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When it comes to cookware, there is perhaps none more versatile than the wok. It’s not exactly a pan or a pot, yet it can function as either. It’s revolutionized the way we cook for thousands of years, providing us with food that tastes fresher, more flavorful, and just plain better than something cooked in a standard frying pan.
Choosing a wok is a lot more difficult than it was 2,000 years ago, though, with a seemingly endless selection of woks available in a number of different sizes, shapes, and finishes.
To help you decide which is the best wok to buy for your personal needs, I’ve put together a handy shopping guide.
- What is a wok?
- Why use a wok?
- What to look for in a wok?
- Using and caring for your wok
- So, what’s the best wok to buy?
- Le Creuset of America Enameled Cast Iron Signature Wok, 5-Quart
- Lodge 14 Inch Cast Iron Wok
- T-fal A80789 Specialty Nonstick PFOA-Free Jumbo Wok
- Calphalon 1948257 Signature Hard Anodized Nonstick Covered Flat Bottom Wok
- Traditional Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Pow Wok with Wooden and Steel Helper Handle
- Willow & Everett 13-Inch Stainless Steel Wok Pan with Premium Lid and Bonus Bamboo Spatula
- Calphalon Tri-ply Stainless Steel 12-Inch Wok
- Cooks Standard 13-Inch Multi-Ply Clad Stainless Steel Wok
- Lagostina Tempra Steel 30cm Wok with Lid
- Calphalon Hard-Anodized Aluminum 10-Inch Wok
- Iwachu Cast Iron Wok
- Which wok comes out on top?
What is a wok?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of wok reviews, let’s take a minute to understand what a wok is and how it can be distinguished from similar cookware.
A wok is a wide, bowl-shaped cooking pan. Traditionally, the wok has a rounded bottom and two handles — a long, straight one, and a curved ear handle — but a few variations have developed over time. Unlike a standard frying pan, which has a large, flat bottom and relatively low sides, a wok has more surface area on its sides than its bottom.
The exact origins of the wok are unknown, but it’s believed to have originated from China, where it remains a staple. Its high heat capacity and unique shape have made it the favored vessel for the perfect stir fry for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Why use a wok?
If you already have a dozen different pans, you may be thinking that the last thing you need is a giant wok taking up even more precious kitchen space. What makes a wok worth having is its nearly unrivaled versatility, which allows it to easily replace several pieces of cookware. Here’s a look at what the wok can do.
Beyond the stir fry: Different ways to cook with your wok
Woks are synonymous with stir frying, which is the original purpose for which they were made. While it’s true that they’re pretty much unparalleled when it comes to searing veggies to lightly charred, tender-crisp perfection, there is so much more that these magic pans can do. Here are some ways you can put your wok to work:
Unlike your average frying pan, the wok is deep enough to hold a lot of liquid, making boiling a breeze. You can use your wok to make soup, pasta, and most other dishes that normally require a pot.
Another way to take advantage of the wok’s depth is deep frying. Because of the way the wok slopes, you can use far less oil than you would in a deep fryer or pan, leaving you with less of a mess and saving you money in the process.
Of course, deep frying isn’t the healthiest cooking method, but for the occasional deep fried treat, the wok is the way to go.
Woks prove a handy substitute for pots when steaming. Most woks will readily accommodate a steam basket, making it easy to steam veggies, dumplings, and anything else that needs a gentler cooking method.
If you prefer to make your popcorn on a stove top rather than in a microwave, a wok will be your perfect popping partner.
Simply add about two tablespoons of oil — preferably something that can handle high temperatures, such as corn or peanut oil — to your cold wok, add about half a cup of kernels, cover your wok with a splatter screen (unless you’re okay with scorching hot kernels flying around your kitchen), and let your wok do the rest.
The curvature of the wok’s bottom means you don’t have to shake your kernels as often as you would in a regular flat-bottomed pan.
The wok is made for tossing, and it works with more than just noodles and vegetables. The depth of the wok makes it much easier to toss a large salad without worrying about ending up with bits of kale and dressing on your floor or counter.
Perfecting the art of the wok toss may take some practice, but once you get the hang of it, you may never want to toss salad in a bowl again.
Benefits of wok cooking
Woks are indispensable, not only because of their multifunctionality, but because they offer a healthier way to cook your food.
The wok’s unique shape, extra surface area, and capacity to handle very high temperatures mean that it cooks food faster and more efficiently while requiring far less oil than standard flat pans. While cooking oils have their place, they provide little more than empty calories, so the less you consume, the better.
READ NEXT: 9 TOP TIPS TO REDUCE OIL INTAKE (AND WHY YOU SHOULD)
What to look for in a wok?
When choosing the best type of wok for you, there are a few key factors to consider. Here’s a breakdown of the different types of woks and their most important features:
Round bottom vs. flat bottom
There are two basic shapes that you’ll find in a wok: the traditional round bottom, or a flat bottom. Both have their pros and cons.
A diehard foodie may swear by the more traditional round bottomed wok, as it is this specific shape that makes the wok so revolutionary. Indeed, it’s the roundness that allows the wok to cook food evenly with ease and makes for easy tossing while cooking.
However, most electric stoves are incompatible with this wobblier of wok shapes, so you’ll want to take a hard pass on the traditional wok shape if you don’t have a gas stove.
Flat bottom woks are more versatile because they can be used easily on either gas or electric stove tops. The best flat bottom woks have a generously sloped interior like a true wok should.
Avoid flat interiors, as these will cook more like a regular frying pan than a proper wok, concentrating heat on the bottom rather than throughout the entire pan.
Another key component of the wok is its size. Woks come in a wide range of sizes, but the most common sizes you’ll find for ones used at home are 12”, 14” or 16”, each with varying depths.
When choosing a size, keep in mind how many people you’re cooking for, how often you plan on using your wok, and how much storage space you have.
Perhaps the most important features of your wok is what it’s made of. The material will affect the wok’s maintenance level, lifespan, and overall performance.
Woks are generally made out of either carbon steel, cast iron, or stainless steel. The best wok material is purely a matter of opinion, for each material has its pros and cons.
What’s best for you depends entirely on how you plan to use your wok and what you’re looking for in terms of maintenance.
Woks have traditionally been made of carbon steel for thousands of years, and there are plenty of reasons why this material remains one of the most popular today.
For starters, carbon steel is generally more affordable than stainless steel or cast iron cookware, making it a more economical choice for the average home chef. It’s also much easier to cook with, as it’s typically more lightweight while still managing to distribute and hold heat efficiently. (1)
One of the main drawbacks of carbon steel woks is that seasoning them takes much more time and effort than most other materials (we’ll delve into wok seasoning in the “Using and caring for your wok” down below).
Cast iron cookware has a devoted following. With proper care, cast iron easily has the longest lifespan of any other material, allowing it to be passed down from generation to generation. It’s also the best material for retaining heat and maintaining seasoning, both crucial components for cooking with a wok.
On the other hand, cast iron users often find that they have to choose between durability and ease of use. In other words, a cast iron wok will either be thick and sturdy, but very heavy and difficult for some people to use, or it will be thin, light, and easy to break.
Additionally, cast iron woks will tend to be pricier than carbon steel ones of the same size.
Stainless steel cookware is coveted by many because of its durability and beauty. While this is a great material for many kinds of cookware, the properties of stainless steel might not make it the best choice for cooking with a wok.
This material is particularly difficult to season, and it doesn’t heat as evenly as carbon steel or cast iron. Woks made of stainless steel tend to be quite heavy and notably more expensive than carbon steel varieties too.
Using and caring for your wok
Wok ownership comes with its own unique set of responsibilities. In order to get the most out of your wok, you need to know the proper way to use it and how to keep it in tip-top shape. In this section, I’ll break down some of the most essential components of using and caring for your wok so you can enjoy it for many years to come.
A wok is not a wok until it has been properly seasoned. Seasoning in this case doesn’t mean sprinkling salt and pepper on your wok; rather, it refers to the process of building up a layer of fats and oils on your wok’s surface, creating a natural, nonstick barrier.
This layer is what creates wok hei, or “breath of the wok” — that savory, slightly charred flavor that makes authentic Chinese stir fry so delicious. (2)
Most woks will come with seasoning instructions that are specific to that brand and model, but here’s a general guide to give you an idea of what to expect:
Perfecting the toss
As I mentioned, the wok toss takes some practice, but it’s worth learning. Not only is it fun to do, it’s also an essential technique to learn if you want to make an authentic stir fry, which requires nearly constant movement while cooking.
Tossing is easiest in a wok with a long handle, but can be done in a wok with ear handles. You can see the technique for tossing with a long handle below.
The essential wok tool kit
A wok is a great piece of cookware all on its own, but having the right tools can make it downright indispensable:
Not all stove tops are designed to support a wok, especially one with a round bottom. To keep your wok from tipping over if your burner isn’t quite large enough, you’ll want to invest in a good wok ring. The ring goes over your burner, supporting the bottom of your round wok to hold it steady.
Ladle and spatula
The depth of the wok and the sheer amount of heat it gives off can make using regular cooking utensils uncomfortable. That’s why an extra long ladle and spatula (also known as hoak and chuan in Chinese, respectively) designed just for woks comes in handy.
These tools are traditionally made of metal, but you may opt for bamboo or silicone if you have a nonstick wok to protect the coating from scratches. Look for handles made from wood, as these will not conduct heat and will make the utensils more comfortable to hold while cooking.
If you plan to use your wok for steaming or boiling, a good wok lid is a must. Look for a lightweight aluminum or glass lid with a heat-resistant handle, and make sure it’s a perfect fit.
Cleaning your wok
To keep your wok pristine and rust-free, it’s important that you know the proper way to clean it. How you clean it depends mostly on its material.
If you have a cast iron or carbon steel wok, you’ll want to avoid washing it with soap as much as possible, as the soap will wash away your wok’s hard-earned seasoning and you’ll have to start all over. (However, if you fail to dry your wok properly and it develops rust, you’ll need soap to remove it.) (3)
Stainless steel and nonstick woks, on the other hand, can take a good scrubbing with hot water and soap just like your other dishes, and some are even dishwasher safe.
Here’s a look at how to properly clean your cast iron or carbon steel wok from Jeremy Pang of the School of Wok:
So, what’s the best wok to buy?
Now that you know what to look for in a wok and how to use and care for it, it’s time to find out what kind of wok to buy. Let’s take a look at some of the best woks on the market.
Le Creuset of America Enameled Cast Iron Signature Wok, 5-Quart
The Le Creuset of America Enameled Cast Iron Signature Wok delivers the brand’s signature quality and beauty. It comes in six bright, eye-catching colors with a glossy finish, making it a beautiful addition to your kitchen.
This flat bottom wok will work perfectly on either a gas or electric range with ease. As an added bonus, it comes with its own glass lid, making it easier to check on your food as it cooks.
Unlike many other woks, this one is relatively low-maintenance due to its enameled coating. Users love that it is easy to clean and resists rust without having to be brushed with oil after cleaning. Since it’s cast iron, you can expect it to last many years, even decades, with proper care.
The only real issue that users seem to have is with the product’s weight. It is rather hefty at nearly 8 pounds, which can have its pros and cons. While its weight does help prevent it from wobbling on your stove, it can make lifting and tossing the wok difficult for some and downright impossible for others (such as people with arthritic hands or wrists).
Despite this minor drawback, the Le Creuset enameled cast iron wok remains a solid option for those looking for something that is both durable and beautiful without all the maintenance needs of an non-enameled wok.
- Aesthetically pleasing
- Compatible with both gas and electric stoves
- Virtually rust-proof
- Comes with a glass lid
- Too heavy for some users
Lodge 14 Inch Cast Iron Wok
The Lodge 14 Inch Cast Iron Wok is a great option if you’re intimidated by the seasoning process, as it’s conveniently pre-seasoned. This solid cast iron wok has a flat bottom on the outside, which keeps it steady on gas and electric stove tops, but the interior is still bowl-shaped for even heating.
Like any high-quality cast iron cookware, this wok is excellent at retaining heat, but it takes longer to heat up than other materials — you’ll need to wait at least five minutes for it to get hot enough for stir fry and other high heat cooking methods.
Even though it comes pre-seasoned, users advise that it will still need regular maintenance to avoid rust, but that’s a small price to pay for a wok that could very well last you a lifetime. Some users noted that it doesn’t come with a lid, which may be a minor inconvenience, but a fitting lid is easy to find and relatively inexpensive.
This wok weighs 11 pounds, so it’s not an ideal choice if you have arthritic or fragile hands and wrists. You’ll also need to handle it carefully to avoid cracking fragile countertops.
All in all, the Lodge 14 Inch Cast Iron Wok is durable, reliable, and would make a great addition to your cookware.
- Comes pre-seasoned
- Stable on gas and electric ranges
- Excellent at heat retention
- Lasts for decades with proper care
- Quite heavy
- Takes a while to heat up
- Doesn’t come with a lid
T-fal A80789 Specialty Nonstick PFOA-Free Jumbo Wok
The T-fal A80789 Specialty Nonstick Dishwasher Safe Oven Safe PFOA-Free Jumbo Wok is a bit of a mouthful to say, but it’s also an economical wok with a lot of features that may appeal to a home cook.
This wok is one of the lightest on this list, weighing in at a comfortable 2.5 pounds. Its nonstick coating means that you don’t have to season this wok, and as long as that coating stays in place, you won’t have to worry about rust.
However, most of the wok’s negative reviews state that the nonstick coating isn’t very durable, with some users claiming that it wore off in a matter of months, even when using only wood and silicone utensils. This is a bit of a red flag, especially since nonstick coatings can release toxic fumes when broken down and heated to high temperatures.
This wok’s large capacity makes it a great choice for families, but its bulk may also make it trickier to store, so make sure you have sufficient space for it before purchasing. You’ll also want to bear in mind that this wok doesn’t come with a lid.
The T-fal seems like a convenient choice, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it for regular use due to its fragile nonstick coating.
- Dishwasher safe
- Great for large families
- Doesn’t come with a lid
- Nonstick coating wears out easily
Calphalon 1948257 Signature Hard Anodized Nonstick Covered Flat Bottom Wok
The Calphalon 1948257 Signature Hard Anodized Nonstick Covered Flat Bottom Wok is a 12” aluminum wok with a nonstick coating. It has a long handle for easy tossing, plus an ear handle for extra support, and comes with an oven safe glass lid.
This sleek, top rated wok is true to its nonstick claim, making it the perfect fit for a no-fuss home cook. Users love that it is easy to clean, heats quickly and evenly, and doesn’t rust.
Its nonstick coating is PFOA-free and able to hold up to regular contact with metal utensils without scratching, although a handful of users have claimed that the coating wore out within a couple of years.
At 8.2 pounds, this wok is far from being the lightest on this list, but is still manageable for most users. Best of all, if you find any defects in your wok, you’re covered by Calphalon’s lifetime warranty.
In conclusion, this wok has everything you could want in a wok and then some.
- Heats up quickly and evenly
- PFOA-free nonstick coating
- Compatible with nearly any kind of stove top
- Comes with an oven safe lid
- Backed by Calphalon’s lifetime warranty
- Easy to clean
- Not very durable — may wear out quickly
- A bit heavy
Traditional Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Pow Wok with Wooden and Steel Helper Handle
This Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Wok by Craft Wok has the look and feel of a traditional carbon steel wok, which is why it’s favored by many professional Chinese chefs.
Like any carbon steel wok, it will need to be well-seasoned before using. Some users stated that they had to season it at least five times to create a nonstick coating.
This wok is great at retaining very high temperatures, making it particularly effective at stir frying. It’s sturdy and durable, yet lightweight at just 4 pounds.
The main issues that users have with this wok are that it’s not compatible with electric stove tops due to its rounded bottom, the handle isn’t very sturdy and may loosen over time, and the wok can be a bit high-maintenance (though to be fair, regular maintenance is expected of any carbon steel wok).
Overall, this Craft Wok product is great if you’re looking for an authentic wok and it can last for many years — just keep in mind that you’ll need to put in the time and effort to keep it in top cooking condition.
- Looks more traditional and authentic
- Great at sustaining high temperatures
- Wooden handle isn’t sturdy
- Rusts easily, even with regular maintenance
- More difficult to season
- Incompatible with electric range
- A bit wobbly without a wok ring
Willow & Everett 13-Inch Stainless Steel Wok Pan with Premium Lid and Bonus Bamboo Spatula
The Willow & Everett 13-Inch Stainless Steel Wok is a sleek and user-friendly wok that conveniently comes with a domed lid and spatula.
This wok is lightweight yet durable, and holds enough food for a family of 6. It heats evenly for a perfect stir fry every time and doesn’t require seasoning.
The quality of the wok’s nonstick interior has received mixed reviews from users, with some claiming that its true to its claim and others regularly finding food stuck to their wok. Fortunately, it appears to be easy to clean.
Be wary of using the spatula that comes with this set, as several users have noted that it’s caused scratches on the wok’s supposedly scratch-resistant surface.
- Comes with lid and spatula
- Large capacity
- Heats evenly
- Easy to clean
- Low maintenance — no seasoning required
- Prone to scratching
- Didn’t live up to nonstick claim for some
Calphalon Tri-ply Stainless Steel 12-Inch Wok
The Calphalon Triply Stainless Steel 12-Inch Wok is a beautiful piece of cookware that will add a touch of elegance to your kitchen.
An aluminum core ensures that it will heat quickly and evenly. Its flat bottom makes it suitable for induction ranges and it’s safe to use in your oven and dishwasher.
Users favor this wok for roasting, and its clear glass lid makes it easy to check on your food as it cooks. It’s easy to clean and not as unwieldy as some other stainless steel woks, weighing in at just over 7 pounds.
While most buyers seem pleased with this high quality wok, some have noted that excessively high temperatures can cause staining and discoloration, and even warping. Another common gripe was the pan’s long handle, which was too thin and uncomfortable to grip for some users.
- Aluminum core heats wok quickly and evenly
- Compatible with gas and electric stoves
- Comes with lid
- Easy to clean
- Great for roasting
- May warp and become discolored at very high temperatures
- Handle is too thin for some
Cooks Standard 13-Inch Multi-Ply Clad Stainless Steel Wok
If you’re looking for a relatively low-maintenance wok, the Cooks Standard 13-Inch Stainless Steel Wok may be a great fit for you.
Unlike traditional carbon steel woks, it doesn’t require seasoning, and is pretty much rust-proof. Its long handle stays cool during cooking for a truly user-friendly experience.
At 7.8 pounds, this wok isn’t exactly light, but appears to be comfortable for most users and spacious enough to prepare a meal for a large family. You can easily clean this wok with a bit of soap and warm water, and keep it looking brand-new with Barkeepers Friend.
For the most part, this wok stays true to its scratch-resistant claim, but a handful of users have noted minor scratches when using metal utensils, so be aware. You may also experience some complications with high temperature cooking in this wok.
Some dissatisfied customers found that this wok takes a while to heat up and isn’t the best at maintaining high levels of heat.
- Large capacity
- Doesn’t require seasoning
- Handle stays cool while cooking
- Comes with lid
- Heats up slowly
- Mediocre heat retention at very high temperatures
Lagostina Tempra Steel 30cm Wok with Lid
The Lagostina Tempra Steel Wok is truly a thing of beauty, with a high-shine, mirrored finish that you’ll want to display proudly. The image doesn’t do it justice, to be honest.
In addition to its elegant design, this wok features a large capacity, making it a great fit for families. It’s rust-resistant and relatively light at just under 6 pounds. Its alternating layers of aluminum and stainless steel make it a quick and efficient conductor of heat, while its polished interior makes it naturally nonstick.
This wok comes with a lid and steam rack for your convenience, and has two ergonomically designed handles for ease of use. The only issue I could find with this wok is that it lacks user reviews, making it difficult to know exactly how it holds up over time.
If you’re willing to take a chance on a beautiful, but seemingly untested wok, this could be the wok pan for you.
- Elegant design
- Relatively light
- Comes with lid and steam rack
- Sturdy, ergonomic handles
- Lack of long-term reviews
Calphalon Hard-Anodized Aluminum 10-Inch Wok
The Calphalon Contemporary Hard-Anodized Aluminum Nonstick Wok is a simple, no-frills piece of cookware that gets the job done.
Its nonstick coating is free of toxic PTFE and eliminates the need for time-consuming seasoning. This 10-inch wok is roomy enough to feed up to four people, yet remains pleasantly easy to handle at just over 3 pounds. It also has a flat bottom, so you can use it on either gas or electric stove tops.
You won’t be stuck with a frustrating mess after cooking in this wok, as it is easy to clean and dishwasher safe. Some users noted, however, that regular cleaning via dishwasher caused the outer layers of the wok to wear off, exposing the aluminum underneath.
Fortunately, like most Calphalon cookware, this wok comes with a lifetime warranty, so you can always get your wok replaced if you happen to receive a defective one, or if it becomes damaged after normal use and regular care.
The number one complaint users have is that the listed dimensions of the wok are inaccurate. This supposedly 10-inch pan is actually closer to 11 inches in diameter (excluding the handle, of course), so buyers who purchased a 10-inch lid were frustrated to find that it didn’t fit.
Misleading measurements aside, this wok is a fantastic option for cooks at any level of expertise.
- PTFE-free nonstick coating
- No seasoning required
- Comes with a lifetime warranty
- Easy to clean
- Compatible with gas and electric ranges
- Inaccurately listed dimensions make it difficult to find fitting lid
- Not as dishwasher-safe as advertised
Iwachu Cast Iron Wok
The Iwachu Cast Iron Wok is as elegant as it is durable, thanks to its sleek design and cast iron composition.
It performs as well as you’d expect any cast iron cookware to, with excellent heat retention and even cooking. With proper maintenance, this wok can easily last for generations. That being said, “proper maintenance” can be a time-consuming process; you’ll need to keep this wok well-seasoned to prevent rust.
A solid, perfectly fitted lid make boiling, braising, and roasting a cinch, but cooking methods that require more movement, such as stir fry, may be more difficult due to the wok’s weight of nearly 13 pounds. You may want to opt for a reliable spatula and ladle instead of tossing your food, unless you’re in the mood for a serious arm workout.
There isn’t much to dislike about this simple yet striking cast iron wok. As long as you’re prepared to deal with its excessive weight and maintenance, it’s sure to become a staple in your kitchen.
- Beautiful design
- Heats evenly
- Retains heat well
- Can last a lifetime with proper care
- Comes with lid
- Quite heavy
- Requires regular seasoning and maintenance
Which wok comes out on top?
If you want a wok that can do everything without painstaking seasoning and maintenance, you need the Calphalon Triply Stainless Steel 12-Inch Wok. This all-in-one wok can stir fry, roast, steam, broil, and boil with the best of them, and its large capacity saves you the trouble of having to use multiple pans to feed your family. The best part is, when you’re done with it, you can simply pop it in the dishwasher — no oil curing required.
Cooks with an induction range can still get the full wok experience thanks to this wok’s flat bottom, and its weight will keep it from wobbling around. A clear glass lid makes it easier to keep an eye on your food as it cooks and a scratch-resistant coating gives you peace of mind when using metal utensils.
There’s a lot to love about this wok, but it’s not perfect. The handle is on the thin side, which may make it uncomfortable to grip for some users.
Despite these minor niggles, in my opinion, it’s still the best wok to buy if you’re looking for a good all-round addition to your cookware.
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Whether you’re an experienced cook or a total novice in the kitchen, there’s no denying the necessity of a reliable wok. Beyond stir fries, this multifunctional pan can do just about anything from steaming to deep frying. Once you’ve honed the art of cooking with a wok, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without one.
About The Author:
Cristina is a writer, doggy daycare attendant, and vegan of nearly a decade. She earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature with a minor in gender studies from University of California, Irvine. As an undergrad, she served as president of the university’s animal rights club and conducted and presented research on the intersections of feminism and veganism.
When she’s not writing or taking care of dogs, she enjoys reading everything from autobiographies to YA fantasy novels, tending to her houseplants, cooking, and drawing. She lives in Southern California with her boyfriend and their dog.
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- Metal Supermarkets | The Difference Between Carbon and Stainless Steel | https://www.metalsupermarkets.co.uk/the-difference-between-carbon-and-stainless-steel/
- Michelin Guide Digital-Hong Kong Macau | What is…wok hei? | https://guide.michelin.com/en/article/dining-out/what-is-wok-hei
- WebstaurantStore | How To Season and Clean a Wok | https://www.webstaurantstore.com/article/106/how-to-season-a-wok.html