Updated on April 2023
Which is better: Cast iron Vs Carbon Steel Wok
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Traditionally woks are made of iron. Due to corrosion, now woks come in a variety of materials. Among them, cast iron and carbon steel woks are the top two choices. But which one is better than the other?
Stir-frying With a Cast Iron vs Carbon steel wok:
Stir fry is a high-heat cooking technique. You need your wok to interact with the heat rapidly and cook crispier, juicier food outside and tender inside. For this, you need the wok material to be great at heat conduction and distribution so that your stir fry does not turn out to be soggy.
Best wok carbon steel or cast iron:
Cast iron woks are always better at cooking stir fry than carbon steel woks. Cast iron has better thermal conductivity than carbon steel wok. It retains heat well and even if the temperature of your gas hob fluctuates it will hold the heat for a longer period and does not turn your stir fry soggy as compared to a carbon steel wok. Carbon steel wok is a good distributor of heat but not a great retainer. And here cast iron beats carbon steel wok in efficiency.
While buying a cast iron wok make sure it is hand punched and made with heavy-duty cast iron. As cast iron is more fragile than carbon steel. A sturdy cast iron wok with a round bottom, commercial-grade handle, and manufactured with the technique of hand punching or hand hammering is the best wok to buy. One such wok is offered by HOUSHIYU in many different sizes and they guarantee complete satisfaction which is very rare for a brand to offer.
Does that mean carbon steel woks are not good? Well as compared to cast iron wok at stir-frying, carbon steel wok does occupy the second position. But when compared with the ease of usage it tops the list and can be a deal-breaker for a beginner.
Difference Between Carbon Steel and Cast Iron Wok:
Here is a table dedicated to the differences between cast iron and carbon steel wok. For more details please read the entire article.
Carbon Steel Wok Vs Cast Iron Wok For a Beginner
Over the years wok owners are divided between the suitability of using a carbon steel wok and the cooking ability of a cast iron wok. And for a beginner, it is a crucial decision to make. A wok not only needs constant seasoning but also better care to make it long-lasting. Your cast iron wok can easily become like this if not taken care of properly.
For a beginner, it is a lot of work. And that’s why carbon steel woks are very popular among beginners. Here are some features of a good carbon steel wok–
- As compared to cast iron carbon steel woks are lightweight hence easy to toss and turn the food.
- Carbon steel woks are more durable than cast iron. I have broken 3 cast iron woks at camping as I dropped them from my hand.
- Like cast iron, carbon steel woks do not need extreme care.
- Carbon steel woks are more affordable than a good quality cast iron wok.
Seasoning Process: Cast iron vs Carbon Steel Wok
Cast iron and carbon steel made wok have the same seasoning process. However, carbon steel woks may retain seasoning for long as cast iron woks need frequent deep cleaning to keep them good at functioning.
You can avoid the seasoning process by buying a cast iron wok that is enameled. An enameled cast iron wok is very healthy to use as it does not need much oil. It is easy to clean because of the smooth nonstick surface and you also get the benefit of better thermal conductivity as it is cast iron.
However, an enameled cast iron wok like this one from Le Creuset can be costly and not everybody can afford it. Also, carbon steel woks are available with nonstick coatings so that you can avoid the seasoning process. To be honest those are a waste of money. Nonstick coating on high heat is not at all durable and will definitely chip off at some point.
My take on this would be:
There is no difference in the seasoning process of a carbon steel or cast iron wok. And as a beginner, if you want to avoid the seasoning process, try pre-seasoned woks. These woks come ready-made to use. For the first few turns, you don’t need to season them, as they are already seasoned with vegetable oil.
Once you get the hang of wok cooking you might want to start seasoning your wok. Follow a good guideline for seasoning.
Cleaning and Storing: Cast iron Vs Carbon Steel Wok
Maintaining a carbon steel wok for a longer period demands your time and effort. From cleaning to storing, there are several dos and don’ts.
However, cast iron woks require more consistent care than carbon steel woks to keep them in good health for years.
Popular cast iron woks like from Lodge Pro logic are extremely cheap hence buyers tend to buy them a lot. But these woks come at a hefty price of tough and time-consuming cleaning and maintenance.
If you are buying a high-end cast iron wok like the Le Creuset enameled cast iron wok (Amazon Link) then things will be far easier and smooth for you. This enameled wok cleans very easily and does not need to season or take extreme care when storing.
But not all can afford an expensive cast iron wok. And the issue with a low-end cast iron wok is they are fragile and tough to maintain.
Is Cast Iron more durable than carbon steel wok?
Heavy-duty cast iron is more durable than carbon steel wok. But when it comes to a light cast iron wok the picture changes a lot. Here is my own experience.
Lightweight cast iron wok vs carbon steel wok:
With low-end or cast iron woks below $50, the problem is they break easily.
I am not kidding. I have broken at least 3 cast iron woks that are lightweight and easy to use while camping.
In camping, you cannot carry those heavy-duty 9 pound cast iron woks. So, I bought the lightweight cast iron ones and broke them, because accidents happen.
So, to be clear, I am not saying cheap cast iron woks are in general fragile. If you take care of them or carry them around carefully, they might have a long life. On campings, I will definitely not recommend you to buy a lightweight cast iron wok.
Here carbon steel performs better. I will talk about it in the next point. However, for regular use at home, or in an outdoor kitchen you can go with a heavy cast iron wok.
Because obviously, you don’t need to backpack them, so even if they are heavy and a bit costly they are a worthy investment because of their durability. They are assets and often passed on as heirlooms.
Chef’s Favorite Material: Cast iron vs Carbon Steel Wok
Do you know which wok material Chinese Chefs prefer the most?
Chefs mostly use carbon steel made woks, as they are lightweight and durable. Tough carbon steel can withstand, daily commercial beating and does not warp on high heat. Also, these woks are convenient to toss and flip food while stir-frying.
This process of tossing is called ‘Pow action’. The pow action is responsible for creating or bringing the ‘wok-hei’ or smoky flavor to your stir-fry. With lightweight cast iron woks, you can do that too.
In the durability debate of cast iron or carbon steel wok, I am with a carbon steel wok. Because the thin carbon steel woks are far more forgiving when you don’t handle them with care.
After the accidents with cast iron woks, I went camping many times with my carbon steel wok. They are light and durable hence easy to use and carry.
At home, for regular use too a lightweight carbon steel wok is a great choice. They are not expensive. An authentic hand-hammered carbon steel wok from my favorite manufacturer Mammafong both round and flat bottom cost around $65.
I bought this wok lid recently from Mammafong because why not. A lid maximizes the functionality of a wok and now I can use my wok for steaming, deep-frying, braising, searing, etc.
Thermal Conductivity: Cast iron vs Carbon steel wok
The thermal conductivity of a wok pan is essential to note before buying because we want a wok that provides even heating, is able to retain a lot of heat, and quickly senses the temperature changes and adjusts accordingly.
As I have mentioned earlier, the cast iron wok has slightly better thermal conductivity than a carbon steel wok, but if you have a good quality carbon steel wok then it might not be the case.
A heavy-duty cast iron wok is a better thermal conductor, which means it evenly heats the food, retains heat, and responds quickly to heat fluctuation. Whereas if you compare a lightweight cast iron wok with an authentic hand-hammered carbon steel wok, then the carbon steel wok is a better heat conductor here.
The quality of a cast iron wok highly depends on this situation. A heavy-duty cast iron wok like the one offered by HOUSHIYU is best in this regard.
When choosing between cast iron and carbon steel wok, if you have no problem with a heavyweight wok, then I will highly recommend going for a cast iron wok.
But if you prefer a lightweight yet durable wok that can help you cook the perfect stir fry, the hand-hammered carbon steel woks are the ones to go with.
Carbon steel woks are very affordable than cast iron woks. There are some cheap cast iron woks available, but I don’t recommend them. A good cast iron wok will cost you around $80 whereas a good carbon steel wok can be found for under $60. The price difference between these two materials solely depends on the supply and demand of the wok. Carbon steel woks are more popular than cast iron woks because of their ease of use. Certainly so, prices of carbon steel woks are lower than cast iron woks.
Cast iron is better at stir-frying than carbon steel wok. But they are hard to take care of. Also, cast iron woks are heavier, less durable, and costlier. For a beginner, a carbon steel wok is a great starting point and certainly a good investment. In the future, if you want to level up your stir-frying game then opt for a cast iron wok. I don’t think you will regret buying any of them.
Best Carbon Steel Wok Recommended by Wokware
Mammafong 14 inch Traditional Hand Hammered Round Bottom Carbon Steel Pow Wok Set
Editor at Wokware
She is an expert in the niche of kitchenware for 10 years now. She has given readers fact based, well researched, to the point answers of their valuable questions. Her goal is to simplify kitchen products and their utilities.