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I have two questions regarding woks:

  1. Can I achieve close to the same result with an induction top and either a kettle or high edge frying pan, or is a wok pan and gas stove paramount to achieving a great wok result?

  2. Is there any point at all in using a wok on a flat cooking top, since they are initially designed for using on a gas stove with flames coming up along the sides and everything?

EDIT: Split food preparation part of question into separate post.

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A wok is designed to put food in heat at the center and relax some of the heat as you move away from center, and you keeping the food moving in and out of that hot spot so you get an even sear all around.

To mimic this, use a wide 12 inch or larger skillet (depending on your quantity of food) with high walls, and make it hot. Continuously flip the food over and over and stir is so you get an even seat in the same way. This is called stir fry.

The reason why a wok is desirable is you can manage a lot of food in a wok and move stuff into and out of the hot center quite easily. You can do the same thing in a skillet, but you have to take greater care to not burn your food nor to make a mess throwing the food around.

  • Thanks! Specifically, is there any point in using woks on induction tops at all? Or will the heat simply not be high enough? – forthrin Jan 11 '16 at 17:46
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    Sure, there are woks that can work great on induction tops. Because of how the heat dissipates in this circumstance, you want something with a lot of inductive and thermal mass on the center bottom like the Lodge Cast Iron Wok. – Escoce Jan 11 '16 at 17:48
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I think a simple answer to your question is yes, one can make the same dish in both a flat bottomed pan on an induction cooker and a wok on a gas flame. I might say that it might be easier in the wok, as it was intended for this style of cooking. I might also add that what makes stir frying different from other types of cooking are essentially two things: heat and movement. Stir frying requires high heat and continuous movement of the food to avoid burning at said heat level. As long as both of these requirements are taken care of then I would say you are stir-frying.

Now cooking in a flat bottomed pan will raise some slight difficulties. Depending on how high the sides of the pan are, will make it easier/harder to move the food around. Having high enough heat is another issue when stir-frying. If the sides of the pan are too low, then moving the food will be a challenge, and the food will burn easier or be outside the pan. If the heat is not sufficient, one is not stir-frying but rather steaming the food. But this would also affect an underpowered wok as well.

The use of the induction cooker, with sufficient amounts of wattage or heat will take care of the heat requirement. As I find most induction cookers directly heat the pan enough to fry the food, compared to a regular gas stove,(not professional or home chef professional burner), with anaemic heat output.

As a note, there are now induction cookers that designed for wok usage. I have one, and I find it better than the average gas stove in heat output, but lacking in the actual cooking surface area needed to cook food efficiently and quickly. Smaller batches of food need to be cooked in the wok for it come out right. I also find you need a certain sized wok to fit inside the wok induction cooker for it to work properly. If the wok is too small it will not fully utilise the already small cooking surface and will not be stable either. Too large a wok and it will be stable but the cooking area is also reduced. The ideal wok for my induction cooker is a 36cm wok.

Now onto your second question which is more the logistics of cooking with a (round bottomed) wok on flat cooktop. I would answer this with, yes you can with some modifications. If the range is gas then it's less of an issue, but if the range is electric or induction, I would say it might not be worth the effort. With a gas range, the wok would only need to have a wok ring to make it work. The ring takes care of the stability issue, so long as you have enough BTU's.

With an induction or electric range, the wok ring would provide stability but it might not provide the needed contact to the cooking surface to generate the amount of heat needed to stir-fry. Even with contact, the induction/electric cooktop would only contact the very bottom of the round wok. Not providing enough cooking area for efficient and quick cooking. So it may not be worth the effort.

I think this answers your questions.

  • Detailed and good answer. I really appreciate this! – forthrin Mar 6 '16 at 18:55
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An 1800W induction stove can drive a light, flat bottom cast iron/carbon steel wok to smoking quickly. From my experience, MORE quickly than the gas camping stoves some people recommend to drive woks - likely because the gas will only heat the outer surface while the magnetic field will penetrate the metal and heat it to a certain depth. If you adhere to usual home-wokking practices - do ingredients that have a lot of moisture or need a lot of browning in separate batches, and never fill the whole wok with bowls worth of raw ingredients in one go - that setup will work quite well. Seasoning a wok well is hard on induction though - too uneven, heat too concentrated in the low end, so getting a pre-seasoned wok or doing the seasoning on gas is preferrable.

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  1. First off gas will always be better for a sear, it's the flipping of the wok and letting the food actually be placed within the stoves flame. Induction has no flame so you will never be able to "sear" the meat as in an oriental restaurant. Say for shaken beef.
  2. gas you need extremely high btu output(+20,000btu)is above normal gas ranges. There burners are configured for the western flat bottom pans. American range, Bluestar and Capital have units rated more than this. Side note propane you will have a loss of about 25% of the btu's going from nat. gas to lp so your 20k burner is really working at 15k, but again burner design is a draw back.
  3. I would suggest cooking outside on a deep turkey fryer base with a better burner for a truly asian style meal at home.
  4. remember a commercial wok range's btu's are in the neighborhood of 105,000 btu's you can find new for about 500.00 but the hood and ventilation will be a bit pricey, your normal ventahood is not adequate. you will also need a 3/4" line, if your line exists its probably 1/2".

PS I do have an American Range on lp with 3 burners rated at 25k (nat gas) I can get a decent sear but I still will do batches. I believe Capital range has one unit that has a wok burner rated at 28k, but that was a couple years ago when I was looking at replacing the piece of crap viking range I had.

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I bought a flat bottomed Cantonese-style carbon steel wok with a wooden handle at a local Asian shop. And let me tell you it's the best single item I've ever got for my kitchen:

  1. It cost nothing
  2. It weighs nothing
  3. It works with induction
  4. It heats insanely fast (burning heat in 30 seconds)
  5. It cools similarly fast (thus, total control of heat)
  6. It prepares a meal in 5 minutes
  7. It washes easily

After just a few trials, I get the same result as the seasoned Vietnamese guys down at the local restaurant. I now understand why every Asian household has one of these lifesavers.

Things to note:

  1. I discovered my specimen has a slightly bent bottom, causing a small gap to the induction top. This doesn't affect heat exchange, though. Be sure to check the bottom prior to purchase.
  2. I seasoned it over a gas flame prior to normal use. Don't know if this was really necessary.
  3. Experiment to find the optimal heat setting. I set to 12/14, add meat first, then vegetables, then reduce to 11 before adding the rice noodles so they won't stick.
  4. Does the wok release toxic metals?
  5. What will the expected lifespan be?

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