9 best woks: Celebrate Chinese New Year with a speedy stir-fry

Joanne Gould
·12-min read
<p>Knock up sizzling stir fries and veg-packed dishes with just a flick of the wrist </p> (The Independent/iStock )

Knock up sizzling stir fries and veg-packed dishes with just a flick of the wrist

(The Independent/iStock )

A good wok is a kitchen staple, allowing you to knock up sizzling stir fries and a whole host of healthy veg-packed dishes with just a flick of the wrist and a minimum of oil.

Traditionally made from carbon steel which is cheap, light and able to reach high temperatures quickly over a gas flame, woks are usually round in shape – even the base – to allow for quick turning and tossing, and to give a range of temperatures around the pan.

Crucially, a wok should deliver ‘wok hei’, the signature smoky Chinese flavour achieved from searing heat and the patina that develops on a seasoned pan.

Today, woks come in all materials, sizes and have different qualities to choose from. You may not have a gas hob, so the benefits of carbon steel wok are obsolete, and if you own an induction cooker top then you’ll need to choose your wok even more carefully.

Perhaps you prefer modern non-stick to a seasoned wok? Maybe long-lasting cast iron has caught your eye? Cast iron is brilliant for energy saving and conducting heat, but bear in mind food continues to cook, so if you’re planning to serve from it you’ll need to adjust cooking times – and it is heavy.

How many mouths you’re feeding and how large your cook set-up is will dictate your size requirements, and then you need to consider handles. Heavier woks benefit from two handles, ideally cool-touch, to aid tossing and carrying to the table, but will require extra storage space. Lids, too, are useful for anything over and above stir-frying, but not all woks come with one.

Now, to season, or not to season? If your wok comes with any manufactured non-stick then you’re good to go but for longevity and to get that must-have flavour you’ll want to season your new toy: check out School of Wok for how to.

We tested a range of woks at difference price points, materials and style and came up with this list to help you achieve all your Chinese cooking goals. From fully authentic round-bottomed carbon steel to a plug-in-and-use-anywhere electric wok and a tasty number from a celebrity chef or two, these pans are all wok stars. Take your pick!

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

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Hancock 13” wok with round bottom

Surprisingly, our favourite buy is this big 13” Hancock wok from the UK’s largest Oriental grocer, Wing Yip. Proving that you needn’t spend a pretty penny to enjoy that signature smoky wok flavour, this carbon steel wok is just the ticket for cooking hot and fast over a gas flame. You’ll need to season it, and then you’re ready to enjoy a whole range of recipes thanks to the wok’s ability to heat to a very high temperature in minutes – enabling foods to take on a caramelised, sizzle without sticking. Food needs just a drop or two of oil and can be turned easily thanks to the fully rounded shape of the wok, which is large enough to cook up a family feast. It comes with a wooden handle for easy, safe handling and is just about light enough to allow for tossing should you wish. A true, authentic bargain.

Buy now £8.52, Amazon

Prue’s world dual handle lidded wok 31cm

This wok from Prue Leith and Lakeland is the best of both worlds: made from authentic carbon steel for that authentic sizzle, but with a very handy double layer of professional standard non-stick for easy cooking and cleaning without the compromise. This is a large wok, measuring in at 31cm and is gently curved with a flat bottom suitable for all hobs, including induction. Its shape means this pan is good for stir-frying, searing, and even things like tempura – it also comes with a rack that rests on one half of the pan, so you can rest your fried foods and let any excess oil drip through. There is also a clear glass lid, making it ideal for sauteing, simmering and stewing. We really like the crushed bamboo handles which make tossing easy, and look great with a distinctive zebra-striped pattern that is repeated in the lid’s knob and throughout other items in Prue’s cookware. A nifty wok that ticks all the boxes, and looks smart enough to serve from at the table too.

Buy now £34.99, Lakeland

School of wok 35.5 non stick wok

We felt very professional using this fabulous School of Wok wok from Lakeland. Designed by chef Jeremy Pang, this is the largest wok in the School of Wok range at a vast 35.5cm making it perfect for preparing a sizzling Chinese meal for the whole family. A rounded shape with a flat bottom for easy storage and superior heat conduction, this wok offers the best of both in terms of being non-stick and easy to clean, but with the ability to reach high temperatures and imparting that must-have smoky flavour – all without the need for oil. Perfect for stir-frying, sizzling, sauteing and even deep frying this pan works on all types of hob and requires little care to keep it in tip-top condition. It’s quite heavy – too heavy to toss with if you’ve flimsy wrists – but with a wooden handle each side, it’s very easy to manage and to serve from. We really rate this one.

Buy now £27.99, Lakeland

Staub 24cm cast iron wok black

Staub has been making enamelled cast iron cookware in France since 1974. Loved by chefs, these woks are made when cast iron is poured into a sand mould – the mould is destroyed after use, so each wok is individual. Cast iron is incredibly effective at conducting heat, then diffusing and redistributing it slowly for even cooking, and these pans have a matte black enamel cooking surface that stands up to seriously high temperatures without sticking. This wok has the signature round bottom inside, but a flat base for better heat conduction and we found that this allowed for a smoking hot middle, with slightly gentler heat around the sides but not so much of a difference as with other materials. The big benefit of this wok is its energy-saving properties: once it has heated up, you can reduce to a minimum as the wok continues to retain the heat. The downside of this is that the wok stays so hot it will continue cooking your food – not so great for serving from. Suitable for use on all types of heat, including induction and you can use in the oven or grill too. There are many sizes and styles in the Staub range: this particular wok measures 24cm and weighs in at a do-able 2.5kg, which we found ideal for a one-pot meal for one, or for cooking up a stir fry veg for two. Remember to use gloves when handling, those handles do get hot after a while.

Buy now £99.95, Zwilling

Kuhn Rikon easy induction wok

A good mid-range wok here from Swiss kitchenware experts Kuhn Rikon. Made from forged aluminium with a 3-layer non-stick titanium coating, this wok is designed to be durable and easy to clean, and it is. Ideal for cooking quick weeknight stir-fries with no fear of the noodles sticking to the pan, this pan heats up fast (due to the flat bottom) and allows for speedy heat distribution with a hot base and cooler sides but falls short without the rounded inner to accommodate a wok spatula. We also felt it wasn’t up to the super high temperatures of some of the other woks and couldn’t deliver the authentic Chinese flavour. Plus points are that it is very efficient, it doesn’t need seasoning, can be used on any hob including induction, and is surprisingly light and easy to handle for its size (28cm). Its shape and efficacy means you’ll find yourself reaching for this pan for all manner of cooking tasks, and it is large enough to cope with a meal for two to three people.

Buy now £49.95, Kuhn Rikon

Traditional round base iron wok

This traditional round-base iron wok is a key piece of kit if you’re looking to cook over searing heats. Just like the Hancock wok from Wing Yip, this will need seasoning before use, but then you can look forward to cooking a range of authentic Chinese dishes with buckets of flavour. This wok is shallower than some, while still providing a large surface area, making it ideal for tossing – the handle makes this easy. Although it is sturdy, it’s also really light, so it’s very accessible. The wok heats up very quickly and the shallow shape means it has an evenly distributed heat. To care for your lovely new wok, just wipe it over after each use, or Sous Chef recommend you use a bamboo wok brush if it gets really mucky. Take care to coat with oil before storing to prevent rusting.

Buy now £23.99, Sous Chef

Judge electric wok non-stick

This wok proved to be quite a revelation. We’d normally think of electric stoves as something you take on a caravanning holiday or similar – and you certainly could do with this one – but it is also highly functional, to the extent you’ll want to use it at home too. Heated by a 1500W circular heating element, this PFOA-free non-stick wok heats up pretty quickly and evenly and – we love this part – can be set to any temperature using the thermostat from 60-220 degrees centigrade for precise cooking anywhere between simmering and frying. As with many non-stick woks, this isn’t one we’d pick up if we were embarking on a super-authentic recipe that required searing heat, but this is a perfectly good occasional wok for a range of dishes and the non-stick is effective and easy to clean. It’s very large, with a 3.7 litre capacity so is great for feeding a family, or, as we prefer to use it, entertaining as the detachable cord and cool-touch handles allow you to move it safely straight to the table. Of course, you could cook the whole meal there for a bit of fun too. Easy to clean, and comes with a useful glass lid.

Buy now £50.00, Amazon

Stellar forged wok non-stick

We’ve liked a lot of Stellar’s kitchen and cookware recently at IndyBest and this wok is another one to add to the list. Made from aluminium and measuring an approachable 28cm – crucially allowing space for other pans on your hob! – this is a great quality mid-range pan than sports a smart double layered PFOA-free Teflon Platinum Professional non-stick and very scratch-resistant coating, meaning that you can cook with no oil, should you wish. Available in glossy black, ruby red or a smart cream colour, this wok is rounded with a flat bottom for more efficient heat induction and is compatible with induction and all other heat sources. It heats up quickly and can handle high temperatures, making this pan good for searing fish and meat – especially handy that the non-stick is a raised honeycomb pattern to further prevent sticking. The handle is cast stainless steel with an anti-slip soft touch silicone coating, and there’s a helper handle opposite for easy manoeuvring. It’s a doddle to clean and they say it can in fact be put in the dishwasher, should you wish. A good, useful pan that you’ll end up reaching for most days, and it comes with a lifetime guarantee.

Buy now £49.95, Amazon

Samuel Groves classic 13” non-stick stainless steel tri ply wok

This wok is a real beauty. Samuel Groves has been making cook and bakeware in Birmingham since 1817, and all products are still British-designed and manufactured at the midlands site to high spec. This 13” wok is made from a tri-ply combination of bonded stainless steel and aluminium to be compatible with induction – and all – hobs while delivering extremely good heat distribution, so you get the fast, hot wok action that you need for so many Chinese dishes. The pan has a long stainless steel handle and a smaller handle opposite which aids tossing – as it is stainless steel, it is quite a workout for the wrists otherwise. It’s also layered with high quality double non-stick which stands up to heavy use as its designed to resist abrasion – we really liked cooking meat and fish on this as it allowed for a good sizzle and slight char without sticking at all and could be easily cleaned. However well you look after your pan, non-stick does always deteriorate over time, so Samuel Groves has introduced their Pan for Life scheme whereby they’ll refurb your existing pan with a new non-stick coating, rivet replacements and a polish for around a third of the cost of a new pan. This wok would be a strong investment piece or a good one to put on the wedding gift list and hope your guests are feeling generous.

Buy now £170.40, Samuel Groves

The verdict: Woks

Woks come down to two things really: to non-stick or not. We like things the old fashioned way, so we’ve picked the brilliant, bargainous Hancock Wok from Wing Yip, which once fully seasoned is an essential piece of Chinese cookery kit. The Sous Chef version is equally brilliant, and only a touch more expensive. For Teflon fans, you can’t beat the quality and craftmanship of the stunning Samuel Groves wok – but you’ll need deep pockets. A cheaper option comes in the form of Jeremy Pang’s School of Wok pan, which is also very good indeed.