I often take pictures of my food cooking in a wok so it was no surprise when a couple of people asked about wok selection and care. Last week, Man Nghi wrote this: “I have the heavy Chinese cast-iron wok at home but often it is very useful to have a non-stick one too.” She’d seen one for about $59.99 and thought it pricey, which led to this question, “Is that the normal price for a good non-stick wok? I would ask my mother however she does not own one.”
Her comments hit on a lot of points for me, mainly that for decades, my mom didn’t have a wok at home. She stir-fried in a well-worn deep cast iron skillet. Viet cooks tend to not be big on woks. Chinese-Vietnamese people, like my friends Eric and Sophie Banh in Seattle, are more inclined to use them for cooking Viet fare. I can totally understand why Man Nghi’s mom isn’t a Viet wok user.
When I started out cooking for myself and tinkering with Chinese food, I initially tried a regular carbon-steel wok. My food kept sticking and I switched to using a large nonstick skillet. In the late 1990s, I wanted to try the wok again but was gun shy. I bought a nonstick wok for about $20.
The nonstick wok instantly made me feel like a Chinese food pro. Slices of marinated meat slid around the pan with ease. I turned out fabulous dishes as if I’d been using one for years. The trouble hit when the bits of nonstick coating came off into the food I was cooking.