When thinking of Asian cooking, many people envision the traditional wok. An excellent piece of cookware for stir-frying, the wok has a long history of use in Asian countries, as well as being utilized by cooks throughout the world.
The traditional wok usually sits atop a gas stove top for heating. Some years back, however, a competitor arrived in the form of an electric wok. A continuing debate has ensued over the merits of each type of wok and the benefits or disadvantages of each.
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Woks are similar in shape to large, deep bowls. Traditional woks come either with two short, usually wooden, handles on opposite sides or with one long handle. The wok was originally designed for pit cooking in China and was usually made of cast iron.
Both electric and stove-top woks are used for stir-frying, sauteing, braising and deep frying, among other cooking techniques. The debate comes over which type of wok better accomplishes the tasks.
Stove-Top Wok Pros
Stove-top woks come in a variety of metals, including carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminum and cast iron. The benefits of a traditional wok are its capacity to absorb high heat from a gas range and quickly cook the ingredients.
The hot spot at the bottom of the stove-top wok is where the actual cooking takes place. Ingredients are moved to the rounded sides of the wok to keep warm while finishing the dish.
Using a wide wok spatula, cooking vegetables, meat or other ingredients at very high heat is simple. The spatula conforms to the wok's rounded shape, making stirring and flipping the food quick and simple.
Electric Wok Pros
Electric woks have an almost immediate advantage over stove-top woks--they do not need to be seasoned. A traditional wok needs to go through a somewhat elaborate process of seasoning its metal to avoid future sticking problems. Nonstick electric woks help cooks avoid this process.
Another benefit of using an electric wok is you do not have to worry about choosing between a round-bottom or flat-bottom stove-top wok. The electric version comes with its own stand. It also can be used independently, thus avoiding taking stove-top space.
Cleaning an electric wok is also easier than a traditional one. Electrics can be washed using dish soap, which might erase all that seasoning you might have done with the stove-top wok.
Stove-Top Wok Cons
On an electric stove, a round-bottomed wok will probably need a coil. This attachment raises the wok above the element and balances the pan. Realizing the needs of some consumers, companies have recently made woks using a flat bottom to eliminate the need for a coil.
Stove-top woks need to be seasoned, which means the wok is heated over low heat with a small amount of cooking oil. This creates a patina to avoid food sticking. If you wash the wok in soapy water, however, the patina is erased and the process must be repeated.
Aluminum and stainless-steel woks are considered inferior to the carbon-steel variety, and many cooks recommend avoiding them because of their poor heating distribution.
Electric Wok Cons
Heat, heat, heat. That is the main shortcoming of an electric wok. Electric woks are simply incapable of heating to as high a temperature as a stove-top version. This underheating often results in a dish that is more boiled than fried. Vegetables do not crisp as well, nor does meat.
Most electric woks range between 1,000 and 1,600 watts. Go for the higher wattage to increase the heating capabilities.