Anyone who’s dabbled in Chinese cooking will be familiar with the plethora of wok choices. From the distinct variations in shapes of flat bottomed woks and round bottomed woks to the differences in wielded alloys, there is no shortage of options — cast iron wok, carbon steel wok, aluminum wok, stainless steel wok. And although a stainless steel wok is the least common of these choices, there are compelling reasons to get one.
Using stainless steel woks is a practical choice for many people. It weighs lighter than comparable woks and, owing to the alloy’s inherent properties, maintenance isn’t as demanding as the alternatives. Seasoning stainless steel cookware is suggested but not required. And that means more time cooking than cleaning.
And while stainless steel may not be ideal for specific cooking techniques such as stir frying, it more than does the job for steaming, stewing, and braising. At the very least, it’s definitely the choice for cooking acidic foods.
But you probably already know this! After all, you’re here to look at our choices for the best stainless steel woks available in the market. Let’s go through the list without further ado.
Table of Contents
Best Overall Stainless Steel Wok: Cooks Standard Stainless Steel Multi-Ply Clad Wok
This premium stainless steel wok goes well with both a high dome lid and a glass lid.
Pros: High-grade quality materials, options for two sizes and lid types, stovetop compatible
Cons: Heavy wok and lid, wok lid handle can get hot
Budget options don't have to look cheap, and the Cuisinart 726-38H Chef's Classic
The HexClad Hybrid Stainless Steel Wok Pan with Stay-Cool Handle is a contemporary stainless steel wok sold in two sizes: a 12-inch wok
The MICHELANGELO Wok Pan with Lid Set is a low-walled, tri-clad stainless steel wok with a nonstick honeycomb interior. There are several layers underneath the unique pattern, including a layer of food-grade nonstick coating, a stainless steel layer, an aluminum film, and finally, another layer of stainless steel. And unlike most alternatives on this list, the metal grade is apparent — the base of the pan has the SUS 304 engraving.
SUS 304 is the Japanese equivalent name for stainless steel 304 or SS304. There are contentions on whether or not they’re the same. But really, if they’re not exactly the same, the differences are irrelevant. SUS 304 and SS304 have similar chemical properties, with 18% chromium and 8% nickel content. They are both commercial-grade metals that are resistant to temperature swings, corrosion build-up, and oxidation spreads.
Other than steel grade, the other engravings on the bottom of the wok show a list of its stovetop compatibilities. These include ceramic, gas, electric stove, induction hob, and oven. The wok is also oven safe up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
MICHELANGELO also offers its stainless steel wok in two sizes and types: a 12-inch one-sided handle wok and a 12.5-inch double-sided wok. The 12-inch wok bundle comes with a strainer, steaming rack, and a glass lid, while the 12.5-inch wok sells individually.
What makes the glass lid unique is its handle. Its eccentric design allows the lid to stand upright. Not only does this save you on storage space, but it also means you avoid touching the kitchen top with the lid’s rims. Those are pretty handy tricks that nullify the hassles of having to assemble the lid. Still, couldn’t they just connect the handle to the lid right out of the box?
Despite this minor drawback, the MICHELANGELO stainless steel wok is a fantastic value alternative to the HexClad’s nonstick wok pan.
Stainless Steel Wok Buying Guide
The battle isn't over after you decide to buy a stainless steel wok versus the alternatives carbon steel or cast iron. Following your decision to purchase stainless steel, the next points to consider are its size, metallic grade or properties, shape, handle, whether it's preseasoned or not, accessories, and budget. Let's talk about all of these factors one by one.
Stainless steel woks come in different sizes, ranging from 10 inches to 20 inches in diameter. Smaller woks, of course, have a smaller cooking surface and are relatively lighter. At least assuming the differences in thickness and stainless steel grade are negligible. For the wok cooking style, being lightweight has benefits. But remember to balance the weight advantage with the smaller serving sizes possible.
Your specific uses will determine the ideal size. For example, a small-sized 12-inch wok should be sufficient for the average family. While the larger 14-inch or 20-inch woks might be better for commercial use.
On the contrary, erring on the side of larger woks has advantages. Smaller portions fit larger woks, but not the other way around. Larger woks, therefore, give you versatility. But again, you certainly have to balance the added usefulness with the add-on weight.
Moreover, consider the size of your wok burner and the challenges of cleaning and maintaining a larger wok. These, too, affect your overall experience.
We will refer to metallic properties as your stainless steel's mechanical properties, physical properties, and chemical composition. Bear with us. This isn't as hard as you may think.
We convey the mechanical and physical properties of your stainless steel in metal grades. Mechanical properties describe compressive and tensile strength, elongation, and hardness. On the other hand, physical properties relate to density, melting point, electrical resistivity, thermal expansion, and conductivity.
The most common stainless steel grades for cookware are 304 and 316. Other than molybdenum, these two grades share almost the same properties. Unlike 304 stainless steel, 316 stainless steel contains a modest amount of molybdenum. This chemical element intensifies the alloy's innate abilities to resist corrosion. But the added benefit, though, comes at a cost, and the presence of molybdenum makes 316 stainless steel more expensive than an otherwise comparable 304 stainless steel.
On the other hand, we can express the chemical composition of your stainless steel in numbers, where the first and second numbers correspond to the chromium and nickel content, respectively. The lower the nickel composition, the duller and less durable the stainless steel is. Conversely, a higher nickel content means greater luster, more durability, and added costs.
Although you will have to choose between the inherent properties and price, most stainless steels are sufficiently robust and will not break easily. But yes, premium and expensive stainless steel options will likely be more durable.
Shape and Concavity of the Bottom and Wall
The walls of woks are deliberately designed to be high and curved. This structure allows heat to transfer fast, simultaneously supplying it in uniform distribution. Its design helps achieve wok hei, so a traditional wok often comes with a round bottom shape.
On the other hand, the design of a contemporary flat bottomed wok suits stovetops of different forms: electric stove, induction cooktop, and gas stove. But a flat bottomed wok is also less concave than a round bottomed wok. This means there is a concentration of heat at the bottom of a flat bottomed wok.
And while a round bottomed wok doesn’t have this problem, it does require a wok ring if you’re using it on electric or induction stovetops. Though the additional purchase can be worth it for some.
So under the circumstances, both round bottom and flat bottom woks have their advantages and disadvantages.
Stainless steel woks come in different depths, too. Some are built with high walls while others have shallow walls. The walls determine the wok’s cooking style capability. Deep walls are best for deep frying, boiling, and steaming, while low walls are best for browning or searing. Choosing one then ultimately comes down to the buyer’s preferences.
A stainless steel wok usually comes with two handles. But there are variations. Some come with two short handles, while others have one long handle and a handy helper on the opposite side. Some wok handles heat quickly, while others stay cooler longer — this mostly depends on the quality of materials used.
Working one-handed can be challenging for some. If that’s you, then a wok with two handles will likely be a better choice. Some handles stay cooler than others, too. These are some of the considerations you will want to remember for the best cooking experience.
Nonstick or Unseasoned
Not all stainless steel woks in the market are unseasoned. Some have a layer of non stick coating. While the nonstick surface is easier to clean, these coatings eventually wear off due to regular use. Furthermore, nonstick wok pans are also more expensive than non-coated ones.
Some stainless steel woks sell with useful accessories. These accessories include a steaming rack, a spatula, a strainer, and a wok lid.
Lids also come in different shapes and materials. They can be dome-like or simply flat; stainless steel, glass, or a combination of both.
For the most part, stainless steel woks are expensive because of their durability and hassle-free maintenance. At least with stainless steel woks, you generally get what you pay for, so we encourage you to spend on what you can comfortably buy.
While woks are usually built of cast iron or carbon steel, alternatives include stainless steel and aluminum. There are pros and cons to using stainless steel. It conducts heat slowly, but it is also good at distributing heat evenly across the wok pan. This means stainless steel fits some cooking styles and not others. For instance, stir-frying is best done on a wok with higher thermal conductivity. That said, stainless steel woks are easier to maintain, so you spend more time cooking than cleaning.
In terms of ease of maintenance and tensile strength, stainless steel is better than cast iron.
The minute quantities of chromium and nickel in stainless steel are largely safe. However, it releases low levels when you cook with acidic ingredients. These low levels are not enough to harm most people. They may be an issue for people with allergies, so tread cautiously when preparing meals with acidic ingredients — vinegar, lemon juice, applesauce, or honey.
The quality of stainless steel is shown as metal grades and the ratio among its metal components. For a more detailed explanation of the quality of stainless steel, you may refer to the Metallic Properties section of our buying guide.
Preheating and applying a thin layer of oil before cooking is necessary for stainless steel woks to avoid sticking.
A stainless steel wok with no seasoning or with nonstick coating appeals to different markets. Bare stainless steel is for budget-conscious cooks who don’t mind the cleaning work. On the other hand, nonstick stainless steel attracts those willing to shell out more for ease of maintenance.
Stainless steel wok maintenance is easier than properly maintaining carbon steel or cast iron. It is dishwasher-safe and it doesn’t require seasoning. And although we recommend seasoning your stainless steel woks anyway, the fact that it is voluntary is reassuring for most.