What Is A Wok? Find Out the Truth About Wok

Woks are a type of cooking utensil that has been used in Asian cuisine for centuries. However, with the growing popularity of Chinese food all over the world, more and more people are starting to use woks for preparing meals at home. But there is one problem – many people don’t know what a wok actually is!

Many cooks think that they can simply replace their frying pan or sauté pan with a wok, but this isn’t true. It has very specific characteristics which make it perfect for stir-frying and other types of Asian cooking techniques. You need to understand these characteristics if you want to get the most out of your wok!

To help everyone who wants to buy their first wok or upgrade an old one we made this guide on “What Is A Wok?“. We talk about how different kinds of materials affect your cooking experience and all information related to them.

What is a Wok?

A wok is a round-bottomed cooking vessel traditionally used in China, Southeast Asia. Then they’re most general uses are as a heat source and as a tool for stir-frying. It seems to be uncertain who invented the first wok, although it is agreed that they were originally made from cast iron. The best woks are often made of carbon steel or cast iron and come with two handles so they can be easily lifted and used for stir-frying, as well as allowing them to be hung up when not in use.


Woks today can also come with flat bottoms which make them suitable for use on all types of stovetops including induction cookers, but still, allow them to be used as conventional round-bottomed woks by employing a wok ring to elevate the bottom of the wok above the surface of the stovetop.

The History of the Wok

The wok is a traditional Chinese cooking pot that has changed little since its first appearance over two thousand years ago. The word “wok” comes from Cantonese 或 (Wuhk), meaning “cooking pot.” It is believed that the art of using the wok was invented by the Han people, who were one of China’s earliest settlers.

Although there are many legends about how it originated, it is generally agreed upon that they derived their modern design from an ancient utensil used to carry food; this equipment consisted of a hollowed-out tree trunk with some kind of framework fitted around the top and handles on either side for easy carrying.

As metal production became more common in early China, woks became the metal of choice for families that could afford them, and it wasn’t long before they were being produced in large quantities.

The History of the Wok

Woks are believed to have been introduced to Japan during the Tang Dynasty by Chinese Buddhist monks traveling there. They are thought to have significantly influenced Japanese cooking because of their resiliency, while also helping to reduce the country’s reliance on rice as a staple food.

After this initial introduction, Japan went through several periods where Buddhism was banned, which subsequently led to wok burners being melted down for coinage or pottery kilns being built on top of them. It wasn’t until 1548 when Jesuit missionaries introduced new ingredients into Japanese cuisine that wok usage became widespread again, after which the production of both metal and ceramic woks began in earnest.

Today, it is used worldwide to prepare many different dishes using different techniques; this versatility has also made it one of the most commonly found cooking utensils in any traditional Western kitchen. Because of its wide use throughout history, variations on the wok are found in almost every culture across Asia. It continues to be used today to produce many delicious Chinese dishes including chow mein and chop suey that have become popular around the globe.

Types of Woks 

1) Carbon Steel Woks

Carbon steel wok has carbon steel or iron core that makes this type of material both heat up rapidly and transfer the heat to food very well. Carbon steel is typically not non-stick but can be made to be so by seasoning it properly after use. they are heavier than stainless steel woks, making them more solid for flipping or tossing foods during stir-frying.

2) Stainless Steel Woks

Stainless steel woks are lighter weight than carbon steel models which results in less hand fatigue when stirring large amounts of food. Like other types of stainless steel cookware, except cast iron, they tend not to react with acidic ingredients found in many sauces including soy sauce and tomato-based recipes like chili.

3) Cast Iron Woks

Cast iron woks are very durable and heat up evenly. Like carbon steel, cast iron can also be made to be non-stick. However, it is more difficult to season than other types of woks. It is the heaviest type of wok, but this makes it sturdier for flipping or cooking large batches of food.

4) Non-Stick Woks (Teflon & Ceramic)

Non-stick woks come in a few different varieties with Teflon coating being the most common and by far the least expensive. These need less oil for frying and tend not to build up as much burnt on residue when frying meats and vegetables in oil. For these reasons, non-stick woks are excellent to cook with if you are trying to watch your weight or cholesterol levels. Some cooks say that food cooked in a Teflon wok does not have the flavor of other types of woks, because it lacks the ‘hot spots’ which allow intense heat on some areas and gentler heat on others.

Ceramic non-stick coating is newer than Teflon and comes in a few different brands. It tends to be pricier than the Teflon counterparts but claims to emit less toxic chemicals when heated (which could be harmful if inhaled or ingested by small children).

What Is A Wok Used for?

What Is A Wok Used for

One of its most common uses is as a cooking utensil, particularly with stir-frying. Woks are great for this purpose because the round bottom ensures that there is consistent contact between the food and the heat source which can be used to your advantage if you’re working on one stove. Another use of the wok is as a serving dish by inverting it over another dish. This also works well if you have no oven because you can place hot coals underneath to keep food warm while still being able to serve it yourself.

The Different Uses for a Wok

Using a wok for cooking is not as uncommon as those who do not know the different types of dishes that can be made would think. The traditional wok has been used by many cuisines for centuries, and there are actually many uses for a wok.

One use for a wok is to cook Asian dishes such as fried rice and Chinese stir fry.

With its circular shape and high sides, it provides the perfect shape and size to create these delicious meals without worrying about spilling everywhere because of its design. When one side is cooked, usually the other side will have some residual heat still being transferred because of this shape so it can be used to finish off what was started on the other side.

A wok can also be used to deep fry items such as spring rolls because of how high the sides are.

The oil does not splash out so there is much less mess and danger, which makes it easier for those who are cooking. While using a wok to cook Asian dishes or deep-fry items is most common, one should remember that the design of the wok allows for many different things to be cooked in them. One example of this is that cabbage can be steamed in a wok rather than just boiled in water because it works better with its curved shape.

It can easily go from the stovetop into an oven without any hassle.

This allows cooks to have more options on what they can make with a wok. With its wide range of uses, it is no wonder that the wok has been used for centuries and continues to be a staple in many cooking homes.

How to Choose a Wok

What’s the Difference Between a Wok And a Frying Pan?

The major difference between a wok and a frying pan is the shape. A frying pan usually comes in an oval or flat-bottom shape, while woks are round with high curved sides. This makes it easier for items to fall out of the bottom of a wok, which reduces its surface area for cooking things like eggs.

A more minor difference between the two cookware items is that they are made from different materials. Woks are traditionally made from cast iron because it holds heat well and distributes it evenly throughout the pan. Frying pans are usually made from aluminum or stainless steel so they have good heat conductivity but don’t warp when exposed to high heat over long periods of time.

Frying pans also come in nonstick varieties, while woks do not. Finally, due to the shape of a wok, it is usually only used for one-pot meals like stir fry. Frying pans are more versatile and can be used to sauté vegetables at high heats or slow cook meat at lower heats.

Another difference between these two cooking items is that frying pans come in an array of different sizes while woks are typically only available in medium or large sizes because of the way they are made. The disadvantage to this is that if you don’t have a large enough wok for your stovetop you won’t be able to use it efficiently, but if you need a small saucepan frying pan will work just fine.


The wok is a special cooking utensil that can be used for stir-frying, boiling, steaming, and deep-frying. It originated in China over 2,000 years ago but has since spread around the world to become one of the most ubiquitous kitchen tools.

Woks are often made from carbon steel or cast iron with a nonstick coating so food won’t stick during cooking. They typically have two handles on either side which provide an ergonomic grip when holding it while preparing your meal!

If you’re interested in trying out this ancient Chinese culinary technique, we have plenty of recipes for you to try here at our website. We hope you enjoyed learning about wok!

Staff Writer At Saved By The Max

Matt Cowan is a bartender at Saved By The Max. He graduated from Arizona State University and has been bartending for about 20 years now, starting when he was just thirteen!

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