Cast Iron Woks vs. Carbon Steel Woks

by R7 eagle | Last Updated:  April 10, 2021
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Cast Iron Woks vs. Carbon Steel Woks. Everything You Need to Know

If you’ve read enough cooking-related articles, you might already know that woks are among the most versatile and useful utensils in a kitchen. Here we look at the differences between the two most commonly used materials for woks, cast iron, and carbon steel. We also look at the similarities between the two, and finally, which works best for you.

1.Material

Cast iron woks comprise of pure iron and carbon. While the carbon accounts for only a little above 2%, it is more than its percentage of carbon steel woks. That’s interesting, huh?

Carbon steel woks comprise an alloy of iron and carbon (under 2%). Unlike cast iron that has been around for thousands of years, carbon steel woks have existed since the 19th century. The mixture of elements in this allows them to be much thinner woks (~3mm).

2.Heat Retention and Distribution

Cast iron woks are slow to heat but work well in retaining the heat. One of the main reasons for this property is the thickness. The most common woks made out of this material have a thickness of approximately a centimeter (~ 9 mm).

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Carbon steel woks are quick to gain heat and lose it. It is ideal if you’re planning on making multiple batches of flatbread (Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. Check out this hack to cook flatbreads with a wok).

3.Shape and Weight

Manufacturing units tend to make cast iron woks from a single piece of metal. These tend to weigh much more than others and have uneven surfaces with larger pores. Seasoning usually helps eliminate the unevenness to a great extent.

Carbon steel woks are usually fabricated from sheets of malleable metal and thus have a more even surface. It weighs much less than cast iron. If it needs to move to and fro, it’s much less of a hassle.

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4.Ideal Use-case

Cast iron is ideal for searing, stewing, baking, braising, and pan-frying.

Carbon steel is ideal for stir-frying, pan-frying, roasting, baking, and searing.

Cast Iron Woks vs. Carbon Steel Woks: Similarities Between The Two

Both work well on induction stoves because of the ferromagnetic materials in them.
Both improve over time as you season them. More seasoning means a better non-stick coating.
Both do not favor washing with harsh detergents.
Both are prone to damage when used for acidic sauces etc. The acidic nature damages the seasoning.

Induction Stoves That Can be Used With Both Types of Woks

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Cast Iron Woks vs. Carbon Steel Woks: Which is Better?

While cast-iron woks have more history and were favored back in the day, many modern chefs around the world prefer carbon steel just as much. Rather than one being better than the other, the real determining factor is the use-case.

If you plan on cooking thick slices of meat, whole chicken, etc. cast iron woks work best. These woks are prone to retaining thermal energy for longer. On the other hand, if you are looking to cook food that requires rapid temperature changes (fish or veggies), carbon steel works better. Carbon steel releases heat just as quickly as it absorbs it.

There is no clear winner here. While cast iron has a richer history, the real difference will lie in what you plan on cooking. Depending on this, choose the material that “woks” for you.