10 Reasons to Stir Fry with a Frying Pan Instead of a Wok

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10 Reasons to Stir Fry with a Frying Pan Instead of a Wok | Omnivore's Cookbook

Do you like stir fried food and want to cook it at home with minimal equipment? Are you afraid of trying out stir fry recipes because you don’t own a wok? Do you hate cooking with a wok, because the smoke sets off your fire alarm all the time? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this article will be very helpful to you.

No matter whether searching on the internet or browsing through cookbooks, the word “wok” will jump out every time. Everyone seems to claim it’s necessary to own a wok and that using a wok is the only way to cook good stir fried food. Well, I really doubt that.

Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in China and my family uses a wok to cook every day. I know how to use a wok and I do like to make stir fry with it. However, I prefer to use my heavy bottom nonstick frying pan to cook most of the stir fried dishes on a daily basis. Below are the 10 reasons you should use a frying pan to make stir fried dishes instead of a wok.

1. You don’t need to buy a wok and extra equipment

A wok might not be expensive. But why buy it and take up space to keep it in any case, if you can create stir fried food with the kitchen wares you already have? You should also consider the extra equipment you have to purchase with the wok, which includes a metal turner, a wok lid, and a wok ring (if you use the traditional round bottom wok).

2. You don’t need to take extra care to store the wok

A standard cast iron wok will get rusty if you don’t use it over time. You have to rub it with oil regularly to keep it in good shape. Chances are, when you finally decide to cook a stir fried dish and go to the garage to fetch the wok, it is already unusable.

10 Reasons to Stir Fry with a Frying Pan Instead of a Wok | Omnivore's Cookbook
A frying pan can generate great stir fried dishes, too.

3. A frying pan can generate great stir fried dishes, too

I won’t say you could replicate 100% of dishes using a frying pan to get the exactly the same result, as you’d get using a wok. But you can make delicious and authentic stir fried dishes with a frying pan. If you look at the black pepper steak or fish fragrant eggplant, you will find that a frying pan can create authentic Chinese stir-fry easily.

4. A nonstick frying pan uses less than half the oil a wok does

You will only need half or even one third the oil if you’re cooking stir-fry with a nonstick frying pan. Believe me, even if you heat the wok very well and follow all the instructions from the cookbook, certain items will still stick to the wok and get burnt. Moreover, not all stir fry requires a super high oil temperature. You could easily handle with them with a non-sticky frying pan and use much less oil. Try to cook vegetable and ham fried rice with a wok, and you will be surprised how much oil you’ll need to use to keep the rice from sticking to the wok.

If you’re worried about safety issues surrounding teflon material, I have some good news for you. New nonstick frying pans have progressed a lot. They can stand very high heat (most of them can be heated up to 500 degrees F, while most stir fried dishes require 400 F heat or less). They can coat with oil better and last a very long time.

Sweet Sour Tofu | Omnivore's Cookbook
A frying pan can do what a wok cannot.

5. A frying pan can do what a wok cannot

Believe it or not, a frying pan actually can do more than a wok. If you look at sweet and sour tofu or mapo tofu, you will find that a flat bottom pan can easily deal with tofu without breaking the pieces apart.

6. Easier for beginners

You need to heat up a wok to very high heat no matter what dish you’re cooking, and cook it within a very short span of time to achieve good results. If you look at the real chefs who work in Chinese restaurants, you will be surprised that it only takes a few seconds to sear the meat or mix in the sauce (You will also be surprised at the huge amount of oil they use). A frying pan will take more time (for example 30 seconds VS. 10 seconds) to completely cook meat/veggies and is thus easier for beginners to learn and get used to.

7. Safer for beginners

If you’re not familiar with cooking with a wok, the temperature of the oil will quickly get too high to handle. Again, you have to be heat up the wok very well before cooking, even for some food that doesn’t require high heat. The heated wok will get out of control if you don’t adjust heat constantly, and most of it requires experience and is not listed in the recipe.

The Right Way to Heat up a Wok | Omnivore's Cookbook
The right way to heat up a traditional wok is on a gas stove top.

8. A wok doesn’t work well on an electric stove top

A traditional round bottomed wok is not designed to cook on an electric stove top and you need to get a wok ring. However, a wok ring does not hold the wok as steadily as a flat one. Moreover, the wok will be too far away from the heat source, so the upper metal of the wok won’t heat up well enough. A flat wok is an alternative, but it requires more cooking oil and the upper third still won’t heat up so well. On the other hand, you don’t need a high power gas stove to cook with frying pan and it will heat up very well.

9. Easier to clean up

Even a heavy frying pan is still lighter than a wok and can be easily cleaned up in a dishwasher. If you use a nonstick frying pan, you should not put it in a dishwasher, but it is much easier to clean because of its material.

To clean a wok, you have to do it immediately after cooking, while it’s still hot. You cannot use detergent with a wok, and you cannot soak it in water (the cast iron will get rusty). If you accidentally burn the food or don’t clean up the wok on time, you’ll be in a lot of trouble.

Wok Air | Omnivore's Cookbook

10. A frying pan won’t set off your fire alarm so often and make your house unlivable

If you use a wok to cook stir fried dishes properly, it will get so smoky and will set off your fire alarm constantly. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do, because wok hei (“wok air” by direct translation) is the only reason a wok works and makes the food taste so good. Wok cooking is so smoky and smelly, which is why Chinese families don’t have open kitchens (we turn on the exhaust fan, open the kitchen window, close the kitchen door, and the living room still smells like a restaurant). Cooking with a wok every day in your big open kitchen will cause you to have to repaint the walls every 3 months and the connected rooms unlivable. No kidding.

I admit, to stir fry with a frying pan generates smoke as well (in order to make better food). But the smoke is not as abundant as with a wok and you can use an exhaust fan to solve most the problem.

Final thought

A wok might be nice to have, as long as you like cooking Chinese food and want to prepare it authentically. It requires some practice and getting used to, but you will be amazed by the great smoky flavor of the stir fried dish that cooked with a wok. On the other hand, if you only cook Chinese food occasionally, only have electric stove at home, or want to use less oil in your cooking, I recommend you to invest in a high quality frying pan. Besides stir fry, a heavy bottomed frying pan could help make almost all your dishes taste better.

Now it’s your turn…

Do you prefer to use a wok or a frying pan? Leave a comment below to share your experience with us!

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Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Thomas says:

    I just got into wok cooking and it is quite challenging! While it is fun to branch out and learn the new skills associated with it, I still have a long way to go. If I want to cook something predictably and consistently, I still go for the frying pan. If I want an uncertain outcome, some fun, and a bit of a workout (that thing is heavy!), I’ll go for the wok.

    Lovely photos, by the way. They support your post beautifully.

    • Maggie says:

      I agree, wok cooking is challenging and it’ll be nice to master the skill (I haven’t yet). It does handle more food than a flat skillet, so I still use it once in a while if I need to cook for more people.
      Glad you like the photos too! 🙂

  2. Tracey says:

    Maggie, this is a wonderful post! I have often wondered if I should make the investment in a traditional wok! Now I feel like I have a better grasp of the pros and cons! If I do get one, I would probably use it outdoors on the grill to keep my house livable!

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Tracey, I’m so glad you found this one helpful! It’s a good idea to cook with wok outdoors. I think it’s quite as smoky as grilling. Lately I cook almost all the stir fried dishes with my nonstick frying pan. It’s just so convenient!

      • angelo lazzara says:

        Was wondering which non-stick frying pan you use for stir fry…doesn’t the non-stick coating emit bad chemicals into the air?

      • Maggie says:

        I’m currently using Green Pan nonstick skillet because they use material from sand and it does not contains PFOA.

  3. Nami | Just One Cookbook says:

    Hee hee this post was sort of unexpected coming from a Chinese person! 😉 But I love it. I know it requires more oil and without the proper heat sometimes it’s better to stick with what we’re comfortable with. I just need a bigger frying pan for sure. 🙂

    • Maggie says:

      Yeah, I know it sounds a bit strange for me to write a post against using wok! I just feel so comfortable cooking with frying pan.
      I think stir fried dish is a bit challenging, if you need to cook for a bunch of people. I’m using a 10 inches skillet most of the time, cooking for two or three. I think a 12 or 14 inches one will be better if you need to cook for four.

  4. C K Li says:

    Both have there pro’s and con’s. But it’s not called stir frying when you use a frying pan, you are now sauteing the food.

    • Shalryn says:

      I have to disagree. Sautéing involves much less stirring than does stir-frying, as the veggies sit undisturbed in the pan for minutes at a time during sautéing to give them that savory brown edge. Stir-frying involves getting the crisp-cooked texture without the browning. The cooking method is not dependent on the utensil in this case. I suppose that is why you can do either or both on those large flat griddles.

  5. David says:

    Hi Maggie! I actually bought a cheap non-stick wok some months ago and use it mostly for rice noodle dishes. Those high sides help keep mostly everything inside but I still end up with noodles and vegetables all over the stove top. I wanted to know which non-stick frying pan would you recommend?

    • Maggie says:

      Hi David, I use a Cephalon nonstick skillet (12″) to cook my stir fried dishes most of the time. Well, comparing to traditional stir-fry that is cooked in a wok, my cooking is more like grilling and flipping (I love using a long pair of chopsticks to cook), with some gentle stirs. Otherwise the food will be all over the stove top. I cannot use the nonstick wok for stir-fry in my current place because I only have electric stove. The wok won’t generate enough heat for stir-fry due to its small bottom.
      If you’re using nonstick frying pan to cook noodles, I recommend you to get a pair of tongs with silicon tip. After adding noodles, you can toss the noodles with ingredients with tongs instead of stirring. The sauce will mix better this way, and it won’t mess up your stove top. Maybe a bit, but not too much 😉

      • David says:

        Thanks for the advice. I did end up getting a pair of tongs so I’ve been a bit better at keeping the food in the wok!

      • Maggie says:

        You’re the most welcome David! I’m glad to hear the tongs idea was helpful 🙂

      • Randy Francisco says:


    • John F. Davidson says:

      If you are cooking with a wok and you end up with items on your stove you still have a way to go learning how to use it. It sounds like your wok is too small. We always use cast iron stovetop cookware. Not the pretty enameled stuff from Europe but the real bare cast iron. Our wok is 14 inches or bigger and a very heavy cast. All our cast iron cleans up with only hot water and a cloth. No soap should ever be used.(saves money) and never in a dishwasher(saves hydro). Some of our cookware is over 50 years old handed down for generations. How long will your aluminum non-stick toys be around before you throw them in the trash bin?

  6. JMB says:

    I thank you for this post. I have been using an electric skillet even though all the recipes call for a wok; I have been considering whether I should sacrifice the kitchen space for a wok, but after reading this, it seems like for an occasional Chinese cook like me the skillet is good ‘nuf.

    • Maggie says:

      A skillet is definitely enough! For general Chinese stir fry, you can create very close result with a skillet, as long as you heat it up enough. I only use my wok for braising and deep frying nowadays, after moving to an apartment that only has electric stove. The contacting surface of the flat wok with the stove is much smaller than a skillet, so it never generates enough heat to do any stir fry. I use my skillet for cooking all the stir fry dishes now, and they are tasted just as great 🙂

  7. James says:

    Great post. Do you have any recommendations for a nice non stick skillet?….James

    • John F. Davidson says:

      Yes. Purchase a Lodge pre-seasoned cast iron skillet. They come in several sizes up to about 14 inches and have high sides and lids avaiable if desired. Believe me if used correctly they are non-stick and cook more evenly than any aluminum skillet on the market.
      They clean with only hot tap water and a cloth. We have frypans over 50 years old, never rusted and will still be going strong in another 50 years. Do you honestly think your teflon coated wonder pan will be here that long? Get some real cookware and get some cast iron.

      • Josie says:

        But John, how long has your cookware lasted? Do you have to replace it often, you and the mouse in your pocket?

    • Joli says:

      If you get cast iron you must use it almost daily to keep it seasoned and you must must wipe out with water and reason. If you don’t use often the oil you wiped in it gets rancid. If to much oil can get sticky and gunkie and you have to pure off and start the re-season process over. I have my great grandmother’s cast iron. I’ve used it 50 years. New cast iron is not as good unless you forego cheap lodge and buy someone like Finex or about 3 other companies that cost $150 for a good smooth skillet. Lodge is pitted. They do not fine sand there skillets since early 50s. So now lodge is junk. Do you research on cast iron before you invest in it it is extremely heavy and as you get older you will find it is even harder to pick up and take care of. And cast iron is not nonstick you you can get it close to non stick by keeping it seasoned properly and taking care of it and using it often but it is not a true nonseis a true non stick piece of cookware. Although it will last many generations.

  8. James says:

    And then I opened my eyes amd read the above comment that answers my own question lol thanks again!

    • Maggie says:

      Glad to hear you find the post helpful! Happy cooking 🙂

  9. Kristy says:

    I’m using a nonstick stir fry pan from Cuisinart (Green Gourmet. Better non-stick , no oil products. Important for people who are sensitive )
    It’s an almost daily companion, not only for stir fry but also for many other dishes. The glass lid allows me to just toss in the greens / veggies at the end for a quick steam. Only one pot to clean. Calphalon makes one just like it for the budget conscious who isn’t worried about what the non-stick is made out of.
    This was a great read …thank you

    • Maggie says:

      I love the nonstick pan from Cuisinart too! I have smaller nonstick pans from them for omelet. They’re nicely built and yes, the quality is higher than Calphalon. I’m glad to hear the article is helpful 🙂

  10. David says:

    Thanks for the post! I have a generic gas stove with generic heat output. I can use my round bottom wok on it while having it touch the flame directly, but unfortunately it just doesn’t sustain the necessary heat as I see it. The food starts to steam more than fry. I’d have to put a minimal amount of food in the wok to maintain the stir frying. So it can be done, but the cast iron offers greater sustained heat with a normal amount of food. Cooks illustrated maintains the same conclusion. I can’t wait to use my wok when I get a stronger stove. I’m not discouraging others from using their wok, but for me it doesn’t quite pay off. Thanks again for posting on what I feel is a great topic

    • Maggie says:

      Hi David, I share the same problem after moving to the US. Now I have a portable gas stove that generates decent heat, and I can use my cast iron wok for stir fry to create very decent result. The cast iron wok works better than my carbon steel wok on this gas stove. And yes, I prefer to always stir fry a small amount of food all the time. It generates much better result.
      I also use my 12-inch carbon steel skillet to cook certain stir fry on my electric stove. It works well as long as I can lift the pan (the pan is very heavy) to toss the food. I end up saute the food instead of stir fry, but it’s way better than a under-heated wok.
      I’ve also try using the flat bottom cast iron wok on the electric stove, with no luck. No matter how long I preheat the wok (sometimes I over heat it), its temperature drops immediately when I added food, even a small amount.
      Hopefully we can both get a more powerful gas stove in the future 🙂

      • David Starrels says:

        Thanks so much for responding so fast! 🙂 I love discussing this stuff.

        Despite my comments, woks are beautiful and are just aesthetically really fun to use. As you demonstrate, it can totally be done, just requires a bit more maneuvering. I will afterall probably use it a bit.

        When you refer to your cast iron wok, are you referring to the traditional thin Chinese cast iron work with the characteristic looped handles, or the Joyce Chen flat bottomed one? I have been told that a carbon steel wok is just as heat inducing as a cast iron one, but perhaps I’m wrong? If so, thats a new avenue for me:)

      • Maggie says:

        I own two cast iron wok, one is Joyce Chen and the other is Lodge. both are flat bottomed. The picture in this post is the thin Chinese cast iron wok. I couldn’t bring it to my new home though. A well made carbon steel wok is working just as well. In fact, many chefs prefer to use a carbon steel wok because it’s lighter (so it’s possible to toss the food) and it’s faster to heat up (if you use a restaurant grade burner). On the other hand, I found it a bit challenging with a home gas home that does not have good output. My carbon steel wok is round bottomed and very light. The wok ring increases the distance of the wok and the flame, and does not heat up fast enough. I’m planning to purchase a better quality carbon steel wok that is much more heavier than the one I have. It’s just like cast iron wok or any other pan, a heavier one retain heat better and heat up evenly. That is very important if your stove is powerful enough. I will keep doing experiment and see how it goes. Btw, not really related, but this is how a chef uses cast iron wok https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nn2PJ9DnMSc&feature=related (see how large the stove is) I found it fascinating 🙂

  11. Mike G. says:

    I recently read a similar article arguing that the usual unavailability of really high heat at home can be resolved by resort to a large frying pan or pot instead of a wok. I used my trusty large Le Creuset Dutch oven to stir fry a bunch of veggies on my gas stove and they turned out great. I first heated the Dutch oven on my “superburner” and then poured in a little over 2 TBS of corn oil before serially adding the veggies in the order in which they’d cook, and stirring only every minute or so. (I used celery, red pepper, green and red onions, asparagus, zucchini, a stalk of kale, about a TBS of fresh Italian/Chinese parsley, and one of those plastic containers of shredded broccoli, cabbage, and carrots that are easy to find marked down in the produce dept.) I added the broth at then end but skipped adding the usual cornstarch roux, and it wasn’t missed. The broth was a mixture of the liquid from a 28 oz. can of Mexican carrots w/ jalapenos, from a 14 oz. can of ‘shrooms and from a regular can of chicken noodle soup, spiced up w/ some ginger, lo-so soy sauce, black bean sauce, basil, and ginger. Needless to say, I did NOT add any more salt. The combination worked very well and since I used a lot of fast-ripening veggies, the proportions were about right, if perhaps a bit too liquidy. Easy to solve that by reducing the liquids next time, but the flavors turned out well and it went perfectly over steamed rice. And the “innards” of the chicken noodle soup? They went into the mix at the very end, the noodles making for a nice addition to it all.

    • Maggie says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience Mike! I agree with you, it is very difficult to generate high heat at home even with a gas range. After moving to the US, I start to use heavy carbon steel fry pan and cast iron deep skillet to cook stir fries, and the food always turns out great. The heating mechanism changes because you’re “grilling” the food instead of using “wok air” and “sear”, and will lose smokiness, but that is a trade off for cooking with a less powerful stove. The food will still taste good.
      Chicken innards are the best! Sometimes I simply salt and pepper them and roast them in the pan with a bit wine. Great idea to add them into stir fried veggies. That sounds so delicious!
      Thanks for taking time and leaving a thoughtful comment! I will need to try out your recipe because I’m sure the dish will turn out awesome 🙂

  12. RossC says:

    I use a small carbon steel wok (just 2 of us) and CI fry pans …
    I have a wonderful Chef Fai Lee recipe for Chicken Asparagus in Oyster Sauce Stir Fry which I have made with the wok for us and the larger CI pan for company.. Both were very good but, I do believe that we liked the wok made stir fry better..
    Perhaps it was just in our minds but, to me, Asian dishes deserve my wok… :O)

  13. Ariel says:

    I like your post on fry pan vs. wok. Yet I wonder what happens when you need to cook for a family a stir and fry meal? Most of the frying pans are to shallow to prepare food for more than 2 people. At the moment I am looking into buying a wok. One of the woks that I consider to buy is lodge pro logic cast iron wok. It has round bottom for cooking but the part that seats on the stove is flat so you can use it on electric stove. The big cons on the reviews are its weight, so basically no flipping (Is that important?) and that it takes longer time to reach working temperature. Did you hear about this wok? What is your opinion on using a cast iron wok?

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Ariel, this is one tricky question to answer. The sad fact is, I’ve never seen a pan that is large enough to cook for four or more people. Back in China, my mom would make two stir fried dishes for our family of three.
      The best you can do is buy a large wok, which generates about 3 to 4 servings for dishes that contains one protein and vegetables, or 2 to 3 servings if you’re cooking fried noodles or fried rice. Most Chinese cookbooks will recommend cook less than 12 ounces meat at a time, even with a wok. I’ve tried with one pound meat and that is already pushing limit. One solution is stir fry food in smaller batches, and mix them with the stir fry sauce in the end. The other option is to cook two dishes, for example, one protein serving as main, and a vegetable side (which usually takes 2 to 3 minutes to cook).
      To answer your question about the wok, I wouldn’t recommend the lodge cast iron wok if you are using electric stove. I own that wok and love it when cooking over gas stove. But it takes forever to heat up over an electric stove, and you could easily overheat (or underheat) it. When I add food, the pan temperature drops immediately and takes too long to get hot again. The problem is, that wok has a small bottom that only fit the smaller heat element on my stove. It’s definitely not hot enough for making stir fries.
      My current favorite stir fry pan is the carbon steel Debuyer deep skillet: http://amzn.to/2gbkPIt (I own a few woks by the way, just for testing and experiments). It has a bottom that is large enough to fit the large heat element, so it heats up much faster. The pan is also heavy, which holds heat better, but still lighter than the cast iron pan (5 lbs vs. 10 lbs). It’s slightly easier to handle. You don’t need to move the pan while cooking, but you still need to clean it while it’s hot (both cast iron and carbon steel require special care). You need to put on oven mitts while dealing with the cast iron pan and it can be quite a bit workout.
      There is no perfect solution. Hopefully you’re able pick one that works for you!

  14. Ariel says:

    Hi Maggie, Thanks for the fast response and explanation. I looked into your recommendation, De Buyer deep pan. Since it is made of carbon steel, How did you season it? How do you maintain this pan? Do you use metal wok turner when you cook with that pan? Does tossing food while you cooking gives anything to the food? I know that I ask lots of questions. But as they say where I come from “I have learned from all my teachers”. Thanks again and happy holidays.

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Ariel, to answer your questions:
      – Season the pan: I use hot water and a scrub to wash the pan thoroughly first. To season the pan, rub with a thin layer of oil, then heat it up on stove until the oil just to smoke. Kept it on the stove for another 30 to 40 seconds, then remove it from the stove to cool. Once the pan is completely cooled down, I repeat the process a few times until the bottom turns brown. 3 times will be enough to start using the pan, but 5 to 6 times will make the pan even better.
      – Maintain: rinse the pan with hot water and scrub with a brush after cooking. Dry thoroughly with towel (sometimes I also put the pan back to the hot burner for a few minutes, to make sure it’s dried). Then rub a thin layer of oil with paper towel.
      – Spatula: I usually use my silicon spatula (a metal spatula might damage the seasoning if it’s a new pan) and sometimes the metal spatula. Both has long handle and edges on the sides of the spatula to help you transfer the food.
      – Tossing food: it’s just a way to cook the food evenly and make sure the season is evenly distributed. It can be accomplish by tossing the pan, tossing with a spatula or a pair of tongs (for noodles). On the other hand, tossing (especially pan tossing) will drop the pan temperature, especially when you add a lot of raw ingredients. So use it moderately.
      Please feel free to ask any questions 🙂
      Happy New Year!

  15. Fred Wolfe says:

    Maggie, I am a newly joined member and I enjoy your site very much. A few questions. I noticed that you mentioned that you had a portable gas burner and an electric stove top, as I do [I hate the electric stove top]. When do you use the gas burner? Isn’t it faster to heat and cool with compared with an electric burner? Portable induction burners generate a lot of heat quickly. Do you see a role for them? Finally, how about pans like multi-metal All-Clad. Why are they better or worse than carbon steel? Thanks. Fred

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Fred, I use the gas burner when I test my stir fry recipes or whenever I cook for friends or a party. I rarely set it up for weekday dinner, because it’s a bit too consuming for me. I would give it a permanent space in my kitchen if I have enough space.
      Re portable induction burners – I wouldn’t use it because you can not adjust the heat as fast as gas burner. Plus you still need to use a flat bottom skillet. Unless your wok has a large enough bottom, it still won’t generate high heat fast enough to heat up the whole pan.
      Re multi-metal All-Clad: if the it has nonstick coating, then you actually can use it on an electric stove for cooking small servings, because you cannot heat it up too high anyway (it will damage the coating). For all-clad stainless steel, I wouldn’t recommend it for Chinese style stir fry. Because you always use cornstarch to marinate the meat and making sauce, which will stick to the pan no matter how well you heat it up.
      As for material, cast iron and carbon steel are the top choices when you want to use super high heat with a nonstick surface. Carbon steel wok is lighter than cast iron one, so many Chinese restaurant use the carbon steel round bottom wok as a top choice which allows them to toss the food. For me, I use both carbon steel pan and a deep skillet (almost like round bottom wok) because they are slightly lighter than my cast iron pan, and heavy enough to hold heat well.
      On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind using a nonstick skillet for a quick stir fry (depends on the dish I cook), because it can be just as efficient.
      Finally, I always judge my pan (or wok) by its weight and I always prefer a heavier pan no matter what material it’s made from. The heavier the pan, it holds heat better and make tastier food.

  16. K Chen says:

    Or you could be lazy and buy a flat bottom nonstick wok. 😀
    Best of both worlds.

    • Maggie says:

      I do use a heavy duty carbon steel flat bottom wok sometimes when I do some serious cook. It can heat up a bit hotter than the nonstick, but heavy to handle.
      I hope I can find a good nonstick wok soon!

      • Jay says:

        For me 2 main cons of a wok that you mentioned – smoke that sets up alarm and make apartment smell like a restaurant, and storing/cleaning headache. However there are some pros that I like – you can use a wok for deep frying and steaming, so with some skill a wok will become quite multifunctional.
        Great article – I do see how frying pan for just stir frying is plainly so much less hassle.

      • Maggie says:

        I totally agree with you Jay. I still keep a wok at home for the sake of deep frying and steaming. In fact nowadays those are the only times when I pull out my wok 🙂

      • Karen says:

        I must say that, reading through this post, I was not convinced! Thinking about it, however, I’ve read before that home stoves do not reach the temperature necessary for great stir-frying. This is where I also believe a problem with the hard anodised non-stick lies: it just overheats too easily. So there seems to be no easy way out!

      • Maggie says:

        Hi Karen, I totally agree with you. My solutions are:
        (1) use a heavy-duty nonstick pan, so it builds up the heat slowly and holds heat well without overheating easily.
        (2) I also own a heavy-duty carbon still pan. It develops the patina over time and becomes nonstick. It’s by far the best tool to stir-fry using a home stoves and sears food beautifully. It is quite heavy, but not as heavy as a cast iron pan.
        I discovered the carbon steel pan setup very recently. You could look at my other post if you’re interested in this topic:
        I guess there is no best solution for all, but you could always use the next best setup to make very decent stir fries at home 🙂

  17. Randy Francisco says:

    After many attempt to season my carbon steel wok correctly, use it on my electric stove, and keep food from sticking, I decided life is too short for that. I now use a TFAL 12″ skillet on an induction plate. SUPER! Less oil, great searing at high temps, with great color and flavor in the vegetables. TFAL heavy bottom skillets will handle very high temps and induction gives you the control not present with electric coils. Great results.

    • Maggie says:

      Using a carbon steel wok on an electric stove had been a disaster for me. Now I use a heavy duty carbon steel skillet when I want to sear meat, and I use my nonstick skillet for stir frying most of the time.
      It’s interesting to hear your comment on the induction stove. I’ve heard great words about it and how easy it is to control heat. I will definitely look into it. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise 🙂

      • Randy Francisco says:

        Thanks for your response. Another option: I recently acquired a ceramic coated induction ready wok which works at high temperatures on the induction hob and is good for folks who might be trying to get by with a bit less oil (and smoke).. Now that the weather is better here in Seattle, I have used my carbon steel wok outside on the propane burner, where it works best.If I use it enough out there (before the rain sets in again) I will finally get it seasoned properly.

      • Maggie says:

        Wow I’ve never considered a ceramic coated wok! Didn’t even know it exists. Just briefly checked the review on Amazon and it looks great. Maybe it’s the ultimate answer to indoor stir fry 🙂 I’m sure it works better on an induction burner than the electric. But nonetheless I’d love to give it a try.
        Oh yes using carbon steel wok outdoor is the best way. Hopefully I’ll able to do that setup after we move to a bigger place.
        Re season the wok, I always rub a very thin layer of oil after you clean and dry the wok once finish cooking, then heat it briefly on the stove. It helps to speed up the seasoning. Eventually when the wok turns to a beautiful black color you can stop this step.

  18. Abraham.b.a says:

    i have an old wok given by my late granpa (he used to owns a chinese food stall) that is still alive and frying until now. Taking care of a wok is not that hard, true it gets rusty if you let it sit too long, but even a 2-4 times a week of cooking is enough to keep it usable, also, its okay to clean it in detergent and wash it with a soap, mine’s not rusty from all of that at all. That being said, non-stick is also great to have and use when im feeling lazy. Its just that i love durable thing and i consider it as the swiss-army knife of pan 😀


    • Maggie says:

      Hi Abraham, I totally agree with you that a wok is great for stir frying and not that difficult to maintain. My current issue is that we only have an electric stove at home and it’s impossible to use the traditional carbon steel wok. I’m hoping to move to a place with gas stove again so I finally make stir fries properly 🙂

  19. Kathy Smith says:

    I am a professional chef. But I don’t know about wok and how to cook or how to use a wok. But to read your article I get enough knowledge on wok. Really wok is a special cooking pan.

  20. Smith says:

    Wow, This is so interesting. I use stir fry to for cook my food. It is really necessary to cook my food. I use this for a couple of month. Thanks of share this resourceful article.

  21. Kathy Smith says:

    Thanks for your content. I am so confused to buy Carbon steel wok. Then I am confident to buy this product. Waiting for other resources.

  22. Kathy says:

    I simply got into cooking pan change of state and it’s quite challenging! I make sure preheating my pan over medium heat for a minute before adding in any oil. Thanks .

  23. TOM says:

    This article seems to have been written and commented upon about 2014. Three years later, I run across it and I guess I am the exception. I started using a wok as my main and my only pan in college. I had no idea what I was doing but it seemed to handle everything I needed to cook. It was a soup pot, a steamer, a frying pan, a smoker, and so on. I learned more as I got older and as I learned more, I respected woks and wok cooking more and more. I use and love several woks but my main pan is a 14″ carbon steel. It along with a 3 quart pot and a pressure cooker are really all I need in the kitchen to make wonderful meals. I make crepes, soups, stir fry, oven roasted chicken, omelets, fried anything, deserts, and so much more in my wok. I can see the reason to recommend a skillet to beginners but if you use – and I mean really use a wok like the Chinese rural population does, it can be about the only tool you need.

  24. Estella McCall says:

    When my husband and I were dating, 28 years ago, we saw an ad for a wok from China. It is not made of cast iron, but a thin metal. It was our first purchase together. We have used it all these years on a gas stove and have enjoyed the results, but I agree that it takes a lot of oil to do fried rice. It came with utensils but we have since purchased better quality ones. I’m intrigued by the frying pan method and may give it a try.

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Estella, I’m pretty sure the one you used was a carbon steel wok. I enjoy using carbon steel pan a lot too, because it becomes nonstick once you developed the patina. In fact I’m using one now in my kitchen, only the bottom is flat. I use my nonstick pan to make fried noodles and rice so it uses less oil. I switch to the carbon steel one when I want to sear chicken and steak very well. Definitely try out the frying pan method, but I think a wok might work just well for you if you have a gas stove at home 🙂

  25. kathy says:

    Thank you so much for the information! I just purchased a small nonstick fry pan, the first ever, and am amazed at how wonderful it is to cook in. I am excited modern Chinese cooking. there are many recipe.

  26. Mac says:

    Highly value and appreciate this candid perspective born from experience, skills and most of all, credibility given your Chinese upbringing. I absolutely love authentic Chinese stir fry. Despite being passionate about food preparation and cooking, and having these skills, your article has led me to change my plan to purchase and attempt stir frying via wok. I’ll stick to what I know/ do well. And get my stir fry from the experts — local Chinese restaurant chefs! In the process, avoid the excessive oil and smoke. Thanks much!

  27. Kathy Smith says:

    Hi Maggie,
    Looks Delicious! Thanks for sharing your tips. I get more ideas from it. I love wok and am looking for best wok to buy.

  28. Helene says:

    Dear Maggie,
    Thanks again for this post, you confirmed my initial thoughts about the newer generation of PFOA-free non stick pans. I have ultra conservatives trying to tell me otherwise regarding chinese stir frying and cooking with high heat.

  29. Skye says:

    SO glad I happened to come across this post. Our household has been having a debate about the differences between a wok, a skillet and a frying pan. Some very interesting ideas have been thrown on the table, but I’m still none the wiser. Unfortunately we have an electric stove that has four hotplates, each with a different personality!! 😉 One is angry and very hot, one is angrier and hotter, another is angrier and hotter than the first two and then there’s the ‘I think I can be’ hotplate, but actually cannot. It’s very frustrating. I purchased an electric frying pan but I’ve caught splatteritis … oil goes EVERYWHERE! If anyone has any tips/tricks, please share. I also came across this link on how to prevent splatter should anyone else be frustrated like moi. Cheers from New Zealand. 🙂


  30. emma says:

    Stir fry using a large wok is easier and produce better-tasting food.

    Sauting with a frying pan means you have to careful not to push the food outside the pan. With a large wok, you can relax and don’t need to worry.

    Traditional stir frying involve a shevel-like spetula that turns food up side down often, which sauting cannot do. The large amount of motion of stir frying makes food evenly-coated with oil and evenly cooked. The stir-fried dishes definitely taste better than non-stir fried ones , which I think most Chinese cook would agree.

  31. Diana Gabriel says:

    What brand of frying pan would you suggest. I can’t season my work, there is to much smoke & end up scrubbing the burned black Mark’s inside. Besides I have an electric stove which I do not like cooking on but have no other choice. I need a good recommendation from you who knows how to stir fry without such a mess. I love Oriental food, but have so much trouble with the wok. I would also like to start with some easy recipes as I’m a beginner & trying to cook healthy dishes for my family. Please help with a frying pan recommendation & starter recipes for a new beginner. Thank you for your time & patience. Diana

  32. Jill Merchant says:

    I appreciate your article, I wanted a wok & now I don’t, you saved me time & $. I realize for my needs, I really don’t need one ! Thank you !

  33. Julie Moravia says:

    I really really hate this post, not because it’s not good information but because I recently decided to spring for a wok which, as you mentioned, costs money and takes up space, needlessly, in my small kitchen. I wish I had seen this post before I bought my nice new wok. Oh well, perhaps I will keep it and use it on a charcoal or hickory wood fire grill during the summer months.

  34. Belinda says:

    I got the idea that I should buy a wok and am so glad that I came across your article. Your are right–real wok cooking is way over my beginner skill level. Thanks for saving me money and cabinet space!

  35. Elaine says:

    I have been inspired to try cooking with a wok. But I only used it once before in foods class in highschool. I there’s a lot of things I never considered tho. I’m only beginning. I guess in the future I’ll get on if I end up making lots of Asian foods.

  36. Dom says:

    Ever since i pick-up a round bottom wok, I’m beginning to find my frying pan extra items that take up too much space.. So i threw all away and kept 2 small ones for frying eggs, pan cakes, and less important cooking like re-heating.

    I discover wok cooking is much versatile than frying pan, and uses less oil. I use a cast iron and another is a carbon steel. The heat is very much ideal for my cooking style and timing was great. It helps when i need to stir fry for 6-10 members at home. I practically cook everything on my wok now, even steaks. Maintenance is not as difficult as many parts it, and it’s everlasting and i find the cost of ownership is an advantage. For any person who lives alone or in pairs, i think a wok would not be necessary. However, i do have a friend who lives alone, but enjoys cooking in a wok.

  37. Linda Landy says:

    what about an electric wok like Breville?

    • Maggie says:

      I’ve never used one before so I cannot really comment on it. Judging from the description, it says the temperature goes up to 425 F, which is not quite hot enough for my own preference. However I do see a lot of positive comments so maybe it’s worth trying?

  38. Levi J. Fowler says:

    Maggie, I know I that this thread is years old, but I just wanted to say that I appreciate your thoughts. I went into this article a sceptic, but as I read it, I realize that you are right.

    I use my wok every day, usually twice. The idea that a non-stick could be better than a wok seemed about as rational as a serrated 菜刀.

    Reading your article, I see that you are absolutely right. I use nearly all carbon and cast iron cookware, and I know how to use a wok well. Someone who was only used to stainless or Teflon truly would have a tough time getting even the most basic things to stir fry well. Things that seem so natural to me, like the Chinese “marinade” to help meat separate or the splash of 料酒 at the edges require knowledge that a couple lot of people don’t have. In any case, your insight has been very helpful to me, and I appreciate it.

  39. Terry says:

    My biggest challenge when stir frying in a fry pan has been finding the right spatula. A wok spatula fits the contours of a wok. A pancake flipper or fish flipper is good for flipping food in the center of the pan, but not for scooping and turning food that gets stuck to the vertical side of the frying pan.

    • Randy Francisco says:

      Had the same problem. Finally started using two flatish ended spatulas, one in each hand, to pick up and move the food. Works better than anything else and keeps the food in the ballpark.

  40. Danielle Frankenfield says:

    Thank you for schooling me! I had no idea what’s involved with using a wok – I’m gonna stick with the classic frying pan 👌🏼

  41. Kenni says:

    This was the exact comparison and feedback I was looking! I was considering a wok to make a vermicelli noodle dinner. But I think I’ll just use my frying pan.

  42. joel lippman says:

    Liked your article thought it was very informative. I am retired chef who has just gotten interested in cooking authentic Asian foods so I can get all the garlic, onions and ginger I want in my diet for arthritis relief. I am really enjoying all the crunchy veggies and love the noodles which I am not a big pasta fan. I have an Ikea, oumbarlig non stick wok and I love it. I can toss my fried rice and veggie stir fries and I’m not constantly picking up flying stuff. I installed a HD burner ring on my electric stove and after a little practice I am learning to get better every time I use it. At first I used a frying pan and it would be fine if I didn’t have a wok but I love the wok. I did buy a 13″ skillet like pan to make egg foo young patties and for pad thai , especially when it comes to putting in the eggs. I did try a carbon steel wok, everything stuck and it was cured too. and a different non stick wok that didn’t have high sides like the Ikea and returned them both. for me the thing I didn’t like about the non stick Ikea at first is I have never been a fan of silicone cooking tools but found some that are very rigid and gotten used to them. Really enjoying all the veggie dishes especially the eggplant in garlic sauce and hope all of you have the same great experience I ma having learning a new wonderful cuisine.

  43. Marianne Gizzi says:

    I was really thinking about getting a wok. Your article helped me decide. No wok.

  44. Bob says:

    I use a Lodge cast iron wok on a gas stove, and if you let it heat up for 5 minutes, wow, it’s amazing. I used to have an electric stove, and no matter what kind of wok I used – and I tried them all – they were all disappointing. Flat bottom, round bottom with a ring, steel, non-stick…so frustrating. The Lodge changed everything. Round on the inside, flat on the outside, with a huge thermal mass. It changed my life. And now on gas, it’s the real deal. But you need very good ventilation!

    • Maggie Zhu says:

      I’ve tried the Lodge cast iron wok in the past and I love its performance on a gas range. However, I have trouble with it when I used it on an electric stove. The bottom tends to heat up a bit too hot before the side of the wok heats up, so sometimes I ended up with burned spices while the food is not properly cooked. I think it’s because the flat surface is still quite small. Or maybe my electric stove was extra weak…

  45. Anthony Shydohub says:

    A wok is great for a Chinese restaurant, not for your home. Not practical, smoky, too much oil, etc.
    A large saute pan on an electric cooktop works for me and it can get very hot, if needed.

  46. Ray says:

    I don’t agree at all with this. First off, there are plenty of non-stick woks out there, so using less oil as a result also applies to woks. The base is also much smaller than a 12 inch skillet, allowing you to use even less oil than the skillet. The high walls allow you to push the food that’s on the bottom, to the top, making it much easier to “stir” the food as it fries, giving you more consistent frying results.

  47. Peter Foy says:

    I have an induction hob top and a flat bottomed non-stick coated wok (by Stellar) and get acceptable results.

  48. Judith Mack says:

    I’ve just been watching the very funny videos made by a British comedian of Malaysian descent, Nigel Ng where, in his stage persona “Uncle Roger”, he roasts chefs for not making fried rice to his liking – which is in the Malaysian way. He is outraged that Jamie Oliver uses a frying pan, not a wok. Glad to find your article discussing the pros and cons. I’m not quite clear as to whether the temperature of the oil in a frying pan is meant to be lower than in a wok; it would have to be, wouldn’t it, or the food would burn from so much contact with the base of the pan.

  49. Morgan W says:

    I use a round bottom wok, but only because (in my parents house) there is a special high BTU gas burner on their stovetop. You definitely need everything prepped and to have the steps memorized because it cooks so quickly. When I lived in FL and had a regular gas stove and used a wok it would take too long to cook or wouldn’t get hot enough. If I ever build my own house, a high BTU burner will be on my ‘want’ list for my kitchen!

  50. Anne Coles says:

    Your article on using a frying pan was so helpful. I’ve just prepared a stirfry for 4 and wanted to try a frying pan but doubtful. I have a small wok which I used previously on my gas cooker but because I hadn’t got the stand for it, I knocked it over got slightly burnt, had to clean the kitchen floor and start again and didn’t want a repetition.

  51. Bert says:

    Can I use my regular de Buyer Carbon Steel Frying pan to do stir fries? I am using electric stove

    • Maggie Zhu says:

      Yes! That’s my favorite pan to use and it works great on an electric stove.

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