make this good-looking wok a suitable hob-to-table model. Of course, they mean it’s not an authentic choice for those who prefer to pick the pan up to really throw ingredients around as they cook – a single long handle is best for that. This wok is made from coated non-stick carbon steel and it heats quickly and evenly, searing beef for teriyaki without losing heat as ingredients are added. The hook-on tempura rack is a bonus for letting deep-fried ingredients drain while staying hot.
Smeg 50s-style wok
Best for style and substance
Smeg’s expanded range of cookware continues to use the high-quality materials you expect from the brand. There’s a logo imprint and sleep stripes on the long handle that mirror any other Smeg kitchen equipment you might have, and there’s a choice of cream, black or red outer casing. This is a very generous, deep wok that can easily handle frying for more than four people. The inner, slightly roughcast non-stick coating doesn’t catch when cooking at high heat and has lots of space to move ingredients around for even charring.
Kujhn Rikon easy induction wok
- Available from Kuhn Rikon, £74.95
Best for easy stir-frying
This non-stick wok is specially designed to be used on induction hobs and has a smooth, polished base that's easy to clean and stays in great shape even after enthusiastic stir-frying. The pan has an anti-scratch coating and three-layer titanium coating for extra durability. We like the feel of this pan, which has a smoother inner than most – ingredients slide effortlessly around over the surface, making it easy to cook everything evenly with a bare minimum of oil.
Kuhn Rikon, £74.95
TEFAL Unlimited ON wok
Best non-stick wok
A classic, non-stick choice, this wok is for those non-purists who like to stick a wok in the dishwasher – great for family cooking, and at a solid mid-price point. It’s suitable for all hobs, too. There's a good weight to this model and the heat is very evenly distributed, cooking a stir-fry for four quickly and evenly. With the darkening of its Thermo-Signal red dot, there’s a visual cue that your wok has reached an ideal temperature for cooking, but when flash and stir-frying we’d always give it a minute or two extra to get things really smoking hot.
School of Wok Wok & Roll 33cm round bottom wok
Best traditional carbon steel wok
From the School of Wok cookery school in London’s Covent Garden, this was the best traditional-style wok we tested. Round bottomed and made of carbon steel, this wok requires a gas hob and does need a bit of prep before use.
First, the protective layer of lacquer (that stops the wok rusting in the shop) needs to be scoured off and then the metal needs to be seasoned with two ‘burns’ over a hot hob or with a blow torch. Seasoning keeps the metal in good condition and prevents sticking. There are helpful instructions on how to do this and online videos if you get stuck.
Though a little time consuming, the prep is worth it for the searing and flavour produced by a traditional carbonised wok. Reasonably priced, this wok has a comfortable bamboo handle, heats fast, is light and well-balanced.
Circulon Ultimum high-density forged 36cm wok
- Available from Circulon, £165
Best wok for families
This large capacity wok is ideal for feeding large families or a crowd of friends. Its large flat base keeps good contact with an induction hob and works equally well on gas and electric. It does require some storage space but thankfully has two cast stainless steel handles rather than a long stick.
The handles do get hot so keep your oven gloves close to hand. The wok heats evenly and fast. Circulon’s signature ridged surface together with a hard-wearing non-stick coating means stir-fry glides around the pan. Impressively, the non-stick is proof to 260C and it comes with a large domed lid making it a versatile pan for steaming and poaching. A solid, durable wok that’s easy to clean too.
How we tested woks
In the test we concentrated on stir-frying. We tossed, stirred, tilted and shimmied to see how much food might escape from the pan. A variety of utensils were used to test convenience of shape and durability of surface.
What we looked for in a wok
Balance and weight: We looked for wok’s that could be lifted easily by the handle without drastic tilting. Some long-handled woks have a small second handle to help with balance.
Handles: We looked for handles that were comfortable and safe to hold. Long-stick handles are better suited to tossing stir-fries and keeping your hand away from the heat. Short handles either side of the wok are more convenient for storage and can also be used for tossing – just remember to use your oven gloves.
Shape: Woks with deep curved sides that kept food in the pan were preferred.
Temperature: We considered how fast and evenly the wok heated and how well the food seared. We rejected those that stewed rather than browned the veg, and those with uneven hotspots that resulted in burnt food.
Sticking: Whether seasoned carbon steel or non-stick coated, we looked for ease of movement in the wok. Woks are subject to vigorous activity so non-stick coatings need to be hard wearing and scratch-resistant.
How to clean a wok?
Give woks a coating of oil with kitchen paper to keep them in top condition and never use harsh or abrasive cleaners on them. Always try to use wooden chopsticks or spatulas rather than metal implements, to protect the surface from scores.
Plunging your pan in the washing up bowl from the hob is another no-no, as you don’t want it to warp or crack. Leave it to cool fully before cleaning and for maximum care, hand-wash rather than put in the dishwasher to protect the coating.
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