Tools

Wok vs. Frying Pan: When Should You Use Each Pan?

Never wonder again which pan you should be reaching for.

By Kara Elder
May 23, 2024

Investing in the right piece of cookware for your kitchen can make a big difference in your cooking. This is especially true with everyday items like woks and frying pans. While both have their place in your kitchen, a wok and frying pan have specific different uses at which they both excel due to their different size, shape, and construction.

Read on to see which would be best for you, or if it's be better to give both a try.

Table of Contents

    Investing in the right piece of cookware for your kitchen can make a big difference in your cooking. This is especially true with everyday items like woks and frying pans. While both have their place in your kitchen, a wok and frying pan have specific different uses at which they both excel due to their different size, shape, and construction.

    Read on to see which would be best for you, or if it's be better to give both a try.

    Understanding the Wok

    vegetables in wok

    A wok is a traditional Chinese cooking vessel perfected over thousands of years. The wok is widely used in many East Asian cuisines, and you’ll see them in different sizes and materials, from non stick to stainless steel to cast iron. While woks traditionally feature round bottoms—made to fit onto specific wok burners that surround the wok with flames—you can also find flat-bottomed woks, made to fit on Western-style cooking ranges. Woks are used for a variety of cooking tasks, though they excel at high-heat dishes like stir fries.

    Our Wok, made from our Award-Winning Carbon Steel, features a flat bottom to work on all standard stoves, including gas, electric, and induction cooktops. Carbon steel is also lightweight, maintains and distributes heat well, and, with proper seasoning, has a naturally non stick cooking surface.

    As someone who only recently started cooking with a wok, I love how easily I can make large batches of stir-fried vegetables, fried rice, and mapo tofu. The wok’s tall, sloped sides provide the ideal surface area for quick cooking. The wok’s shape also works well for deep frying (you use slightly less oil) and steaming dumplings or vegetables in a bamboo steamer basket.

    Understanding Frying Pans

    vegetables in carbon frying pan

    Frying pans also come with thousands of years of history, originating in ancient Mesopotamia. Featuring shorter sides than a wok, a frying pan’s flat bottom provides plenty of cooking surface and excels at a variety of cooking techniques.

    Similar to woks, you’ll find frying pans in a variety of materials, including non stick, stainless steel, cast iron, and carbon steel. Which you choose depends on what you cook the most and the style of cooking you do.

    Frying pans provide much versatility. Our Carbon Steel Frying Pan, in particular, offers excellent heat retention in a lightweight package. You can sauté fajitas one night and make a pan sauce for a steak the next. A frying pan can handle almost everything you can throw at it, when it comes to stovetop cooking, including shallow frying, sautéing, searing, and—with the right material, such as carbon steel—oven finishing.

    Wok vs Frying Pan: Head-to-Head Comparison

    A chef's hand is visible tossing slices of meat in a wok on a stove, with spices and ingredients nearby, indicating a meal being prepared.

    When comparing a wok vs frying pan, there are a few key distinctions. While you can cook the same things in both, their design can make it easier to cook some dishes in one over the other.

    Cooking Techniques

    If you cook a lot of stir fries, then you definitely want a wok. While stir fries are doable in a frying pan, it usually requires cooking vegetables and proteins in batches to avoid overcrowding and steaming the ingredients. Make a stir fry in a wok, though, and you can sear an ingredient on the hot bottom, then push it up the sides to keep cooking as you add more quick-cooking ingredients.

    While you can shallow fry in a frying pan, its relatively shallow sides mean that if you deep fry often, you’ll want a wok. The wok’s sloped sides help reduce oil splatters, while also allowing you to use less oil.

    When it comes to sautéing, a frying pan’s wider cooking surface compared to a wok provides more space to spread out your ingredients. You can sauté in both a wok and a frying pan, but the latter offers a little more versatility.

    Heat Distribution

    When comparing our Carbon Steel Wok and Carbon Steel Frying Pan, both offer superior heat control thanks to their material. The wider cooking surface of a frying pan means that oil or other liquid sits evenly on the bottom of the pan. A wok’s conical shape causes liquids to rest in the center. The tall, slanted walls of a wok also trap heat, which helps cook food slightly faster than a frying pan.

    Cooking Capacity and Versatility

    Both a wok and a frying pan offer incredible versatility. A wok has taller sides, so it will hold more volume than a frying pan. If you regularly cook large batches of stir fries, then a wok is right for you. If your cooking style skews small-batch, a frying pan will work just fine.

    Ease of Use and Maintenance

    If you’ve not cooked with a wok before, there is a slight learning curve. There is more movement involved when cooking with a wok, which creates crisp-tender vegetables and seared proteins. Check out our guide on making stir fry in a wok to read more.

    Frying pans come with their own learning curve if you’re not used to them, though there is generally less action involved with cooking, and you’re usually cooking at lower temperatures than a wok. When it comes to maintaining each piece, seasoning is the most important factor. We’ve got a guide to carbon steel seasoning to help.

    Price Range

    Both our Carbon Steel Wok and Carbon Steel Frying pan are similarly priced, with the wok priced slightly higher. Since both feature a stamped carbon steel disc, they are quite durable and, with proper maintenance, will last for many, many years.

    How to Choose the Right Cookware for Your Kitchen

    A variety of pots and pans are neatly arranged on a kitchen stovetop and counter against a white subway tile backsplash.

    If you are trying to choose between a wok vs a frying pan, consider your cooking style first. Which types of cuisines do you cook most often? Which do you aspire to cook more? You should also take into account your kitchen space. A shallow frying pan is slightly easier to store in a drawer or cabinet compared to a tall-sided wok, but if you have a hanging wrack, a wok does well there. Keep your budget in mind too, but know that either way you are investing in a well-made piece of cookware that can last for generations.

    Ready to Shop?

    With the right cookware, you’ll be ready to whip up a stir fry or sear the perfect steak. Check out our Carbon Steel Wok and selection of Frying Pans and get ready for many delicious meals in your future.