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How and Why to Use a Wok
You’ve probably seen a wok pan countless times on the television, in your favorite chef’s vlogs, or in restaurants. You probably think that you don’t possibly need a wok, right? Wrong. I will show you how and why to use a wok and what makes healthy cooking with a wok essential. Let’s go on an adventure of healthy cooking with a wok!
Wok pans are among the list of the most versatile cooking pans in the world. You’ve seen chefs use it for stir-frying, boiling, steaming, stewing, or even frying different types of foods. We’re going to tell you all about wok pans, how to use a wok pan, what benefits it can give you, why it’s healthy for you, and more!
What is a wok pan?
Let’s start with knowing where it all began. Wok pans are strongly tied to their Asian origins, with the first recorded use dating back to the Han Dynasty Era in Ancient China. The traditional wok pan was cast iron metal and had high walls, a round bottom, and a long handle or two handles on both sides.
There are various theories formulated as to why this particular cooking utensil was used. One of them was that the early travelers had to create a portable and versatile cooking pan. Another theory is that the shortage of fuel and oil during the Han Dynasty created the need for a cooking pan that would not require large amounts of oil.
Today, we use the wok for many different cuisines from all around the globe, not just Asia. The build of the modern wok pan remains quite the same, though it is now commonly made from carbon steel. The design of the wok allows it to distribute heat to your food evenly and allows food to be tossed easily for mixing.
Although woks made out of carbon steel is the favored material used for woks, we will show you just how many options you have. Here are three different kinds of wok that you can get according to your liking!
Different Kinds of Wok
- Carbon Steel Wok
Woks are often made from carbon steel, which is one of the most common materials for woks. It offers both quick and uniform heating and the cookware’s long-term quality, making it a favorite among professional chefs. A skilled cook can make the meal release readily from the pan with the right amount of spice.
Some pros of using carbon steel wok pans include:
- It is lightweight and easy to handle. Carbon steel wok pans are much thinner than the average cooking pan, making them lighter but strong.
- Carbon steel woks are durable. The composition of carbon steel, 99 percent iron, and 1 percent carbon allows it to be insanely stable and reliable for years.
- They have a high heat tolerance. The average carbon steel can withstand up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit of heat or higher. This is why chefs mainly use it, as it can handle high heat for extended periods.
- Carbon steel woks can work with all cooktops and heat sources. Wok pans are primarily used overheat from gas burners.
On the other hand, you have to look out for some of these cons of using carbon steel wok pans:
- You have to season the wok before using it. This intensive preparation for your wok pan allows it to develop a non-stick layer on the surface naturally. If you want to skip to this part, click here.
- These wok pans are more prone to rust and discoloration than stainless steel wok pans. It happens when you don’t correctly season your carbon steel wok pan before use.
- Carbon steel wok pans react to acidic food like wine, vinegar, tomatoes, etc.
- You can’t use it in the dishwasher. While it’s not that hard to clean wok pans, some of us just don’t have the time. Unfortunately, the dishwasher can destroy the seasoned layer of your wok pan, which causes rust and food to stick to the surface.
Cast Iron Wok
Cast iron is durable and can retain heat for a more extended period than other cookware materials; once it has reached a high temperature, it maintains that temperature for an ample time, resulting in energy savings. Over time, the seasoning increases, increasing the non-stick qualities rather than decreasing them as the seasoning matures over time.
The pros of using cast iron wok pans are the following.
- Cast iron wok pans are heavy-duty and long-lasting. The reason for this is because cast iron gets better with age, just like wine. Also, you can tell that it’s durable by the thickness of the wok pan and the sturdiness of its build.
- They retain heat reasonably well. Compared to other materials such as aluminum, cast iron is one of the most effective retentions.
- Cast iron wok pans are cheaper than good-quality stainless steel pans. It’s truly a bang for the buck, considering that you can use them for decades!
The cons of using cast iron wok pan include these.
- They are heavier than most wok pans. The majority of cast iron pans are very hefty, making them a little challenging to handle while cooking. It may threaten the user’s safety, so make sure you get only the cast iron pan that you can hold.
- Cast iron wok pans, like the carbon steel ones, require proper seasoning before use. Because of their material, they are also susceptible to discoloration, rusting, and food sticking when unseasoned.
- The handle of a cast iron wok pan can be extremely hot at some point. Again, this is a threat to safety if not handled properly. Make sure to be prepared and well-equipped when using a cast iron wok pan to avoid accidents.
Stainless Steel Wok
In addition to being very durable, stainless steel has a polished look appropriate for a professional setting. Seasoning is not critical for optimum performance because it is much less porous than cast iron or carbon steel. You can even clean it effortlessly due to the naturally flat surface of the stone.
The good thing about using stainless steel wok pans are as follows.
- Stainless steel wok pans are very simple to clean and maintain, which makes them great for beginners. You can clean it with hot soapy water after usage, or scrub it down with steel wool to remove any oil collected on the surface after use.
- These are an excellent choice for non-toxic, long-lasting, and reliable cookware that can be used for boiling, sautéing, and frying. It is particularly suitable for small-batch cookers since it maintains heat effectively and ensures that food is cooked uniformly.
- Because of the conductive aluminum or copper cores, stainless steel woks heat up rapidly and evenly, resulting in shorter cooking periods and more consistent, predictable outcomes than other materials. The aluminum core in most fully-clad stainless steel wok pans contributes to the cookware’s outstanding heat conductivity.
However, there are cons to using stainless steel wok pans.
- Stainless steel woks are considerably more costly than non-stick, carbon steel, and cast iron alternatives. Because of the high-quality and long-lasting materials, it is more expensive. It’s important to remember that it’s not simply steel; the core layer is often aluminum or copper.
- Stainless steel woks are heavy. It is challenging to move stainless steel cookware, mainly if it is 5-ply (five connected layers) or more in thickness. You should be cautious in using heavy wok pans to avoid accidents in the kitchen.
Why should you start using a wok pan?
Some people think that they don’t need a wok pan because they only cook at home. If you’re one of those people, let me tell you how and why to use a wok without being a professional cook.
- Wok pans are incredibly versatile.
I vouch for the versatility of wok pans. You can do anything with it, which is why professionals like to use wok pans in the kitchen. Also, you can work with these bad boys with anything which allows professionals to save time and energy in the kitchen by not switching pans every time they have to cook a different dish.
Wok pans are primarily used for stir-frying, which is evident by the height of the walls of the wok to avoid spilling food. However, you can use a wok pan for all these other cooking techniques:
- Deep frying
- Stewing smoking
- It can hold a large quantity of food.
Looking at wok pans, you wouldn’t immediately be able to tell just how much food it can hold. However, you will be surprised once you try cooking with a wok. The higher the walls of a wok pan, the more food you can put in it.
Of course, if you’re a home cook and you make food for a small family, you don’t need large woks. Good thing there’s a variety of wok sizes ranging from sizes as small as the 8-inch diameter to 14-inch diameter. In choosing the wok size, consider only your needs to avoid buying an unnecessary large wok.
- It takes less time to cook food.
You can cook more quickly than you would otherwise when using a wok. The round bottom allows heat and the steam to climb up the walls of the wok pan, which makes the wok easier to heat up. Because a wok takes less time to heat up, it also takes less time to prepare meals in it.
In addition, you can also use woks to prepare veggies and meat between 3 to 8 minutes, in contrast with regular pots which may take 20 minutes. A wok is similar to a frying pan in that it has a broad surface area for conducting heat. Since the wok is shaped that way, the heat is concentrated, cooking it faster.
- Cooking with a wok makes food taste better.
When you cook in a well-seasoned wok, food may develop wok hei, a savory, aromatic flavor that is the greatest reward for a well-prepared stir-fry recipe. Cooks and food scientists have tried for years to pinpoint the exact taste and fragrance of smoked paprika. But some of the words used to describe it include “smoky,” “allium-like,” “grilled,” and “metallic.”
Many things contribute to the wok hei taste, according to experts. This includes creating fragrance compounds when oil is scalding, chemical interactions between the food and the seasoned iron of the wok, and the rapid Maillard and caramelization processes that occur when the temperature is cranked up. Isn’t that amazing?
Moreover, the concave structure of the wok that distributes heat evenly allows for uniform cooking. This contributes significantly to the overall taste of your food.
- They are long-lasting and very durable.
Believe me when I tell you that wok pans last decades! The common materials used for woks – such as carbon steel, cast iron, or stainless steel – make these cookwares highly durable and reliable. Some families even make wok pans a family heirloom!
- Cooking with a wok pan is considered healthy.
You can once again thank the structure and shape of the wok pan for this benefit. Because the wok pan has a small base, it requires less oil when cooking. Remember that oil contains trans fats, which contribute to the risks of chronic diseases, such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, etc.
How to Prepare a Wok Pan
There are certain things to prepare before you can use your newly-bought wok pan. It’s not like your regular cooking pans that are ready to use after buying. You need to know how and why to use it. While these may be tedious for some, I can guarantee you that the steps you will be taking are all worth it in the end.
How to Season a Wok
We’ve mentioned countless times in this article that woks, whatever material they are, are highly prone to rust. Thus, we season our woks. Another reason we do this part is to help our wok achieve a natural non-stick state, making cooking so much easier.
Seasoning a wok sounds like something only pros get to do, but that’s not true. You will be surprised by how easy it is to season a wok pan to prepare it for use. For this step in the preparation, you need to follow only six easy steps!
- Scrub the wok.
Brand new woks typically have a protective layer on them called the factory oil. The manufacturers themselves apply this, and the job of this factory oil is to prevent rusting before they get to the customers’ kitchen. We have to remove this protective layer, and we can do that by scrubbing the wok.
With steel wool or any metal scrub you have, scrub all sides of your wok using a hot soap-and-water solution. You have to make sure that you wash all the surface areas of your wok, including the outside of the pan. Skipping this step will give you a sticky wok whatever you do, so make sure you do this!
- Dry the wok.
After scrubbing your wok with soapy water and rinsing it clean, you have to dry the wok. You can do this by turning your gas burner to medium heat and placing your wok on top of the stove. You should let the wok stay there for about three to five minutes or whenever it’s done drying completely.
Once dried, you will notice discoloration at the base of the wok. It will usually turn into a yellowish-brown color, but that’s okay! It’s all part of the process, so don’t worry about ruining your perfectly new wok pan.
- Oil it.
Before moving to this step, you will want to let your smoking hot wok sit for a few minutes to reduce its temperature. After that, it’s officially time to coat your wok with oil. You can’t use just any oil for your wok (hint: this will teach you what oil to use for your wok)!
Let’s say you’re using peanut oil to do this. The best way to do this is with a kitchen napkin because what we want to achieve is a thin layer of oil coating only. Let your napkin absorb some oil, and then rub the oiled-up napkin all over the surface of the wok, including the outside of the wok.
- Smoke the wok.
At this point, you should put your gas burner on medium heat once again and place your wok on top. The goal of this stage is to heat the wok until it smokes up and changes its color. Some woks turn yellow, some brown, and some turn dark blue or black.
Eventually, the part of your wok directly exposed to the flame will stop smoking, and that indicates that it’s done. It’s time for the other parts of your wok to sit over the flame, so tilt your wok to the sides to allow them to smoke. You want to keep doing that until all sides are done and have changed colors.
I can give you a tip if you’re a busy person or just don’t feel like going through all that is to use a blow torch. Just point the torch at all sides of the wok until they stop smoking and acquire a different color. That’s much easier, right?
- Scrub again.
Let your discolored wok sit for a while to lose some heat before scrubbing all surfaces again. Use any metal scrub, but this time, use only water to wash your wok. You’re done once all the sides and parts of your wok are scrubbed.
- Bring the heat back.
Lastly, put your wet seasoned wok on the gas burner again to dry it. After you do this, you’re officially done, and your wok is ready to use! That wasn’t so hard, was it?
What Oil to Use for a Wok Pan
As I’ve mentioned before, you need to find the right type of oil to use when cooking on a wok. In healthy cooking with a wok, it is important. You will deal with intensely high temperatures here, so naturally, you want to use an oil with a high smoke point. This will prevent you from burning your oil and your food with it.
You should consider using these oils when using your wok:
This is considered by most as the best oil to use if you’re cooking with a wok. The smoke point of peanut oil ranges from 230 degrees to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, making it ideal for use for your wok-cooked recipes. Be careful not to store them for too long, though, as they spoil quicker than other alternatives.
Vegetable oil is a cheap alternative if you’re on a tight budget. This oil can withstand heat ranging from 205 degrees to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike the other oils listed here that have their flavors, vegetable oil has a neutral taste.
This oil has the highest smoking point among the given alternatives. Avocado oil has approximately 520 degrees Fahrenheit as its smoke point, making it suitable for stir-frying on a wok. In addition, the oil is pretty neutral in flavor, but it is much creamier than vegetable oil.
This is also an excellent option when cooking using a wok. Sunflower oil is relatively accessible and has a smoke point that ranges from 226 degrees to 440 degrees Fahrenheit.
A Simple Tip for Stir-Frying Meals
Now that you’ve learned these things, isn’t it time to cook a meal using your wok pan? Don’t worry; cooking using a wok pan doesn’t require strict rules. It’s almost the same as cooking with a regular cooking pan, except that it’s better!
One tip I can give you if you’re planning to cook stir-fried recipes on your wok is to follow a particular order of cooking your ingredients. The most common mistake made by non-professionals is cooking everything at once or in the wrong sequence order. Remember that we are dealing with high heat, so some technique is needed.
An easy way to create an excellent and mouth-watering stir-fry dish is to simply cook the protein first, as these take longer to cook than the rest of the ingredients. Next on your wok are the aromatics like your garlic, onion, ginger, etc. Finally, pour in your vegetables and then your sauce, and taste the best stir-fry meal you’ve ever cooked!