As the saying goes, a good wok is hard to find. Or maybe that’s my own oddball variation on something people actually say. But the point is that you can’t just wake up one day in the middle of DC, USA and find yourself a wok by nightfall. You have to know what you want, first of all, and then you have to troll the websites and the stores–and, yes, rely on a little luck–to get it.
See, this traditional Chinese saute pan is elusive. Authentic woks work great but contain who knows what metal alloys. You don’t want to eat aluminum or other nasty things. You may be able to reform your wok by putting a barrier between the possible toxins and your food by traditional seasoning (oiling it up and baking it as you’d do with a cast iron pan, then letting a patina of seasoning build up). This also creates a natural nonstick coating. But who really wants a wok that’s so much work and worry? I personally would never be sure if that wok was 100 percent changed, and always wonder if I should trust it with my stir fry.
You could get one that’s ready to go with a nonstick coating, but more and more cooks are eschewing this idea for their cookware. Teflon may look nice and seem convenient, but it harbors a whole other set of toxins. That’s actually why I called it quits with my first wok.
A great solution is a wok made of carbon steel or stainless steel. Those will treat you to a fancy, toxin-free dinner while flashing a shiny mirrored surface. But you’ll still pay, as Whitman would say, one way or another. In this case, you’ll literally pay–upwards of 60, 70, or 80 bucks. Even a wok spoon can force you to part with a Jefferson.
So where did the fine specimen above, which you will correctly assume embodies none of the bad wok characteristics and all of the good ones, come from?
The Florida Avenue Market, of course! And of course in serendipitous circumstances. See, the other day I went into Best Equipment and Supplies, my fave restaurant supply store, for a new $8 cutting board. (More on the the particular store in this post–just ignore the funky formatting over there), and there was a whole section full of woks. This dashing gent is a 14-inch stainless steel wok with a stay-cool handle. And it only put me out $18.95.
I’m enjoying the wok so far, and bought a wok stand to go with it ($5.99) for that magical time when I will once again have a gas stove. I encourage you to check out the store. Come for the wok, and you may come out with an entourage of other fun toys.