Wok-Style Pans

Published November 1, 2007. From Cook's Illustrated.

Wok-style pans split the design differences between a skillet and a wok; we wondered how they compared to our favorite pan for stir-frying.

Overview:

Over the years, we have tested traditional woks several times and reached the same conclusion: Their rounded, wobbly design is not suited for conventional, flat-topped American stoves. You're better off using a large nonstick skillet. But recently we've noticed wok-style pans that split the design differences between a skillet and a wok and wondered how they compare. To find out, we stir-fried beef and vegetables in three different wok descendants and measured the results against stir-fries cooked in a 12-inch nonstick skillet.

Although all three of the wok-style pans we tested performed ably, we're not willing to invest in a new pan just for stir-frying. The actual cooking surface on these pans measured less than 7 inches across-a full 2 inches smaller than the cooking surface on a standard 12-inch skillet. While these wok-style pans are better suited to a flat burner than is a traditional round wok, they can't beat the skillet for stir-frying.

Over the years, we have tested traditional woks several times and reached the same conclusion: Their rounded, wobbly design is not suited for conventional, flat-topped American stoves. You're better off using a large nonstick skillet. But recently we've noticed wok-style pans that split the design differences between a skillet and a wok and wondered how they compare. To find out, we stir-fried beef and vegetables in three different wok descendants and measured the results against stir-fries cooked in a 12-inch nonstick skillet.

Although all three of the wok-style pans we tested performed ably, we're not willing to invest in a new pan just for stir-frying. The actual cooking surface on these pans measured less than 7 inches across-a full 2 inches smaller than the cooking surface on a standard 12-inch skillet. While these wok-style pans are better suited to a flat burner than is a traditional round wok, they can't beat the skillet for stir-frying.

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  • Product Tested

  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Recommended - Winner

    All-Clad 12-Inch Nonstick Skillet

    A 12-inch skillet can offer up to 10 inches of cooking surface for better contact with the heat source during stir-frying. A nonstick coating is beneficial for stir-fry because fond and sauces won't stick or scorch as you saute the food in batches.

    $159.95

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  • Recommended

    Joyce Chen 14-inch Nonstick Flat Bottom Wok

    This 14-inch pan actually offers less than 7 inches of cooking surface, but it heated quickly, cleaned up easily, and seared meat respectably. The one caveat: weight. Though it has a long handle for leverage, 4 lb., 5 oz. is a lot to lift when it’s full of food. Nonstick steel domed lid (model J31-0066) sold separately.

    $54.95

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  • Recommended

    Anolon Titanium Non Stock 12-Inch Open Stir-Fry Pan

    This dishwasher-safe pan resembled a slope-sided sauté pan but did not offer more than a flat-bottomed wok by way of cooking space. The seemingly nonstick coating did develop a significant amount of fond from the meat, which released when the pan was deglazed. Very comfortable to wield at 3 lb., 11.5 oz. Note: After our 2007 testing, this pan has been redesigned with a helper handle.

    $39.99

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  • Recommended with Reservations

    All-Clad 14-Inch Stainless Stir Fry Pan

    This stainless steel beauty generally performed fine, but felt heavy at 4 lb., 1 oz. and was awfully expensive for a limited-use item. We don’t prefer traditional finishes for stir-frying, but the meat seared quickly, and the sauce deglazed the pan and reduced well.

    $159.95

  • Not Recommended

    Wokshop's Hand-Hammered 14-inch Wok

    Though searingly hot within minutes, this lightweight (2 lb., 11 oz.) traditional wok was not made for a flat-topped burner. Even after removing the cooking ring, setting the pan directly over the flame, and pouring off excess fat and liquid halfway through cooking, the meat still refused to sear, and the sauce, which pooled in the center, took three times as long to reduce.

    $14.95

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