When it comes to wok cooking, cast iron is as versatile and as time-tested as the wok idea itself. Having originated in China and Central Asia, cast iron pots – the forefathers of the wok – were used by the armies on the march and by town chefs alike to entertain the taste buds of hungry multitudes with flavorful stir fries, soups and noodles.
These dishes were all noted by their characteristic smoky notes that result from high-heat cooking for which both cast iron and the specific dome shape of the wok are important contributing factors.
So, as an aspiring home cook, you want to replicate the success of the ancient Asian chefs and have zeroed in on cast iron as the material of choice. I don’t blame you: the look and the feel of cast iron cooking sure are sexy, and the results will be spectacular. So which is the best cast iron wok in the market?
Here are a few excellent choices for a cast iron wok.
Our top 6 picks
As you can see from this list, one common feature that stands out for most cast iron woks we have reviewed is their flat bottom. We have written another article on flat bottom woks that work especially well on an electric stove.
There is a reason why most cast iron woks come flat-bottomed. You may probably imagine that normal wok cooking involves a lot of flipping and moving and tossing of ingredients, in the midst of a blazing fire. This is the kind of cooking they practice in Asian restaurants when commercial-grade burners can easily produce the kind of heat that is essential to good wok hei, or the art of wok cooking.
Moving has an immediate cooling effect on the ingredients in the wok, which allows chefs to control the temperature around different part of their woks. That is why carbon steel woks are the darlings of most restaurant cooks. They are a lot easier to wield around the kitchen and heat and cool extremely quickly.
Cast iron woks for home use
A normal home burner – whether electric, gas and an induction stove – cannot generate the kind of heat that is necessary for the optimal wok performance. And, as of late, cast iron has become increasingly popular with home cooks because of its superb heat retention and universality. To put it bluntly, cast iron approximates the quality of high-heat cooking that can only be generated in the commercial kitchen.
Of course, cast iron woks are a lot heavier than carbon steel woks, stainless steel woks or woks made from any other alloy. Since it is a lot harder to move it, they can be stationary and, thus, flat-bottomed.
Additionally, when restaurant chefs are not moving their woks, they too have to stabilize it, and they do it with the help of wok ring whose history goes back to the times when woks rested on top of clay stoves that had a hollow access to a fire pit. Home cooks achieve this stability with a flat bottom.
tips for Cooking with a cast iron wok
First, as is common with woks of all types, you will need to heat the wok until it gradually reaches the temperature as high as your home stove will allow. You would normally know that it is hot enough when you see smoke coming off it.
Another good test is to throw a few drops of water into the center of the wok. If the water drops come together into a single ball, as if drawn by an invisible magnet, and then evaporate gradually, then the wok is hot enough to receive food ingredients.
Next, apply a bit of oil and stir it around so that it greases the bottom and some of the sides of the wok. You should see the oil giving off smoke pretty fast. Make sure you use an oil with a high smoking point, or you will end up smoking the house up before you can cook anything. And, since cast iron cools off slower than any other wok material, please pay even more attention to this specific point.
Another tip is to only add food in small enough batches. Adding a lot of food at the same time will cool down the wok, and the entire point of using it for high temperature effect will be lost.
Stirring vs Flipping
Since you will do a great majority of cast iron cooking without moving your wok around, as explained, the technique for, say, stir frying will be a little different from when you use a lighter wok.
Wok hei masters will tell you that there are various techniques for moving the food around in a wok. These include stirring it around, tossing it in the air (as one would do with any other fry pans), and a combination of the two.
Cooking food in cast iron precludes you from tossing it, so to decrease the temperature of the ingredients you will have to be limited to stirring it around, as needed. Of course, only stirring food is just as good a technique as tossing it. This limitation should not preclude you from buying cast iron woks.
Good news is that cast iron woks can be used for so many other dishes like biryani, noodles or even soups. Also, you can use it to steam and deep fry food, so it can really be the “only pan you ever need”, and cast iron is particularly adaptable to your multidimensional cooking needs.
Let’s dive into that list in some more detail.
There is an entire series of woks with lid out there, and for a good reason: something about having a wooden lid makes it look authentically Asian. It is also very practical as a lid would prevent all possible splattering that comes with the frying territory. Moreover, if steaming is your thing, a lid makes steaming particularly easy and quick, as all steam would not build under it and not escape too much.
This Homeries pan is manufactured in Delaware. Homeries is dedicated to making the life of a busy, modern home cook convenient and easy, and the wok they sell is designed to save you the time you don’t have. Similar to some woks below, this wok is pre-seasoned cast iron, treated with vegetable oil, so it has a nonstick coating and is ready to use. The company would love for you to not only use it at home, but also take it outdoors, if camping is how you roll.
A word of caution about wood lids: Since wood is less durable than cast iron, the lid needs its own special care. If it’s abused heavily, it can split or grow mildew, so it’s a good idea to always keep it dry. Also, like most wooden kitchen gear, it is not dishwasher safe, so you will need to wash it by hand.
Jim Beam 12” Pre-Seasoned Heavy-Duty Construction Cast Iron Grilling Wok
Did you know that Jim Beam, a Nashville-based Whiskey brewing giant, is also in the business of making amazing cast iron cookware? Well, now you do. Jim Beam produces a pretty wide range of heavy-duty cast iron skillets, pots, pans, and, yes, fantastic and affordable cast iron woks. I guess they go together – (responsible) whiskey drinking and grilling on heavy, attractive cookware over open fire. Very rustic.
Although this particular wok is characterized as a grilling one, there is nothing in its intended design to preclude you from using it for any other possible purpose. After all, woks are supposed to be very multifunctional, and this one is as multifunctional as it gets.
This wok is your standard every-day pan that you can use and abuse. There is nothing uniquely special about it, but, like a heavy, reliable hammer. It does the job, and it does it well every time.
This model has got two short handles, rather than one short and one long handle, so this is what we call a Cantonese-style wok. The long handle is used for flipping food while cooking, so in this case the two short handles are only to move the wok around.
The wok comes pre-seasoned, but I would recommend seasoning it anyway (we wrote an entire article on how to season cast iron) since you probably don’t want to leave it to the factory to have your cookware squeaking clean when it comes to your door. And since you will need to do some hand washing regardless, you may as well season it too since cleaning it is an essential part of the seasoning process.
Wangyuanji Handmade Chinese Cast Iron 14.2 Inch Wok
As far as our list, you cannot get any more authentic than this Chinese-made wok. While very functional, this product is also somewhat fancy, so if you are like me and like to show off, this wok is for you.
This product stands out from most on this list for several reasons. First off, the company that makes it is proud to say that they have been making it – by hand – for almost 400 years. So, if you really like a good story to accompany your orange chicken, look no further.
Second, it is entirely hand-made – in China, of course. And if you are easily impressed by craftsmanship, this wok goes through 37 different hand processes before it arrives at your door.
The wok also includes two wooden handles, this time a short one and a long one. And in case you are wondering, this wok style is called Northern style. The long handle should make your flipping easier, and you can certainly do it. Especially if you don’t mind a really good workout for one hand.
This wok is value packed, it comes with a wooden lid, a brush, and a spatula, so you can have a full wok hei experience, right off the bat.
Lastly, this Wangyuanji product does not come pre-seasoned: the manufacturers are all about the tradition, if not necessarily convenience. So, put on some traditional Chinese music and get to seasoning.
Lodge Pro Logic Wok with Flat Base and Loop Handles
When it comes to all things cast iron, Lodge is the proud all-American king. They seem to make everything – pots, pens, griddles, skillets, Dutch ovens – and, yes, woks. Coming straight from their hometown of South Pittsburg, TN, our list would be simply incomplete without an item from Lodge.
Lodge Pro Logic makes this cast iron wok with a with flat bottom, and its utilitarian design is ideal for a home kitchen. As other woks on our list, it has ample cooking surface, especially in its 14 inch iteration, and it comes pre-seasoned, as a few others we have already discussed. We also love how it retains heat like no other, and in this respect can outcompete most industrial woks.
This 14 inch cast iron wok is a popular favorite for a variety of reasons: the heavy stable feel, the incredibly simple yet functional design, and of course it is also easy on your wallet. Cooks across the United States (and beyond) used Lodge Pro Logic woks to cook all kinds of fare that expanded even to Italian pasta. Go figure.
Bruntmor Cast Iron Enameled 14 inch Wok with Large Loop Handles and Flat Base
Even though this beauty is a lot less traditional, it is hard to associate a non-stick enamel with Chinese cooking. It definitely deserves our attention as a highly practical cross between a wok and a Le Creuset casserole.
If you have a particular fear of food sticking to the bottom of your wok, this one should leave you well at ease, and you should bravely approach your stir fry dish with your new enameled Brumintor product. In the family of cast iron woks, this one definitely stands out.
Kasian House Cast Iron Wok with Wooden Handle and Lid, Pre-Seasoned, 12 inch Diameter Chinese Wok with Flat Bottom
The last on our list of cast iron nonstick woks is this Kaisan product. In many respects, it is similar to other woks on our list, as it is a versatile, solid and pre-seasoned wok. It is one of the more aesthetically pleasing ones, coming to you with a beautiful wooden handle and a lid.
This last aspect has a bit of a downside, as it is not oven safe, should you decide to broil something in it. Please, for your own sake (and the sake of your neighbors), don’t broil.
This Kaisan wok is also very affordable, so if you have budget considerations, it is as good as most of the others we reviewed.
Since all the cast iron woks on our list have something unique about them, it is not that easy to make a final pick. They are all very practical, easy to handle, easy to clean and to maintain, have a great design and are easy on your eyes. If we also consider the price, and decide that being oven-safe is not one of the musts, then I will have to go with a more traditional and extremely reliable option, that also have a lid.
Having considered all the above, my final recommendation is Homeries. You may pick something else from this list. Whichever one you choose, however, I promise you that you will fall in love, and this new-found love will last you a long time.