A carbon steel wok is a specialized piece of cookware that is made from carbon steel, a material that can handle the high temperatures used in wok cooking. Traditionally, woks are cone-shaped pans that are used to quickly stir fry meats, vegetables, and grains. Modern woks come in a variety of different shapes and can be made from a few different materials. Made from a relatively inexpensive metal, the carbon steel wok is one of the most popular types of woks.
There are a few reasons that carbon steel is commonly used in cookware, including woks. This material is extremely hard and can withstand high heat without melting or warping. Woks are designed to be used at high temperatures and need to be made out of a material, such as carbon steel, that can tolerate these temperatures. Carbon steel cookware is also safe to use with food.
Though a carbon steel wok can withstand high temperatures, the pan itself does not heat evenly because carbon steel does not transfer heat well. This allows the center of the wok to become very hot while the sides remain relatively cool. When stir frying, foods are cooked quickly in the center of a wok and moved to the sides to stop them from over-cooking, making carbon steel an ideal material to use in a wok.
Both conical and flat-bottom carbon steel woks can be used to stir fry foods. The cone shape is the traditional shape for a wok because it traps heat in the center, but this shape may be difficult to use on certain types of stove tops. In most cases, a metal ring can be used to elevate a conical carbon steel wok above a flat cook surface, but holding the wok above an electric heat source may not allow the pan to heat properly. Many woks are made with a flat bottom so that they can easily sit on a burner.
Before a carbon steel wok can be used, it must be seasoned. In this process, the wok is heated, covered with oil and then wiped clean. When this process is used on a new wok, it cleans the pan so that it is safe to eat off of. Seasoning is also important after cooking on a wok because the oil protects the carbon steel from oxidation. With use, the color of a carbon steel wok will darken to black.