After years of preferring nonstick skillets to woks for making stir-fries, we decided to take a fresh look at this traditional pan.
Last Updated Sept. 1, 2022.
After some readers reported experiencing delays in buying our top-rated woks from smaller suppliers Taylor & Ng and The Wok Shop, we surveyed the market for comparable models that might be easier to source. We tested and recommend both the Joyce Chen Classic Series 14-Inch Carbon Steel Wok with Birch Handles and the IMUSA 14″ Non-Coated Wok with Wood Handle, Silver. Both share the lightweight carbon-steel construction, generous size, broad flat cooking surface, and stay-cool wooden handles that made our top-rated model easy and comfortable to use, with excellent cooking performance. We highly recommend both models, which we are naming as co-winners with the Taylor & Ng Natural Nonstick Wok Set.
Because this is America’s Test Kitchen, we’re always questioning our assumptions. For years, we’ve tweaked conventional stir-fry recipes to achieve delicious results in a nonstick skillet rather than a wok, the traditional cooking vessel. Since American stove burners are flat, we aimed to get more contact with the heat source by using the broad cooking surface of a 12-inch skillet instead of the smaller bottom surface of a wok. Recently, we decided to take another look at woks.
There was a lot to learn. You can buy woks in a huge range of materials, shapes, and sizes. We turned to Grace Young, wok expert and James Beard ward–winning author of Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge (2010), The Breath of a Wok (2013), and The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen (2014). She and other experts advised us that carbon-steel and lightweight cast-iron woks are the top choices for cooks. These materials transfer heat efficiently, so they sear foods more effectively than woks made of stainless steel or clad materials or woks coated in a nonstick material. As we’ve learned from testing cast-iron and carbon-steel skillets, these metals also gradually acquire seasoning as you cook; over time, the polymerized oil naturally makes them more and more nonstick. With a well-seasoned wok, we might be able to skip using nonstick-coated skillets while retaining the benefits of their slick surfaces.
Before we began testing, we invited Young to the test kitchen for a friendly “wok versus skillet” cook-off where she prepared a set of recipes in a wok while we used our winning nonstick skillet to make the same recipes. Test cooks and editors gathered to compare the techniques and results. While the recipes came out well in the skillet, all agreed that the wok-cooked versions tasted at least as good—many said better—than the skillet-cooked versions. These results were likely due to the wok’s hotter temperature and well-seasoned surface that resulted in food that had better browning and was more flavorful. Also, it was clearly easier to stir-fry in the wok. With its high walls and rounded shape, the wok allowed Young to stir less carefully and move food around more thoroughly during cooking. Another plus? Her stovetop stayed neater. Active stir-frying was much trickier in our low-sided skillet.
Next, we bought nine woks to test, priced from about $33 to about $55. All measured 14 inches from rim to rim, the size that our wok experts said is optimal for home cooks preparing anywhere from two to six servings. Smaller woks can crowd and essentially steam your food instead of sear it, while larger ones can take up too muc...
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.
Lisa is an executive editor for ATK Reviews, cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube, and gadget expert on TV's America's Test Kitchen.