Before buying a carbon steel wok please check out our section Is Carbon Steel For You? They are a bit more work, especially at the start, but I think it’s worth it for a wok. You need to be prepared to season and maintain your wok. None of this should take much time, just a little elbow grease. If you think this is for you, then read on to find the best carbon steel wok to buy.
I’ve reviewed the following carbon steel woks:
- Craft Wok Carbon Steel Pow Wok (Best carbon steel round bottomed wok for gas stoves)
- Joyce Chen Carbon Steel Wok (Best budget carbon steel wok)
- Town Food Service Peking Style Wok (Best oven carbon steel wok)
- Souped Up Recipes Carbon Steel work (Best carbon steel flat bottom wok for electric and induction stoves)
- Mammafong Traditional Wok (Best hammered carbon steel wok)
- Lodge Pro-Logic Wok – Best Cast Iron Wok
Which carbon steel wok is right for you? Keep reading to find the best one.
High Heat Stir Frying with Carbon Steel Woks
Before we go on, there’s something I want to run by you: You came here looking for a wok, and I’ll help you find one, whatever stove or kitchen setup you have.
But you might also consider if you need a separate burner. Stir-frying should be done at very high heat, and there are two major problems with traditional stovetops:
- You can’t always reach the high heat needed. Home stovetops aren’t always equipped to reach those temperatures.
- Even if you do reach the desired heat, it can leave the kitchen smoke-filled and hot. If you’re like me, the last thing you want to do in the summer is make your kitchen even hotter!
So what’s the answer? Well, you could probably stir fry at normal stovetop temperatures, and it will come out OK. So, by all means, try that first. I’ve tried that personally, and it didn’t give me the results I wanted. Each person is different, though.
If you want to get restaurant-quality stir fries, however, you need a separate burner designed for a wok. These burners can be used outdoors and can reach high heat. They’re also set up to handle the wok’s rounded bottom. If that appeals to you, I recommend the Eastman Outdoors 90411 Portable Kahuna Burner, or check out my review of wok burners.
Are Carbon Steel Woks Right for You?
While carbon steel cookware is readily available, most people aren’t as familiar with this cookware material. Carbon steel, like cast iron, is a long-lasting, tough material that needs a little bit of extra care.
Carbon steel doesn’t contain the chemical PTFE, which is in Teflon. However, you can season your wok so it is nonstick, without PTFE. You also get a wok that, if you look after it, you can leave to your grandchildren.
The advantage of carbon steel over a traditional nonstick surface is that carbon steel can get much hotter without risk of breaking down. Carbon steel can be heated up to (399°C) 750°F. On the other hand, PTFE nonstick (i.e. Teflon) only goes up to 260 °C (500 °F). Stir frying is possible above 260 °C (500 °F), though you need to be very careful if you do. I like the extra margin of a carbon steel wok, and it’s also great to be able to use metal utensils without worrying.
Carbon steel is light enough to handle, able to withstand high heat, and able to be seasoned for a nonstick surface. It’s the perfect material for woks.
What About Cast Iron?
Other than carbon steel, cast iron woks are perhaps the most popular. In fact, clay and cast iron woks were the traditional material for centuries.
Carbon steel and cast iron are very similar. The main difference between the two is that carbon steel is a little bit lighter. Each material has its own uses, but I think being lighter makes carbon steel ideal for big woks. Cast iron woks might weigh a little bit too much to be practical.
Seasoning a Carbon Steel Wok
When you get a wok made of carbon steel you have to season it. The seasoning process is not very difficult, but it does take a little time. You can just follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which are typically included with the wok. If you need a basic idea of the process, follow these easy steps:
- Wash off the manufacturer’s oil.
- Dry the wok.
- Lightly coat the pan in canola oil.
- Heat the wok until the oil smokes.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 several times to build up a nice seasoning.
Want to see the seasoning process in action? This video explains it well:
It’s a good idea to apply a light coat of oil to the pan after washing and drying. This should take no more than a minute and helps prevent it from rusting. Consistency is the key!
Caring for Your Carbon Steel Wok
Other than the initial seasoning and the application of a thin coat of oil after each use, that’s all you really have to do. I don’t think it is a big deal, but it is a little bit more work than a normal nonstick surface. That’s why I think a wok is ideal to have in carbon steel. I don’t use a wok every day, so it’s not much extra work for me.
Is Carbon Steel Too Much Work?
If the seasoning and maintenance sound like too much work for you, there are two alternatives:
- Buy a pre-seasoned wok. I researched and couldn’t find a decent pre-seasoned carbon steel wok, so I would recommend this pre-seasoned cast iron wok instead.
- Alternatively, consider getting a normal nonstick wok. Modern nonstick isn’t actually dangerous so it’s more of a personal choice. There is a great selection of nonstick woks, if that’s your preference. Stainless steel woks are also an option, but a stainless steel wok won’t heat as well as carbon steel.
What You Need to Know when Choosing a Carbon Steel Wok
Northern Style vs. Cantonese Style Wok
I’ve reviewed Northern Chinese-style woks, a.k.a. “pow” woks in this article. Pow woks have a single long handle, sometimes with a small helper handle. A Cantonese-style wok, however, has two shallow side handles. These woks require a different method of handling. The pow wok is akin to a Western-style skillet in how you handle it, so it’s more intuitive for the average home cook.
The Type Of Bottom
Perhaps the most important consideration when choosing a wok is the type of bottom it has. Carbon steel woks come in two varieties: flat-bottom and round-bottom.
The best shape for a carbon steel wok depends on what type of stove you have. If you have a gas stove, I would recommend a carbon steel round bottom wok. These are the true woks for me as they make it easy to toss the food around the pan. The flame of the stove spreads nicely around the rounded bottom. The main problem is that round bottom woks don’t really work on induction or electric stoves. These stoves need a flat surface to heat.
A flat-bottom carbon steel wok is ideal for induction and electric stoves. The flat bottom means that the stove can heat the whole of the base not just a spot. It also means it rests comfortably on a flat surface – a round bottom wok would wobble on a flat surface.
Round bottom woks shouldn’t wobble on gas stoves because they sit on the grills with the bottom curving below the contact point. As always this depends on the stove (and grills); you need a space around the centre of the burner for the round bottom of the wok.
If you want to use a round bottom wok with an electric stove you could consider buying a wok ring (or wok rack). A wok ring is a little device that holds the wok in place on a flat surface like an electric stove. Electric stoves require contact to heat, so a wok ring won’t quite solve the problem, but it helps. It’s unlikely this would work for induction stoves, though.
You can even use a wok ring on a gas stove if the grills don’t allow the wok to curve under them.
You could use a flat-bottom wok with a gas stove, but I wouldn’t recommend it. A rounded bottom on a gas stove will heat the base and sides more efficiently.
Size & Capacity
Beyond the type of bottom, the size and capacity of a wok is the next most important consideration. Carbon steel woks are big, so you need the space to store them. Most woks have a metal side handle which you can use to hang them up. Sometimes the handle detaches, as well. This is helpful if you’re trying to save space inside a cabinet, for instance.
For a family of four or five people, I would suggest a 14-inch (35 cm) wok. For a single person or a couple you might only need a 12-inch (30cm) wok.
Of course, this is also influenced by the weight of the wok. Wok cooking requires a lot of tossing, moving, and lifting, so you want a wok that you can easily lift and hold. If the wok can hold large amounts of food but is too heavy to lift, it won’t do you much good. Check the product description for the weight to determine if it’s right for you.
Some carbon steel woks come with lids or offer them as extras. These lids are nice to have, but I don’t use a lid with my wok. I do use a lid with my frying pan. With a frying pan, I’m often leaving things cooking in the pan without touching them. The lid then helps stop the fat from jumping out of the pan. This isn’t the case with woks, as I’m always moving food around when stir frying, so the lid wouldn’t get any use.
If you’d like to have a lid for your wok, wooden lids and glass lids are the two most common types. The glass lid is see-through, so you can easily monitor food, whereas a wooden lid is beautiful and won’t be as hot to handle.
The Helper Handle
Most carbon steel woks have a second helper handle. This is used to pick up the wok when you’ve finished cooking – a wok loaded down with food can be a bit heavy for just the main handle.
You can also use a good helper handle to hang the wok for storage – a great option if cupboard space is limited.
Most helper handles are either wooden or metal. A metal handle is more robust and less likely to get burnt as you turn the wok. On the other hand, wooden handles make it easier to lift the wok straight away after cooking, without oven gloves. There isn’t one best answer in this case, so it comes down to your personal preference.
The material the wok is made from can make a big difference to the ease of use, durability, and cooking quality. As a general rule, the thinner the material the more lightweight (and easy to use) it is. Thicker metal is heavier but more durable.
The metal can also impact how quickly, and evenly the pan heats. Round bottom woks have an advantage here in my opinion. Fast, even heating is essential for wok cooking.
Most of the rest is aesthetics. For example, the color doesn’t affect the cooking performance, so it’s a matter of personal taste. Some woks are visibly hand hammered, and I think this makes them look a bit nicer. I’m not sure it adds much value, but that is up to you. The same goes with wooden handles and lids, although in that case, there are other reasons for preferring wood beyond just aesthetics.
What Tools Do You Need for a Wok?
If you’re new to wok cooking, you might be wondering if there are any special accessories you need to cook with your wok. It might be a good idea to invest in one or more of these tools to make wok cooking convenient and safe.
A wok chuan (spatula) is a must. It has a long handle, a lip for getting underneath food, and a wide head to maneuver the curves of the wok. It allows you to easily scoop, lift, and toss food.
A spider (wire strainer) is also a helpful tool. It allows you to lift and drain small amounts of food.
Lastly, a bamboo steamer is nice to have for steaming vegetables and for multi-tiered wok cooking. The baskets nest inside the wok, allowing space for the steam or smoke to rise. You can also use a metal steamer basket.
Best Carbon Steel Woks: Product Reviews
Craft Wok Traditional Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Pow Wok – Best Stir Fry Pan for Gas Range
This beautiful and sturdy 14 inch carbon steel wok by Craft Wok should last you a lifetime. It’s designed for cooking over high heat, meaning you can stir fry in the traditional way. It is attractively hand hammered, although it was also machined. (Machining doesn’t affect quality and it still looks nice).
The wooden handle is the weak point on this otherwise awesome Craft Wok. It isn’t quite the same quality as the rest of the pan and makes it harder to handle. The high quality metal helper handle more than makes up for it. My suggestion is: Use the wooden handle to hold and turn the pan when cooking. When you’ve finished lift the wok with both the wooden handle and the metal helper handle (wearing oven gloves).
The round bottom means the Craft Wok isn’t suitable for induction or electric stoves without a wok ring (not recommended). It is ideal for gas stoves.
- Sturdy and well crafted
- Metal helper handle is useful for high heat
- Helper handle is ideal for hanging (storing) wok.
- Wok itself heats up quickly and to a high heat – ideal for traditional stir frying
- The wooden handle can sometimes become loose.
- Wok laden with food is heavy for wooden handle. You need to use oven gloves and the metal helper handle as well.
Joyce Chen Carbon Steel Wok – Best Budget Carbon Steel Wok
This 14 inch carbon steel wok is lightweight and comfortable to use. Both the main and helper handles are made of wood, meaning you can lift it off the stove with your bare hands. It’s slightly thinner than the alternatives which makes a difference when it’s full of food.
Unfortunately, these features also make this Joyce Chen wok slightly less sturdy: It dents easily, and the handles can become loose. This wok is not made to take a beating.
If I had an induction cooker and wanted a wok for occasional use, then I would definitely consider this one. If you do get it, inspect if before use to make sure it hasn’t come dented, then treat it with care.
This Joyce Chen wok has a flat bottom – ideal for induction or electric stoves. They also work on gas stoves, but you might be better off with a round bottom wok.
- Lightweight wok makes it easy to use
- Wooden handles mean you can pick it up straight away with your bare hands
- Well designed pan and very versatile
- Affordable price
- Both handles can come loose easily
- Thin steel – easily dented
- Helper handle isn’t ideal for hanging (storing) wok
If you want to shop around you can find this Joyce Chen wok at Bed Bath and Beyond (with some extra goodies):
Town Food Service Peking Style Wok – Best for Oven Use
This 14-inch Town Food Service Peking wok is all metal, including the handle which can get hot. There is no helper handle, so it might be a challenge to lift. You’ll want to consider that before purchasing. Oven mitts will be a necessity when handling this wok!
The flip side of an all-metal wok is that you can put it in the oven without worry. High heat won’t be a problem, either. You can’t beat this wok for stovetop-to-oven dishes.
The thickness of the metal is probably just right in terms of balance between weight and sturdiness. That does mean, though, that there is a risk of the wok getting dented if you don’t take care.
This is a basic wok that does the job. For the price, it’s great and should last a long time. For me, this is the “back to basics” wok – it is the minimum you need to do great cooking – the rest is up to you. You won’t get any special features, but you’ll get a solid piece that should last.
The round bottom means that it isn’t compatible with induction or electric stoves, unless you get a wok ring (which I don’t recommend.) It is best suited for gas stoves.
- All metal so you can put it in the oven
- Lightweight so easy to toss food around
- Well built so nothing comes loose of falls apart
- Affordable price
- No helper handle – makes it harder to lift full pan
- Metal main handle gets hot while cooking
- Thin metal means it can get dented
Souped Up Recipes Carbon Steel Wok – Best For Electric and Induction Stoves
Souped Up Recipes is a popular Youtube channel with some great cooking ideas. Mandy, the person behind the channel has come up with her own Souped Up recipes wok. Of course, it’s the wok she wants to use.
You can see this with the little things like the small lip on one side. This is great for resting the spatula – which comes with the wok. She’s also included a lovely wooden lid that not only looks nice but is great if you are boiling water.
The main handle comes unattached, ready for seasoning in the oven, and is easy to attach by screwing in. I’m not sure why she hasn’t included a side handle, but I guess she doesn’t think it’s needed.
If you buy this black carbon steel wok, make sure to take off the plastic part before seasoning.
For me, the size is small at 12.5 inches (32cm). Is it big enough to cook for the whole family? I think I would manage and would welcome the extra storage space, but it gives me pause for thought. The wok might be a bit small for a large family, at least if you are stir-frying. Deep frying would work better.
This is a flat bottom wok – ideal for induction or electric stoves. It also works on gas stoves, but you might be better off with a round bottom wok.
- Distinct look to it
- Pan has a little lip on the side – great for resting spatula or pouring liquids.
- Bonus spatula
- Lovely wooden lid for keeping food hot.
- Lightweight and easy to handle
- No helper handler
- Wooden handle sometimes cracks or comes loose
Mammafong Traditional Hand Hammered Wok Best Hammered Carbon Steel Wok – Best Hammered Finish Carbon Steel Wok
This Mammafong Traditional 14-inch flat-bottom carbon steel wok is hand-hammered in China, giving it a beautiful artisanal look.
Although lightweight, the pan can take some heavy use. It’s comfortable to handle and should last a while. The metal side helper handle can take high heat and is useful for lifting the pan. Just be sure to use an oven mitt to handle it!
The flat bottom should be ideal for induction or electric stoves, but it is quite small. That limits its heating ability and can even be too small to register on larger induction burners. The pan is also prone to occasional warping – making it even less suitable for non-gas stoves.
This is a flat bottom wok – normally ideal for induction or electric stoves. In this case, I would recommend it for those who want a flat-bottom wok on a gas stove. Mammafong also offers a round bottom carbon steel wok, which is great for gas stoves.
Mammafong offers a lid as a separate item, though I doubt you will need it for stir fry!
- Lightweight making it easier to handle
- Metal helper handle is useful for high heat.
- Helper handle is ideal for hanging (storing) wok.
- Unfortunately can warp slightly, rendering it useless on induction and electric stoves
- Small flat bottom means it doesn’t work as well on electric and inductions stoves as it could.
Lodge Pro-Logic Wok – Best Cast Iron Wok
This Lodge 14-inch pre-seasoned cast iron wok will give you decades of high performance for a relatively affordable price. Lodge is known for its quality cast iron – all made in the USA to high standards. So it’s no surprise that this piece is durable and high-quality.
This wok is versatile and large enough to cook most foods. You can use it to fry veggies, meats, and and more.
Yet at 12 pounds ( 5kg), before you add food this wok is super heavy. Make sure you can handle it!
Also, make sure you know how to handle your cast iron. Plenty of users loved this wok, but some did complain about sticking and uneven temperatures. To avoid sticking, you need to use plenty of oil and spend time pre-heating it (which will also help with the uneven temperatures.)
Cast iron is slower to heat, but it will retain the heat for a long time. If you need a wok that can heat quickly, you might go with another option.
Cast Iron Wok vs Carbon Steel Wok
Let’s get something straight: with cast iron woks like this one, you aren’t going to be tossing the wok itself around.
On the other hand, there is absolutely nothing like cast iron for retaining heat, meaning that if you stir fry in this wok, you will get those crispy outsides so easily.
And of course, there is more than one way to stir fry. If using a spatula to move the vegetables around is more your style, this cast iron wok could be worth while.
- Excellent for cooking stir fry
- Does require some maintenance
- Very heavy
- Needs plenty of oil and preheating to avoid sticking
Best Carbon Steel Woks – Conclusion
Top Carbon Steel Wok For Gas Stoves
My personal choice would be the Craft Wok Carbon Steel Pow Wok a tough long lasting wok.
Yes it’s a bit heavier than other woks (having a slightly thicker metal), but that is what makes it more durable. Having a helper handle means that it’s no problem to pick up and manage.
As well as stir fry, this pan is versatile enough for you to use for deep frying, steaming and soups. It doesn’t need babying, although you do need to season it as with any pan.
Because of it’s design, this wok heats quickly and evenly, meaning it’s super easy to cook a decent stir fry with it.
Best Carbon Steel Wok For Electric and Induction Stoves
You could buy the Craft Wok above and buy a ring to go with it. I don’t recommend this though as you are likely to find it tough to get the wok hot enough. I
f you have an electric or induction stove I would recommend the Souped Up Recipes Carbon Steel work. I’m a bit disappointed in the lack of helper handle but it’s lightweight enough it doesn’t seem to need it!
I also think the metal is great as it’s hard to make a pan as durable as this one without it being heavy. What wins me over is that it is so clear this is pan has been designed by someone who loves cooking. It’s full of little touches that Mandy knew would be useful. I would wager that if you got this pan you would find yourself using it more often than what you expected!
Check out my Induction Wok roundup for more information and alternatives.