A wok is a traditional Chinese pan formed into a large metal bowl with one or two handles. It works well for different kinds of cooking, including braising and stewing, but is most often used to create stir fry meals consisting of vegetables, meat, and a seasoned sauce. An outdoor wok is a wok intended to be used in a manner similar to a barbecue grill, over an open flame, most often on a propane burner, though some types may be used over an open fire.
Woks are typically made from either cast iron or carbon steel, though there are some types made for indoor use that incorporate other metals. A typical size is about 14 to 16 inches (35.5 to 40.6 cm) across, but an outdoor wok can be as large as 22 inches (55.88 cm) or more. They have a deep bowl shape and are generally provided with a lid, though when making stir fry or other dishes the lid may not be needed.
Using an outdoor wok has several advantages over the better known indoor wok. Typically it is much larger than those made for indoor use, allowing the cook to prepare meals for very large families or a number of guests quickly and easily. The size of the wok makes it difficult to flip food out of the pan when cooking, a convenience that results in less mess at meal time.
Another advantage of using an outdoor wok is that it gets very hot, which is ideal for this type of cooking. The flame can usually be adjusted to keep the pan and its contents very hot during the use, which helps to ensure even cooking. Like indoor models, an outdoor wok can be used for deep frying, but the extra size along with the steady, even heat ensures that the oil will remain hot even if a lot of food is added at once.
The outdoor wok most often comes as part of a complete unit that includes a propane tank, a frame or rack to support the pan, and the wok itself, with lid. Frames come in different styles, and can range from fanciful animals holding up the pan to a plain and very utilitarian rack that provides solid support but little or no decoration. The height of the outdoor wok should be checked to make sure it provides the most comfortable working conditions possible. Its frame should also be very solid and sturdy so that there is no chance of tipping or collapsing during use.