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Which wok: Stovetop or electric?

Jul 22, 2023Jul 22, 2023

Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of an electric wok versus a stovetop version?

--Claudia Perry, Evanston

A: I've never owned an electric wok. I've always used a standard carbon-steel wok on my stove. So, I turned to the experts for their opinions.

When it comes to electric woks, "there is no advantage,'' declares Grace Young, author of "Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge" and other Chinese cookbooks. An ardent proponent of the traditional wok, she does not hide her disgust of the electric version.

"That's why they call me the wok evangelist,'' she says.

Young's choice for American kitchens? A 14-inch, flat-bottomed carbon steel wok with a wooden handle. A new wok has to be cleaned and seasoned but usage and reasonable care will eventually give the wok a natural non-stick surface. Traditional woks can be heated to really high temperatures — what proper stir-frying demands — and will brown foods attractively, Young adds.

"The old-fashioned way is the simpler way and more practical,'' Young insists. "It does what you need."

Eileen Yin-Fei Lo also takes a dim view of electric woks. The author of "Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking" and other cookbooks thinks electric models are only good for steaming foods.

"There's no control for stir-frying. … They are not good for deep-frying,'' says Lo. "I always discourage my students from buying them."

Traditional stovetop woks "clean better, cook better," Lo says, adding that one also can control the heat better with one even if cooking on an electric stove. "Turn on two burners, one on high and one on medium,'' she adds. "If the food cooks too fast transfer it (the wok) to the medium burner."

Price is another factor. Young says a cast-steel wok can cost about $25. The electric woks I found online were priced higher, considerably so in some cases.

Email questions about food and drink to Bill Daley at [email protected]. Send snail mail inquiries to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley