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Best Woks

Published December 2019

How we tested

Because this is America’s Test Kitchen, we’re always questioning our assumptions. For years, we’ve tweaked conventional stir-fry recipes to achieve delicious results in a nonstick skillet rather than a wok, the traditional cooking vessel. Since American stove burners are flat, we aimed to get more contact with the heat source by using the broad cooking surface of a 12-inch skillet instead of the smaller bottom surface of a wok. Recently, we decided to take another look at woks.

There was a lot to learn. You can buy woks in a huge range of materials, shapes, and sizes. We turned to Grace Young, wok expert and James Beard ward–winning author of Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge (2010), The Breath of a Wok (2013), and The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen (2014). She and other experts advised us that carbon-steel and lightweight cast-iron woks are the top choices for cooks. These materials transfer heat efficiently, so they sear foods more effectively than woks made of stainless steel or clad materials or woks coated in a nonstick material. As we’ve learned from testing cast-iron and carbon-steel skillets, these metals also gradually acquire seasoning as you cook; over time, the polymerized oil naturally makes them more and more nonstick. With a well-seasoned wok, we might be able to skip using nonstick-coated skillets while retaining the benefits of their slick surfaces.  

The Showdown: Wok versus Skillet

Before we began testing, we invited Young to the test kitchen for a friendly “wok versus skillet” cook-off where she prepared a set of recipes in a wok while we used our winning nonstick skillet to make the same recipes. Test cooks and editors gathered to compare the techniques and results. While the recipes came out well in the skillet, all agreed that the wok-cooked versions tasted at least as good—many said better—than the skillet-cooked versions. These results were likely due to the wok’s hotter temperature and well-seasoned surface that resulted in food that had better browning and was more flavorful. Also, it was clearly easier to stir-fry in the wok. With its high walls and rounded shape, the wok allowed Young to stir less carefully and move food around more thoroughly during cooking. Another plus? Her stovetop stayed neater. Active stir-frying was much trickier in our low-sided skillet. 

Next, we bought nine woks to test, priced from about $33 to about $55. All measured 14 inches from rim to rim, the size that our wok experts said is optimal for home cooks preparing anywhere from two to six servings. Smaller woks can crowd and essentially steam your food instead of sear it, while larger ones can take up too much space and be unwieldy on the average home stovetop. We picked woks with flat bottoms rather than traditional round bottoms. A flat bottom not only lets the wok sit securely on the burner but also negates the need to buy a “wok ring” to hold the wok upright; this shape also works on a wide variety of cooktops, including gas, induction, and electric. All the woks we tested were made of carbon steel, cast iron, or lightweight cast iron, but only the cast-iron woks and one of the carbon-steel models arrived preseasoned. The rest were made of uncoated carbon steel and needed preparation before they were ready for cooking (see “How to Season a New Wok”). 

In each of the nine woks, we stir-fried a wide range of ingredients and used a variety of techniques, including cooking in batches, steaming and crisping vegetables, handling piles of slippery noodles, searing meat and seafood, scrambling eggs, and frying rice. We stir-fried green beans; prepared Fried Rice with Shrimp, Pork and Peas; and made Thai-style Stir-Fried Rice Noodles with Chicken and Broccolini. We asked additional testers, both novice and experienced in wok cooking, to prepare a popular Chinese homestyle dish of stir-fried tomatoes and eggs. And throughout testing we noted how easy each wok was to use and clean and compared recipe results. Here’s what we learned. 

Lighter Woks Work Best

Lifting a big, hot wok full of steaming food puts a real strain on the cook, especially if the wok itself is heavy. Most of our woks had helper handles, but we usually needed our other hand to help transfer food into a serving dish. You can leave the wok on the stove and scoop out the food, but that risks overcooking it, especially when the wok is made of cast iron and retains heat. We found woks much more efficient and versatile when we could lift them with one nondominant hand. The woks in our lineup ranged from just less than 3 pounds to more than a whopping 11 pounds, and testers had a strong preference for the easy maneuverability of the lighter woks. 

On a related note, we also preferred carbon-steel woks. While we were ultimately able to make food successfully in all the woks—and enjoyed skipping the seasoning step when using preseasoned cast-iron woks—all the cast-iron models were thicker, heavier, and slower to heat up and retained heat longer than the carbon-steel models. As a result, they were slightly less responsive and made it somewhat more difficult to control the rate of cooking than woks made of thin carbon steel. 

One Handle or Two?

One of the biggest differences we saw in the woks was the material, location, and shape of the handles. All the models but one had metal or wooden handles (one had a plastic-coated metal handle), and we went into this testing assuming that metal, being more durable than wood, would be the way to go. But since stir-frying often happens over high heat, it didn’t take long before we realized we preferred the models with stay-cool wooden handles. We lost many valuable seconds reaching for a pot holder or towel to grab metal handles, which often surprised us by heating up halfway through a recipe. 

Models with a single, straight handle—like on a skillet—gave us the leverage and control we needed to lift and move the wok, and we preferred this design to woks with a pair of small looped handles. Because they’re set close to the wok, these small, ear-like handles quickly got too hot. When we tried to lift those woks using a single loop (and a pot holder or towel), the opposite side of the wok sometimes suddenly swung down out of control. With the single-handed woks, the angle of the handle mattered, too: Long handles that were level with the wok’s rim or tilted radically upward felt unbalanced and awkward. But woks with handles that were angled only slightly gave us better leverage and made the wok feel lighter and more balanced. Moving these woks felt more natural and comfortable. 

The Hottest Zone on a Wok

When you’re cooking food in a wok, the flat portion at the bottom is usually the hottest area because it is in direct contact with the heat source, while the sloping walls form a slightly cooler zone. (That said, if you have a lot of liquid at the bottom of the wok or if you’re cooking with a gas flame turned up too high, the walls might become hotter than the bottom.) You can move food around the wok to use these zones to the best advantage. We measured the diameters of the flat portion at the bottoms of the woks and compared them to the woks’ cooking performances. They ranged from having no flat interior space (in the heavy cast-iron wok) to 7 inches; we preferred the model with the widest interior space. Having a bit more of the wok’s cooking surface at the hottest temperature helped us sear food and evaporate moisture more effectively as it cooked. 

So, Do You Need a Wok?

Many of our test kitchen recipes show that you can stir-fry in a 12-inch nonstick pan with good results. But using a wok can be much easier, especially when cooking large volumes of food, such as noodles or rice, that tend to spill over the sides of a skillet unless you stir very carefully or cook in multiple batches. And because we don’t recommend heating a nonstick-coated skillet until it’s as hot as a typical wok, it’s harder to achieve the browning and flavor produced by cooking in a wok. Bottom line: We find it a very useful pan to have. We’re still going to rely on our nonstick skillet when cooking eggs and fish, but for stir-frying, we prefer a wok. 

The Best Wok: Taylor and Ng Natural Nonstick Wok Set 12153 14″ Carbon Steel 

After cooking batch after batch of stir-fried noodles, chicken, shrimp, vegetables, eggs, and fried rice in all nine woks, we had a favorite: the Taylor and Ng Natural Nonstick Wok Set 12153 14″ Carbon Steel. At 3 pounds, 4.6 ounces, it was one of the lightest woks we tested—and its comfortable, stay-cool wooden handles made it easy to lift and maneuver, even when full of hot food. It had the widest flat cooking surface of the woks we tested, and its thin carbon-steel construction made it heat and cool quickly and responsively as we cooked. It’s also the only wok that came with a lid, which is handy for some recipes, such as our Thai-Style Stir-Fried Noodles with Chicken and Broccolini, which calls for briefly steaming the broccolini by covering the pan.   

A note about the name: While it’s called “natural nonstick,” this wok does not have a nonstick coating in the traditional sense. The company uses a high-heat treatment in the factory to preseason the wok, which oxidizes the surface of the carbon steel and turns it a deep blue color. As the wok is used over time, the blue will fade and be replaced by the normal brownish-black color of seasoned carbon steel, but the head start in attaining a “naturally nonstick” seasoning is helpful. 


Rating Criteria

Performance: We evaluated the flavor and appearance of the food made in each wok.

Ease of Use: We evaluated how easy it was to cook in, lift, and handle each wok, including its weight, handle angle, cooking surface diameter, and any other contributing factors.

The Results


Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.


Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.


Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.


Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.


Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.


Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.