Buying Guide to Woks

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5 Things to Know Before You Buy

Born out of necessity centuries ago as a means of conserving fuel by cooking foods quickly over as large a heating area as possible, wok cooking is still popular. Today's woks are used for a wide variety of culinary tasks - from stir-frying to steaming, braising, sauteing and deep frying.

Before adding a modern version of this ancient cooking tool to your kitchen collection, consider the following features and details of today's woks.

Fact #1: Types

Three main types of woks exist. Traditional-style woks are the type generally used in China. They feature a round bottom, which distributes heat well and allows for good movement of food when the wok is tossed. Such a wok requires that you place it on a stabilizing wok ring stand, and it can only be used on gas stoves.

Flat-bottomed woks are more commonly found in the U.S. They feature a flat bottom that can be used on all types of stoves, and they don't require a stand. These woks do a good job of cooking food, although the ridge from the flat bottom can catch food particles and sauce during stir-frying when you toss the pan.

Electric woks consist of a built-in heating unit that allows you to cook anywhere you have access to electricity. Some have a removable heating base, while others are a combined unit. Such woks tend to be large and require sufficient storage space in your kitchen.

Fact #2: Materials

A variety of metals are used to make woks, and they all have their advantages.

*Carbon-steel woks conduct heat well, and with use, create a smooth, stick-free surface. This type of wok sometimes requires seasoning when it is new, which means you scrub the wok well, coat it in oil and place it over high heat.

*Cast-iron woks are also good conductors of heat, and with cooking create a stick-free surface. They are able to attain the high temperatures that stir-frying requires. Cast-iron is heavy and takes some time to heat up. They generally come pre-seasoned.

*Stainless steel woks require no pre-seasoning, but foods tend to stick, so you will use more oil during cooking. They can also be scrubbed with steel wool so that they look like new between uses.

*Anodized aluminum woks are especially sturdy and distribute heat well. This material is often combined with other metals, such as copper and ceramic.

Fact #3: Size

Woks tend to range in size from 10-inches to 16-inches. There are some mini woks in sizes such as 8-inches that are perfect for one-person meals and some larger-sized woks that work well for making big batches of food. If you will be cooking for the average-sized family, avoid especially large, deep woks, as it is difficult on the home stove to heat the sides of the pan up sufficiently while cooking.

Fact #4: Lid

Some woks come with lids, which works well for cooking low oil dishes with trapped steam and foods such as rice. A glass lid is preferable, so that you can check on the food without lifting the lid.

Fact #5: Handles

Woks come with one or two handles. If you purchase an especially heavy wok, such as one made of cast iron, two handles are preferred so that you can more easily pick it up and toss the contents.

Now that you've been educated on choosing the right wok for your culinary needs, turn on the stove and let the sizzling begin.

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