Type "wok recipes" into Google and the number of results will surprise you. Woks allow cooks to turn out Asian specialties and simple sautés or stir-fries. Experts say that the tumbling and rolling effect created when food is stirred around a wok's sloping sides results in better browning and more flavor. If you're thinking of buying a wok, you'll find that there are several types on the market. Traditional round-bottom woks require a wok ring to keep the pan steady on a cook top; Flat bottom woks are a hybrid of a traditional wok and a skillet -- convenient because they sit flat on a cooktop or rangetop. Electric woks free up space on your stovetop and operate like a countertop appliance.
To choose the best woks, we analyzed user feedback as well as professional evaluations of cooking performance, sturdiness, ease of use and ease of cleaning. Although these are not the only woks that deliver high-quality results, they do stand out from the crowd.
The Joyce Chen Pro Chef 14-inch Carbon Steel Wok (*Est. $35) is an affordably priced, durable wok that gets high marks for cooking performance, according to reviews. The flat-bottom design allows you to cook directly on either a gas or electric burner, with no wok ring needed. Experts and users posting to retail websites report that the wok heats up quickly and retains heat well, producing evenly cooked foods. Users also praise the stay-cool handles, noting that the combination of a long handle on one side and a short handle on the other makes it easy to use the wok and to carry it to the table. This wok needs to be seasoned to be nonstick (meaning you'll need to rub oil into its surface occasionally), and some users complain that food sticks even after seasoning (others say it seasons effectively).
If you prefer a wok that requires less effort (albeit at a substantially higher price) reviewers recommend the Lodge Pro Logic Wok (*Est. $65). Made of cast iron, this wok comes pre-seasoned, meaning that it is ready to cook straight out of the box. Users say it holds heat exceptionally well, making it a good choice for stir-frying vegetables, searing meats or simply scrambling up some eggs. Although the reviews of this wok are largely positive, some users complain that the cast-iron construction makes the wok slow to heat and heavy to handle.
Nonstick woks are a way to get around seasoning a carbon-steel or cast-iron wok, but nonstick surfaces are not as durable overall. Among nonstick woks, the Calphalon Unison Nonstick 13-inch Wok with Cover (*Est. $100) ranks as a top pick. Users posting to retail websites say this Calphalon wok is durable and well designed, and they praise its cooking performance and ease of cleaning. A few complaints come from home cooks who find the wok too big and difficult to store. In addition, some users say the nonstick surface scratches easily.
If the price tag on this premium Calphalon product is too steep, reviewers also applaud the less-expensive Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick 10-inch Stir Fry Pan (*Est. $50). You'll give up some features found on the pricier Calphalon wok, as this pan is three inches smaller, cannot go in the dishwasher and does not come with a lid. Nevertheless, users say that it is great for small meals and cleans easily, although there are some reports of sticking and problems getting the pan to heat up sufficiently.
A budget-friendly option is to visit a restaurant-supply shop or website and look for an inexpensive import. Some users report success with this route, noting that they have found high-quality products that have lasted for years. Note that this type of wok probably won't have a flat bottom, so you'll need a wok ring to use it on a stovetop burner.
There's a downside to woks -- they are pretty big pans, so they can be space hogs on the stovetop. If you'd prefer to free up your stove for other cooking, an electric wok is an option. In this category, experts and users highly recommend the Breville EW30XL Electric Wok (*Est. $100). It has a butterfly shaped heating element and 14 heat settings -- plus a high-sear option -- that reviewers say results in even heating and good cooking performance. Users say the wok generates intense heat, which is great for stir-frying and searing, and they like that the base is easily detached. They also praise the product's nonstick surface, which many say is easy to clean. Although feedback about this wok on retail websites is positive, a few users report problems with scratched interiors. One user complains that the wok is awkward to lift if you want to drain oil while cooking, and one says that the markings on the temperature control could be clearer.
A less expensive electric wok, the West Bend 79586 6-Qt. Electric Wok (*Est. $60), also earns praise from reviewers, who report that it heats up quickly, maintains an even temperature and cleans easily. In one multi-product test of electric woks, reviewers found that this West Bend wok's construction wasn't as sturdy as others, and its heat output was less than satisfactory.
Cook's Illustrated magazine (available to subscribers) features the only multi-product tests of stovetop and electric woks, although these were conducted in 2003, and some of the recommended products are no longer on the market. A 2007 Cook's Illustrated review of wok-style cookware provides additional recommendations, but several tested products are skillets, not woks. Retail websites including Cooking.com, Amazon.com and Chefscatalog.com provide helpful user reviews, while Bestcovery.com and Galttech.com list product recommendations, but make no mention of formal testing. Chowhound.com posts ongoing discussions about woks, but comments are largely anecdotal.