A Complete Guide to Woks: Choosing, Using, Seasoning, and More!

The wok is the cornerstone of Asian cooking, and I’d argue that it should have a place in kitchens the world over due to its sheer versatility.

Its origins trace back to China, where it has been a culinary staple for centuries, utilized for its versatility in techniques like stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming, and more. The process of choosing the right wok is critical, as the material—whether carbon steel, cast iron, or non-stick (which, by the way, ewww – more on this later)—impacts its cooking performance.

Beyond selection, the art of using and maintaining a wok is a whole other thing all together.

If you are ready to purchase your first wok, let this article guide you in choosing the right size, material, and style for you. Additionally, this article will outline the rituals you have to do before using your wok for the first time, and how to take care of it afterwards.

What is a Wok?

A wok is a cooking vessel that is characterized by its distinctive shape—a high, sloping sides and rounded base. Its bowl-like shape allows for easy tossing and stir frying, and its high sides are well-suited for use on a high-powered Chinese stove. The flames licking up from the burner will ignite the aerosolized particles of oil while you’re tossing the ingredients. This produces the subtle smoky flavor that is called Wok Hei.

Beyond stir-frying, the wok’s versatile design makes it ideal for other cooking methods such as deep-frying, steaming, boiling, and smoking.

At first, woks were usually made from cast iron. But over time, materials like carbon steel and non-stick coated aluminum woks have become popular for their ease of use and maintenance. Despite these innovations, the essence of the wok remains unchanged—a testament to its enduring design and versatility in culinary applications worldwide.

How to Choose the Right Wok

Ranging from traditional cast iron woks to modern Teflon-coated ones, there are many types of woks to choose from. Here are some tips in choosing the right one for you:


Woks are made from cast iron, carbon steel, stainless steel, or non-stick coated aluminum. While each type of metal has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, I’d recommend going for a carbon steel wok for the following reasons:

Carbon steel woks can withstand the high temperatures needed for stir frying while still being light enough to make tossing easier. Moreover, it is durable enough to survive the rigors of the kitchen without being cracked or dented. Now, cast iron woks are also durable and can withstand a lot of heat as well, but they are too heavy and cumbersome for tossing. Apart from that, cast iron is not responsive to temperature changes, which is not ideal for stir frying.

Stainless steel woks are okay, and it would be my second choice material as it performs decently in most of the aspects that are important to stir frying. The one thing holding it back for me is its poor non-stick performance since it does not have a layer of seasoning that carbon steel and cast iron woks have. Also, since stainless steel cookware typically have aluminum cores, they may not be well-suited for high-heat cooking as aluminum has a lower melting point compared to the other materials.

Now, call me a hater, but non-stick coated woks should be a no-go, and companies that sell such products should be ashamed of themselves. While this type of wok is convenient to use, its material properties defeat its intended purpose. First off, non-stick coatings and high heat do not mix as they degrade and release harmful fumes at a certain threshold. non-stick coated woks also tend to be made from aluminum, which as stated earlier, is not well-suited for high heat cooking.

PropertyCast IronCarbon SteelStainless SteelNon-stick
Thermal CapacityExcellentExcellentGoodPoor
Thermal ReactivityPoorGoodGoodExcellent
Non-stick PerformanceGoodGoodPoorGreat (but not for high heat cooking)
MaintenanceHarder to MaintainHarder to MaintainConvenientConvenient

Flat Bottom vs. Round Bottom

Woks generally come in two shapes: round bottom and flat bottom. Here’s how they differ:

The traditional round bottom woks are widely preferred as they are designed for gas stoves where the flames can wrap around the wok’s curvature, allowing for exceptional heat distribution and the perfect sear. This shape is ideal for the classic wok techniques like tossing and stir-frying, as food can be easily moved around and cooked evenly. The round bottom also facilitates the concentration of heat in a smaller area, enabling high-temperature cooking that is often essential for authentic stir-fry dishes. However, without a wok ring, they are less stable on flat stove tops, and their use on electric or induction cooktops is considerably limited due to inefficient heat transfer.

Meanwhile, flat bottom woks are a modern adaptation designed to accommodate western stoves as well as the flat surfaces of electric and induction stoves .However, the flat surface will concentrate most of the heat at the base of the wok. This can cause food to burn easily, especially with the high temperatures involved in this technique.


Selecting the correct size of a wok is as crucial as choosing its material and shape, as it directly influences the cooking process, the quantity of food that can be prepared, and the ease of handling. Woks typically range in diameter from 10 to 20 inches, but for home use, the most common sizes are between 12 and 14 inches. You should also consider the size of your stove and storage space when selecting a wok size; a wok that’s too large may not only be cumbersome to maneuver but may also not fit well on your stove or in your cabinet.


Woks come with two main types of handles: the long handle, resembling that of a skillet, and the loop handle, which appears on both sides of the wok. Each type serves different purposes and suits various cooking styles.

The long handle, commonly found on woks designed for home kitchens, particularly those with Western influences, allows the cook to easily lift, tilt, and toss the contents. This is especially useful in stir-frying, where ingredients need to be moved quickly and efficiently. The long handle also usually includes a heat-resistant material, providing comfort and protection from the heat.

On the other hand, traditional Chinese woks often come with two loop handles on opposite sides. This design is ideal for cooking methods that require the wok to be moved to and from a heat source, such as deep-frying or steaming. Loop handles allow for a sturdy grip, essential when handling a hot, heavy wok filled with food or oil. However, tossing ingredients can be more challenging with this handle style.

Overall, I’d recommend buying a 14-inch round-bottomed carbon steel wok to start with.

Wok First Use Guide

If you went with my carbon steel recommendation, then you’d need to do the following steps first to to ensure a smooth start and to maintain the longevity and effectiveness of your wok.

Seasoning Your Wok

Seasoning is a critical first step for carbon steel and cast iron woks. The process involves coating the wok in a layer of oil and heating it to bond the oil to the metal, creating a patina. To season your wok, follow these general steps:

  1. Clean the Wok: New woks often come with a protective oil coating to prevent rust during transit. Wash your wok with warm, soapy water and a scrubbing pad to remove this layer. Dry thoroughly.
  2. Heat the Wok: Place the wok on high heat. As it heats, you’ll notice the metal changing to a bluish color. This is normal and part of the process.
  3. Oil the Wok: Once the wok is hot, reduce the heat to medium and carefully add a high smoke point oil (like peanut or canola oil), swirling it around to coat the surface.
  4. Polymerize the oil: Let the oil heat until it starts smoking and starts turning black, then tilt and rotate the wok to ensure the oil coats all sides. This may take a few minutes. Be sure to have proper ventilation during this process.
  5. Cool and Clean: After the wok has cooled, use a paper towel to wipe out any excess oil. Some prefer to repeat the oiling and heating process several times to build up a stronger patina.

How to Care for a Wok

Caring for a carbon steel wok involves a series of practices that preserve its functionality and enhance its longevity. By following proper cleaning, storing, rust removal, and re-seasoning techniques, you can ensure your wok remains a reliable tool for countless culinary adventures. Here’s a guide tailored specifically to maintaining a carbon steel wok.

How to clean a carbon steel wok

After each use, cleaning your carbon steel wok correctly is crucial to maintain its seasoned surface and prevent rust. Begin by washing the wok with hot water and a soft brush or sponge to remove food particles; using soap on carbon steel and cast iron is okay. For stubborn bits, soak the wok in warm water for a few minutes before scrubbing gently. Once clean, dry the wok thoroughly by heating it on the stove over low heat to evaporate any remaining moisture. This step is vital to prevent rusting.

How to store a carbon steel wok

Proper storage of your carbon steel wok is essential to prevent rust and damage. Ensure the wok is completely dry before storing it. Hanging the wok in a dry, well-ventilated space is ideal, as this prevents moisture accumulation and allows air to circulate around the wok. If you need to store it in a cupboard or stack it with other cookware, place a layer of paper towel inside to absorb any potential moisture and protect the seasoned surface.

How to remove rust from a carbon steel wok

When rust does appear on your carbon steel wok, it’s not a cause for alarm. To remove rust, use a non-metallic scrubbing pad with a mixture of salt and cooking oil, scrubbing the rusty areas gently. This method helps to lift the rust without damaging the wok’s seasoning. After scrubbing, rinse the wok, dry it thoroughly over heat, and then proceed to re-season the affected area to restore its non-stick surface.

When to season a carbon steel wok

Seasoning is not a one-time process but an ongoing aspect of caring for your carbon steel wok. Initially, season your wok before its first use to establish a base patina. Afterward, re-seasoning should occur whenever the wok’s surface looks dull, after cleaning off rust, or if food starts sticking more than usual.

Recommended Accessories for Wok Cooking

To enhance your wok cooking experience, certain accessories are invaluable. Here’s a comprehensive guide to the recommended accessories for wok cooking:

  • Wok Lid: A lid is crucial for techniques like steaming, simmering, and braising. It helps retain heat and moisture, essential for cooking certain dishes or keeping food warm.
  • Spatula: A long-handled spatula, preferably made of metal or heat-resistant silicone, is indispensable for stir-frying. Its shape should conform to the wok’s curve, allowing you to easily move and flip ingredients.
  • Ladle: A ladle is useful for adding liquids, such as water, broth, or sauces, to your dishes. Like the spatula, a ladle with a slight curve can better match the wok’s contour.
  • Steamer Basket: Bamboo or metal steamer baskets are perfect for steaming vegetables, dumplings, or fish. They sit inside the wok, allowing food to steam quickly and evenly.
  • Tongs: Tongs are versatile, ideal for adding or removing ingredients, especially when deep-frying or when you need to keep a distance from the hot wok.
  • Wire Mesh Strainer: This is essential for deep-frying, allowing you to quickly remove food from hot oil and drain excess fat.
  • Wok Ring: If you have a round-bottomed wok and a gas stove, a wok ring stabilizes the wok over the burner, ensuring even heat distribution.
  • Splatter Screen: To protect yourself and your kitchen from hot oil splatters, especially during deep-frying, a splatter screen is invaluable.


The wok stands out as a versatile and efficient tool in culinary practices, capable of bringing a rich array of flavors and textures to the table. Choosing the right one can be challenging, but for me, I’ll stick with the classic round bottom carbon steel wok, and I’m guessing this is the best choice for a lot you reading this article.

And for the love of all things holy, please don’t buy a non-stick coated wok.

Explore the Cult of Cast Iron blog for helpful tips and insights on cast iron, carbon steel, stainless steel, copper, and aluminum cookware. Enhance your cooking skills and take your culinary adventures to new heights.

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