A wok stove is a cooker that is designed to allow a wok to be placed over a focused source of heat, such as a gas flame, charcoal briquettes, or electrical element. Wok stoves can come in many different shapes and sizes. They range from simple one plate burners to more elaborate ranges with three or more burners. The smaller, portable appliances are typically used for outdoor barbecuing and catering.
People have been using woks in one form or another for thousands of years. A wok is basically a skillet with high sides, a rounded base, and usually a sturdy wooden handle to place it over coals or gas flame. Originating in East Asia, this device is most often employed to stir fry meats and vegetables. It can also be used to steam and braise food as well. The wok stove makes cooking with this device somewhat easier and more convenient than using a regular flat top range.
Sometimes the wok stove can simply be a singular standing device with a gas hose and control knob attached. The wok is then placed over a cylindrical burner ring that focuses the heat, or flame, onto the underside of the wok. They are typically manufactured from cast aluminum or steel and equipped with automatic igniters. Certain stove tops have concave shapes already designed into the range for the wok to sit snugly into. Other ranges are designed to allow a wok-stand to be placed directly over the source of heat.
Cooks will often season a wok before using it, much the same way a cast iron pan is seasoned; this is much easier with a wok stove, since a regular range can heat a wok unevenly. This is usually accomplished by scouring away the original protective coating or rust from an old device, rinsing it thoroughly, and then wiping the entire inside surface with cooking oil. The wok is then placed on the wok stove at a low heat for 10 to 15 minutes to absorb the residual oil. Eventually, after a few applications of oil, the inside of the wok will begin to darken and turn black. This is the desired color for a properly seasoned wok.
When a coal-fired wok stove is used indoors a chimney will often be built into the system to direct heat and smoke out of the room. A wok stove can very quickly generate high temperatures, and because of this some ranges use a water cooling system to regulate the temperature and prevent equipment damage. Essentially, a flow of water is directed across the cooking top to allow excess heat to dissipate. There are also air-cooled versions of the wok stove available for purchase.