A good wok helps you make Chinese food as easily as you should. It also helps you to poach, braise and deep-fry stuff. But when it comes down to the different stir-fry wok pans out there, most Asian chefs swear by a carbon steel wok.
Its material composition makes all the difference. Both cast iron and carbon steel include carbon in their makeup but carbon steel has a lower percentage of carbon than cast iron.
This makes carbon steel more pliable, leading to lighter and better-curved wok pans while retaining its fast and even heat distribution properties. Carbon steel woks are also cheaper and easily form their own non-stick coating.
In this carbon steel wok review, you’ll get a list of the top carbon steel wok pans in the market, plus an in-depth buying guide to help you make the right choice.
What to Check Before Buying Best Carbon Steel Wok?
After you’ve agreed that carbon steel woks are the best, the next step is finding the best carbon steel wok for your needs.
To do this properly, you’ll need to understand the most important features of a carbon steel wok and following are these most important features that you should keep an eye on when making your decision.
1. Round vs. Flat-Bottomed Carbon Steel Woks
The major difference you’ll find among wok pans is their bottoms and this includes round and flat-bottomed woks. Flat-bottomed woks, like their name suggests, have a flat bottom and can easily rest on a flat surface like an electric cooker, on their own.
Round-bottomed wok pans, however, cannot rest on a flat surface on their own because they have curved bottoms. This makes them incapable of use on electric and most gas stoves, but they do have their advantages.
When it comes to ease of use, round-bottomed woks are the best, but that’s only when you have a compatible cooker. If you have a standard cooker, then it’s simply better to buy a flat-bottomed wok.
There are two reasons you should consider the size of the wok pan that you are about to buy. The first reason is the amount of food that you intend to stir-fry at a go. Obviously, you’ll need a larger pan to cook larger meals.
The second reason is the relationship between a wok’s size and its weight. So, while a larger wok enables you to cook larger meals at a go, it’s also heavier and unwieldy.
A 14-inch wok pan is great for most home cooks, but you’ll need to find your own balance between size and weight, and then pick a size that works best for you.
A 12-inch wok will do to cook for up to 5 people, a 14-inch for 6 to 12 persons, and a large, 16-inch wok pan is the recommendation to cook for over 12 persons.
This one is a personal choice because you’ll find carbon steel woks in both traditional and modern designs. Some will come with fancy wooden handles, while others will be as bare and basic as possible.
You’ll also find wok pans that come with a lid and those that come with a non-stick coating. You are free to get the wok with a lid but keep in mind that a non-stick coating is not desirable on a wok given the fast and rough nature of stir-fry cooking, which might eventually scratch the coating.
In addition, carbon steel woks get an oil coat after seasoning, which naturally has non-stick features. So, comfort, weight, and style are better features to focus on when making your choice.
4. Construction Method
A wok’s construction method is important because it can either make the wok’s sides smooth or otherwise. With a wok pan, you don’t want smooth sides because they can’t hold food when you need to shift the food items to one side of the pan.
There are three major methods of making a wok, and they are as follows:
- Stamping. This involves the bending of a large piece of metal using a machine. It’s the fastest method of wok-making, but it creates smooth sides, which can’t hold food and lets it slide back down.
- Spinning. A spun wok is usually made on a lathe, and you’ll immediately notice this from the concentric circles on the sides, which, fortunately, help in holding food.
- Hammering. This is the oldest method of making a wok, and it remains the best. Hammering creates thousands of small indentations, which help to hold food when you move it to one side.Although hammered wok pans cost more, the price differences aren’t really that much, so feel free to pick a hammered or a spun wok.
You want a wok with sides that are not too thick, so they don’t make the wok too heavy. You also don’t want the sides too thin, so that they don’t bend when you press on them. A 14-gauge (1.7 mm) thickness is perfect.
You’ll find woks with two types of handles. The first type has small, curved handles, known as Cantonese handles. The second type is known as northern handles, and they are straight and long like frying pan handles.
Some wok pans will combine these two handle types to create a wok with a long major handle and a second and smaller helper handle. You are free to choose what works for you here.
7 Best Carbon Steel Woks of 2021 Reviewed
1. Craft Wok 731W88 (Best Overall)
2. M.V. Trading CSWK12FBHH (Best Flat-bottom)
3. Joyce Chen 21-9972 (Best for the Money)
4. Sur La Table 21-9969 (Simple, Modern, & Beautiful)
5. Joyce Chen 22-0060 (Best Modern Styled)
6. Helen Chen’s 97005 (Modern & Stylish Package)
7. Ken Hom KH120001U (with Non-stick Coating)
1. Craft Wok 731W88 – Best Overall
- Size: 14 inches
- Thickness: 15 gauge (1.8 mm)
- Weight: 4.4 lbs
For the best professional carbon steel wok, you need a wok pan that’s as traditional as possible and that’s what Craft Wok offers here. It’s made in China by Chinese professional-wok makers in Guangzhou, and they are hand-hammered.
The pan itself measures 14 inches across and features a round bottom to truly make it traditional. This gives you a pan that can easily hold part of your food on one side when you need some more space.
It comes with a long, wooden, and northern handle, plus a smaller helper handle. The entire pan also weighs just 4.4 pounds, making it lightweight enough for most people to swing with just one arm.
One downside of this pan is that it’s made in such an authentically traditional way, that it looks quite old and definitely out-of-place in most modern kitchens.
But if you want a real Chinese wok pan that’s made the old way, then you’ve got it.
- Hand-hammered by Chinese wok-making professionals
- A completely traditional and best overall Chinese wok
- Includes a long wooden handle and a helper handle
- Made using 15-gauge carbon steel
- The best carbon steel wok for serious stir-fry chefs
- The traditional look makes it less attractive
- Its round bottom is not for all stoves
- Size: 12 – 16 inches
- Thickness: 14 gauge
- Weight: 4.2 lbs (12-inch pan)
M.V. Trading presents you with the best flat-bottom carbon steel wok here. It’s designed for those with flat stove-tops to also enjoy stir-fry cooking in a wok, since traditional woks can’t do that.
Unlike traditional wok pans, this one also comes with lots of fancy designs, giving it a modern and trendy look that fits beautifully into any kitchen.
The downside here is that lacking a round bottom means you are limited in how much boiling and deep-frying you can do with it. Still, its flat bottom makes it usable by many and so it’s a good trade-off.
You can get it in any of 3 sizes, including 12, 14, and 16 inches, to match the number of people you plan to cook for at a go. Do note anyway, that the larger versions cost more than the smaller ones.
- Very stylish and modern design
- Flat bottom works on most stovetops
- Made using thick 14-gauge carbon steel
- 4-inch depth provides enough cooking space
- The larger sizes are costlier and heavier
- Only hand-washing is recommended
3. Joyce Chen 21-9972 – Best for the Money
- Size: 14-inch
- Thickness: 1.5 mm
- Weight: 5.6 pounds
Here’s another offer from Joyce Chen, featuring a 4-piece package that includes a wok, a dome lid for the wok, a bamboo spatula, and a recipe book.
This package offers you everything you need to get into the world of stir-fry cooking, making it the best wok for the money on this list.
You’ll also learn to appreciate the wok dome lid along the way because it allows you to enrich your cooking with flavors by covering and letting your stir-fry cook for a while.
The wok pan comes with birch-wood handles which stay cool while cooking. There is a long, northern style handle and a second, helper handle to give you more control when cooking.
For cons, the sides are a bit too smooth and won’t hold food well, as hammered woks do. The wok is also not dishwasher safe.
Joyce Chen, however, guarantees that you are free to use this wok pan on any cooktop of your choice and additionally backs it with its 25-year warranty.
- 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon steel wok
- Best wok for the money includes a spatula, lid, & recipe booklet
- A beautifully designed wok with birch-wood handles
- Can be used on any cook-top
- Backed by a 25-year warranty
- The sides are too smooth
- You can only hand-wash this wok
4. Sur La Table 21-9969 – Simple, Modern, & Beautiful
- Size: 14 inches
Here’s another carbon steel wok which is designed for functionality and looks. It features a spinning manufacturing process that leaves its sides with ridges to make it hold food better.
In addition, the handles come from maple and include a long, northern handle and a smaller, helper handle. This smaller handle also features a curved metal with a beautifully carved wooden cover.
You are free to use metal utensils on this wok and although it has a flat bottom, it does well for all types of cooking, including stir-frying, steaming, and deep-frying.
If you’re looking for a traditional wok, then you might get disappointed by this wok pan, but it’s still a high-quality pan that comes backed by a lifetime warranty, so there’s nothing much to worry about.
- Modern & stylish wok
- Features beautifully made maple handles
- Suitable for all types of stove-tops
- Backed by a lifetime warranty
- Removing its first oil coat is a bit tiresome
- There’s no included accessory
5. Joyce Chen 22-0060 – Best Modern Styled
- Size: 14 inches
- Thickness: 2 mm
- Weight: 4.1 pounds
Joyce Chen is an iconic name in the world of stir-frying and wok pans because she invented and holds the patent to flat-bottomed woks.
This offer for a Joyce Chen carbon steel wok includes an original wok pan from the Joyce Chen line. It’s beautifully designed with stylish and modern handles and perfect for any modern sty-fry enthusiast.
You get a flat-bottomed wok, which measures 14 inches across and gets manufactured using 2-mm heavy gauge carbon steel. The handles set this wok pan apart because they are so unique, stylish, and ergonomic.
Made from Phenolic, the handles stay cool while cooking and the long handle even comes with a nicely made loop to hang it easily in the kitchen.
- Flat-Bottom makes it usable on most stove-tops
- Very stylish & modern design
- Includes stylish handle and extra helper handle
- Made by the inventor of the flat-bottomed wok
- Backed by a 25-year warranty
- Its sides are a bit too smooth
- It’s not dishwasher safe
6. Helen Chen’s 97005 – Modern & Stylish Package at a Great Price
- Size: 14 inches
- Thickness: 1.6 mm
- Weight: 5 pounds
Helen Chen’s Asian Kitchen focuses on providing you with impressive tools to make your Asian cooking a delightful experience. This package includes everything you need to start right away.
She is the daughter of the Asian cooking pioneer Joyce Chen and follows her mother’s footsteps to give you only the best.
You get a wok with a dome lid, a bamboo spatula for stir-frying, and a recipe book to help start you off with the right foods and combinations.
Helen Chen makes the wok with a lovely design, and it’s rugged enough to last for many years. It is 14 inches in width, has a 1.6-mm gauge, features stylish wooden handles, and comes with a lifetime warranty.
- Package includes a wok, spatula, lid, & recipe booklet
- The wok is from a 1.6-mm carbon steel
- This wok features stylish handles with a modern look
- Spinning lines offer better food control during cooking
- It’s heavier than most other woks at 5 pounds
- Flat bottoms are not as good as rounded bottoms
7. Ken Hom KH120001U – Best with Non-stick Coating
- Size: 8 – 14.5 inches
- Weight: 1.1 pounds (8-inch pan)
Ken Hom presents you with this top-rated carbon steel wok here and it’s available in 8, 11, 12.5 and 14.5-inch sizes. This particular offer is for the 8-inch wok and nothing else.
The 12.5-inch version is available as a kit, and it includes a glass lid, a spatula, and a rack, making it a great choice for those who want the best carbon steel wok with lids and extras. What you’ll find unique about this wok pan though, is its non-stick coating.
While most of the other woks on this list feature a raw carbon steel surface which needs seasoning before first use, this one comes with a non-stick coating, which is great but doesn’t last very long.
Still, you can use it on all kinds of stove-tops, including gas, electric and halogen without problems. Ken Hom also backs it with a 1-year warranty.
- A nicely designed carbon steel wok
- Includes a heat-resistant handle and a hanging loop
- The non-stick coating makes seasoning needless
- Works with gas, electric, and halogen cookers
- Its non-stick coating can’t last very long
- Only hand-washing recommended
How to Season a Carbon Steel Wok?
Carbon steel is a porous metal and this means that if you don’t season it, then it will absorb water one way or the other and end up rusting.
You don’t want your wok rusting, so you’ve got to season it immediately after buying it and hopefully, this process also gives it a non-stick property for a better cooking experience.
Following is a simple step-by-step guide to correctly seasoning your wok.
Step 1: Pre-Wash: Your carbon steel wok’s manufacturer will coat the wok with some oil to preventing it from rusting during warehousing and transport. The first thing you should do, therefore, is to wash the wok before seasoning it.
Simply wash it in hot soapy water, scrubbing both inside and outside with a scouring pad or metal sponge. When satisfied, rinse it thoroughly and dry with a dry towel.
Step 2: Pre-Heat: Place the wok on high heat and let it heat up, turning and tilting it until it turns a blueish-yellowish color.
Step 3: Remove Wok: Once the work changes color, remove from the stove.
Step 4: Reduce Heat: Reduce the stove to medium heat.
Step 5: Add Oil: Using tongs or something else to hold a paper or cloth towel, add about 1.5 teaspoons of oil to the wok and rub it all over. You want an oil with a high smoking point like peanut, canola, and sunflower oil. You can also use lard or other animal fat.
Step 6: Heat for 10 Minutes: After oiling, heat the wok for about 10 minutes on the same medium heat, then remove from the stove and wipe it dry with a paper towel. You should see black residue on that paper towel.
Step 7: Repeat Steps 5 & 6: Repeat steps 5 & 6, that is, rub in oil and heat the wok until there’s no more black residue when you wipe it with a towel. Your wok pan is now ready for use.
We’ve reached the end of this carbon steel woks review, and you’ve seen the different offers out there and all the different styles, features, and accessories that come with carbon steel woks.
If you’ve got a flat cooker, then you can go for the best flat-bottom wok with its 4-inch depth and 14-gauge construction. Else, you can also go for the best overall wok in this review with its traditional and rounded bottom.
In this post:
- What to Check Before Buying Best Carbon Steel Wok?
- 7 Best Carbon Steel Woks of 2021 Reviewed
- 1. Craft Wok 731W88 – Best Overall
- 2. M.V. Trading CSWK12FBHH – Best Flat-bottom Carbon Steel Wok
- 3. Joyce Chen 21-9972 – Best for the Money
- 4. Sur La Table 21-9969 – Simple, Modern, & Beautiful
- 5. Joyce Chen 22-0060 – Best Modern Styled
- 6. Helen Chen’s 97005 – Modern & Stylish Package at a Great Price
- 7. Ken Hom KH120001U – Best with Non-stick Coating
- How to Season a Carbon Steel Wok?