woks
Kings County Imperial in New York goes through about a wok a month and then uses them to decorate the garden. (Photo courtesy of Kings Co. Imperial.)
Josh Grinker will objectively argue that Chinese food is the best cuisine in the world.
“More recipes, more variety, more regionality than any other country on the planet,” he asserts. The chef and co-owner of Kings County Imperial in Brooklyn enthusiastically says he’s a big fan of the wok. “It’s such a utilitarian tool,” he says. “To me, the two genius cooking tools that the Chinese have brought to the world are the wok and the cleaver.”

Since its opening one year ago, the restaurant has gone through so many woks that it uses them in the backyard as décor. Rusted, dented and overly blackened woks line the frame of the garden. Some even have holes in them, caused by both aggressive heat and the banging motions against a stove that cooking with a wok requires. We sat down with Grinker to talk about what to look for when shopping for a new wok.

1. Carbon steel is the way to go

While aluminum and stainless steel woks exist, the light material of carbon steel is ideal for easy maneuvering and transferring food quickly from heat to plate. It’s very similar to cast-iron, which means it’s super-easy to transform into a non-stick surface through seasoning. It’s also very affordable.

“That’s the other beauty of it as opposed to cast-iron or stainless, they’re cheap,” Grinker says. “They’re like, a quarter of the price of stainless.”

2. It only takes five minutes to season a wok

“It’s literally like a non-stick pan with no chemicals and can’t be damaged by scraping,” Grinker says. Unlike a cast-iron pan, a wok only needs five minutes of your time to create a slick, smooth, non-stick surface. Simply heat the wok, splash some oil in it, coat it with a rag, heat it through and you’re done. Grinker says that if you’re only using the wok for stir-fry, the seasoning should last a lifetime.

3. That being said, woks aren’t just for stir-fry

“It’s like a bowl and a pan at the same time, which offers all sorts of versatility,” Grinker adds. “You can toss pasta or greens in it.” You can even make a soup, steam and deep-fry in a wok. The most surprising thing you can do with one? “It makes great scrambled eggs.”

4. Heat is a hot topic

This issue only really pertains to commercial kitchens. Regular kitchens have burners that are 25-30,000 British Thermal Units (BTUs). Home kitchens have burners that are 2,000 BTUs. Most commercial Chinese kitchens have stoves that are 120,000 BTUs. A lot of Chinese technique is based on cooking things very quickly at very high temperatures, which is exactly what the wok was made to do. Grinker advises that a thicker wok would be better for a home kitchen.

“You might not want a super-thick carbon wok if you only have 2,000 BUTs or you’re working with an electric oven,” he says. “The second you remove that from the heat source — you’re not even going to get the heat you need, first of all — it’s going to be gone.”

5. Flat-bottomed woks work just as well as round ones

In fact, flat-bottomed woks are more suited for home cooks with stoves that aren’t that hot because they allow the pan to get closer to the heat source. In the case of round woks, use a metal ring that sits on top of a burner.