What Is a Flat Bottom Wok?

Nicky Sutton

A flat bottom wok is an adaptation of the original round bottom wok from China. The original can sit on a gas cooker top or open fire whereas it cannot sit easily on a flat surface, such as an electric cooker top, without rolling over. Flat bottom woks, popular in Western kitchens, were created to sit easily on an electric cooker top or other flat surface. With high rounded sides, food cooking in a flat bottom wok can be pushed around vigorously with a spatula, or tossed in the air by holding the handles.

Shrimp and noodle dish stir-fried in a wok.
Shrimp and noodle dish stir-fried in a wok.

The wok is a type of frying pan that originated in China. It is used extensively throughout the Far East, and has made its way to the West to become a common feature in modern kitchens. Well known for stir frying, the Chinese wok is bowl shaped with a perfectly round bottom. Food can be tossed and pushed around inside with a spatula due to this perfectly round, half ball shape. The semicircular shape helps prevent the food from burning because heat is distributed around the underside surface of the pan as food is tossed around.

With its high smoking point and mild flavor, peanut oil is ideal for making stir-fries in a flat bottom wok.
With its high smoking point and mild flavor, peanut oil is ideal for making stir-fries in a flat bottom wok.

Regular round bottom woks sit well on gas cooker tops commonly used in the West, however many people use electric cooker tops which are flat. The rounded base of the wok is very unstable on a flat surface and will roll and tip over. As solution to this, the flat bottom wok was put into production.

These woks also have tall rounded sides, but the base of the pan is flattened so that the wok will not rock from side to side. Some people argue that this spoils the heat distribution and therefore leaves the flat bottom wok more prone to burning food. Others however, disagree and say that the flat bottom wok can produce a stir fry just as delicious as the original round bottom wok.

The flat bottom wok can also be used for making stews, smoking fish or meats, and for boiling foods. Like the original wok, the flat bottom wok is usually made from either cast iron or steel, with the cast iron variety being heavier and slower to heat. It retains heat better however, potentially cooking food more evenly. Traditional round bottom woks usually have a rounded handle on each side of the bowl. This feature is also available on flat bottom woks, but in the West, they are also produced with a long wooden handle similar to that of a regular flat frying pan.

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