A wok is a common cooking implement used in a variety of ways, most popularly for stir-frying, deep-frying, and sauteing. Readily available for purchase, these pans can be bought singularly or as part of a wok set that contains a variety of implements. When choosing the best wok set for yourself, you will want to consider shape, material, and accessories.
Woks come in several different shapes. The traditional shape of a wok has deep, sloping sides and a rounded bottom. Rounded bottoms originated from the woks being used to cook in small pits, and subsequently, woks are not always practical for Western stove tops. You can choose a flat-bottomed wok, which has better balance on a stove than a rounded one.
These woks, similar to frying pans, tend to be shallow with shorter sides. This results in uneven heating on the bottom and the sides and makes it difficult to toss food when stir-frying. If you would rather stick with a traditional wok, you can choose a wok set that comes with a ring to keep the wok both elevated above the burner and sufficiently stable. There are also compromises available between the two, with deeper, sloping sides and a flat base of about 10 to 15 centimeters (4 to 6 inches) in diameter.
You can also choose a wok with a long, wooden handle or the more traditional two handles, whichever you find easier to maneuver. Woks can also vary in size, with shallow or deep versions available. Many people find that a rounder, deeper wok is easier and more efficient and versatile for both cooking and serving food. Choose a size based on the volume of food you are likely to be cooking. A family, for instance, requires a larger wok than a single person.
Materials also differ among the woks in a wok set. Carbon steel is a popular choice. These durable woks are relatively inexpensive, easy to season, and tend to conduct heat evenly and quickly. They are, however, not very good as nonstick pans. You can purchase a nonstick wok made from aluminum; however, nonstick woks are not usually recommended.
Cast-iron woks are another way to go. The best kind is one of medium thickness as the thicker ones tend to be quite heavy and cumbersome and the thinner ones quite fragile. Stainless-steel options are also available, but some people find these pans to be heavy and somewhat awkward and difficult in terms of heat control. Food also tends to stick more readily to stainless-steel pans.
Finally, you will want to choose a wok set that comes with accessories that you think may be useful. These can vary among sets and commonly include a lid, a spatula, and a stove ring. Other accessories that may be useful include a fry rack for draining tempura, a skimmer for whole spices, and a cleaning whisk. Implements such as ladles and chopsticks may also be included or can be purchased separately.