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Currently I stir fry veggies in a flat non-stick frying pan. It's OK but it doesn't have much volume so I can't cook a large amount of veggies unless I do so in batches, which I don't want to because I'm lazy. I want to throw in a bunch of veggies once, cook them, and be done. I understand that this may have a negative impact on flavour but I'm more interested in convenience.

To deal with this I want to get a wok, basically just to act as large frying pan. My first question is, will this be better than just using a big pot? My intuition is that the curved sides will mean more veggies touching lower, hotter parts of the container, and easier stirring. But maybe this is baloney.

I have an electric stove, and that's not going to change. So I'm going to get a flat-bottomed wok. My understanding is that the wok should get nice and hot and that this is more difficult on an electric stove. The woks I've seen have a wide variety of thicknesses. Should I be getting a really thin wok so that the wok heats up faster and transfers heat more quickly? Again, I'm primarily thinking of convenience. I don't want to stand around waiting for the wok to heat up. However I am fairly prone to burning the things I cook.

Similarly, should I aim for a wok made from a particular material?

Side note: I'm vegan and my wife is vegetarian, so we're not going to use this for meat at all.

  • What kind of electric stove? Open coil vs Glass top vs cast iron top stoves will behave rather differently with thin bottomed cookware. – rackandboneman Apr 19 '17 at 17:39
  • @rackandboneman a coil covered by metal, like this. – Alex Hall Apr 19 '17 at 17:43
  • Normal, traditional, curved carbon-steel woks usually come with a metal bracket/stand with holes in it for use on electric ranges, though it can also be used on gas ranges, or not at all, with little difference. – PoloHoleSet Apr 19 '17 at 18:47
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There are several different choices you could make which would deliver a similar result:

  1. flat bottomed wok: woks have high sides, however the heat is only on the bottom, you need to stir the food in woks very often to ensure even cooking
  2. saute pan: basically a frying pan with higher sides, the heat is distributed across the pan but hottest in the center
  3. casserole dish: this is more of a pot than a frying pan, usually thick and often cast iron. It takes longer to heat up but the heat is generally very even. A benefit of these is that they can go into the oven, giving you more flexibility

I have all of these and I use them regularly, any of them will work for cooking large quantities of vegetables (provided you get one that's big enough). It's a matter of picking the one that suits your personal cooking style. If you are looking for something that takes less stirring then a wok is not for you.

As for materials it really is a matter of opinion. If you are a lazy cook or just busy a non-stick stainless or aluminum pan or wok heats up pretty quick and is easy to clean up afterwards, however if you tend to burn things you'll destroy your pan quickly in which case ceramic coated cast iron, plain cast iron or steel might be the way to go.

It sounds like a non-stick high-sided saute pan would be a good way to go, just keep the heat under control and don't be afraid to add a bit of water to the bottom to keep things from burning.

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I'll try address your questions:

  • Firstly, woks should always be thin. The point of a wok is to get extremely hot at the bottom, without heat being conducted much up the sides. Thin is best for this
  • The problem with this in your case, is that a small amount of your vegetables will be touching the bottom and cooking, while most will be sitting on top, or in contact with the sides, just getting warmed slightly.
  • The point of a stir fry is to slightly char the vegetables as they get tossed around the pan, moving between hot and cooler parts, so that they cook evenly, but get a good browning at the same time. The problem is that this is really only suited to smallish amounts of food, unless you have an enormous wok and burner/stove.
  • As you have indiciated that convenience is more important to you than flavour/cooking quality, I would suggest a large, flat, heavy bottomed frying pan (fine with straight or curved sides). This will cook large amounts of veg best, without cooling down too much when you add them, and the larger bottom surface will mean more veg is getting contact with the hottest surface

I wouldn't normally recommend a plain frying pan for stir fries, but I think this is the best option in your case. The outcome will not be the same as a stir fry - might be more moist and less browned, but should suffice for convenience's sake

  • Thanks, it's nice to see the answers confirming each other. – Alex Hall Apr 19 '17 at 18:27
  • A thin wok can be terrible advice for a cast-plate stove - thin bottoms will warp easily, and give you hardly any heat transfer. – rackandboneman Feb 17 '18 at 13:00
  • @rackandboneman then they shouldn't use a wok - a heavy bottomed wok will do nothing that a normal frying pan won't do – canardgras Feb 17 '18 at 13:04
  • @canardgras heat zoning. And sheer style. – rackandboneman Feb 17 '18 at 20:30
  • Ahh, you were implying a thick wok doesn't heat zone well - not always true. Depends on other construction details. And a thick bottom, severely preheated, can actually help a flash fry by taking advantage of the thermal mass (adding stored heat to heat input from stove). In other cases (fried rice or noodle dishes!) too-cold wok sides are not good at all, since that can induce sticking.... – rackandboneman Feb 19 '18 at 11:47
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Look at the size of your hob, it is probably up to 24 cm. Imagine putting a straight-sided pan on it and filling it 1.5 - 2 cm deep with cut vegetables (the pieces don't have to be exactly a single layer, they can overlap slightly, but the number of pieces not touching the pan should be minimal). This is the maximum amount of vegetables you can stir-fry at once, no matter what your cooking vessel looks like or how it is called.

If you are OK with this amount and your pan is for some reason too small to use it that way, you can get a larger pan (preferably not straight-sided) or a wok, whichever you prefer.

If this amount is too small for you, you cannot stir fry. You could just throw your large amount of vegetables in a higher-sided pan or a small pot, and braise them. This might meet your criteria for "high volume" and "not interested in flavor" (It's not that braised vegetables taste bad, they just have a different flavor). Stirring convenience is unimportant, because you only have to give a small stir once every few minutes. A thicker walled vessel is better for braising (and for almost all types of hot cooking). So a wok won't make much sense.

The third thing you can do is to turn on two hobs at once and stir fry two batches. It will require more coordination, and you can't really do it as true wokking (one wok requires your constant attention), but you can have your large volume done quickly.

  • Thanks for your answer. I like the idea of using two pans, it seems so obvious now but I never considered it. – Alex Hall Apr 19 '17 at 18:28
  • I generally agree, though there's a bit of a continuum between stir-frying and braising. You can have too much in the pan to really stir fry, but once it cooks down a bit, still get some browning. It'll be softer and less-browned than stir-frying, but it's something. If the pan tolerates it, you can also preheat it really hot so you get some initial browning and get through the cooking down part faster. – Cascabel Apr 19 '17 at 18:32
  • @Jefromi I think we are thinking of the same method, I called it a "braise" but it is indeed not the most standard braise. I would use a pot for it, or a deep pan (saucepan). I don't see any advantage in getting a wok for it. – rumtscho Apr 19 '17 at 18:53

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