Should You Buy A Wok With 1 Or 2 Handles?

A quintessential part of Chinese cuisine, woks date back 3,000 years (via Britannica). Originally, the unique shape of the pans helped conserve fuel since the rounded bottom concentrates the heat and cooks food quickly. CNN notes that this rounded shape helps chefs achieve the elusive flavor known as "wok hei." Often translated as "the breath of the wok," wok hei is a smoky, slightly caramelized taste caused by the Maillard reaction. Wok hei requires high heat and constant motion, which chefs achieve by tossing the contents of the pan with a flick of the wrist, often at incredible speeds: one study found that skilled Chinese chefs toss the pan 2.7 times per second.

According to The Strategist, woks sold in the Western market typically look a bit different than the woks used in traditional Chinese kitchens. Traditional Chinese woks have rounded bottoms — perfect for brazers found in Chinese restaurants but less than ideal for most Western stoves. However, purists prefer round-bottomed woks since they have the advantage of heating evenly and providing a smooth surface for stirring and flipping food.

The Woks of Life suggests that if your gas stove can't accommodate a round-bottomed wok, you should consider buying a wok ring. Wok rings are metal rests that cradle the rounded bottom of the wok and lift it off the burner. They won't work with electric stoves, though, since the pan needs to be flush against the burner to properly heat.

One handle or two?

According to The Woks of Life, woks typically have two handles on each side or one long handle, like a frying pan. Woks with two handles are traditional and often made out of thick cast iron as opposed to carbon steel. They're meant to remain seated over a flame and work best for steaming vegetables or cooking large quantities of food. A two-handled wok might suit your needs if you plan on keeping the pan sedentary: The New York Times, the weight of the handle can make round-bottomed woks unstable.

One-handled woks, called "pow woks," are used to toss stir-fries. Serious Eats explains that pow woks are generally preferable, especially if you want to try flipping your stir fries like a professional Chinese chef. Woks can be heavy and difficult to lift, though, so if you're afraid that a single handle might be unwieldy, look for a wok with a second, smaller, "helper handle" on the opposite side. And always remember to toss with caution: according to CNN, many Chinese chefs sustain muscle injuries from the strain of flipping food in heavy woks.