Wok vs Frying Pan?

By / Food / October 3rd, 2013 / 11

At one time, a wok was on every cook’s wish list. Suited so perfectly for Asian cuisine, it is also great for any time that vegetables needed cooking. As for the frying pan, well, it’s been a long-standing necessity in our array of tools, probably for as long as humans have been cooking their food. So, you’re on a tight budget, or you’re just short on storage space – which do you buy?

I suppose the short answer is that it really doesn’t matter a whole lot. If you find yourself regularly chopping up vegetables for quick frying, a frying pan works as well as a wok. The difference is in the details.

A wok takes a much shorter time to cook vegetables and meat perfectly, usually about 3 to 8 minutes. The trick for cooking food quickly in a wok is the same as a frying pan. It’s all in the prep. You’ll need to make sure that anything going into the pan or wok is cut to more or less the same size. Both wok and frying pan function in pretty much the same way, too. Food cooks first in high heat, then with a tight fitting lid, steams till done. Does a wok do that better? Probably. The shape of the wok helps to concentrate the heat so it cooks more quickly. Whereas with a flat-bottomed frying pan, sautéing can get a little tricky. You have to make sure that you don’t overload the pan. Everything that goes into a frying pan must remain in contact with the heat, and the low sides make stir-frying somewhat tricky. There’s nothing like gently stirring and flipping vegetables only to have them fall over the side of the pan. If you’re cooking in oil, then I’d have to wager that a wok is actually healthier. The oil sits in the bottom basin. Vegetables and meat land in the hot oil as you’re stir-frying, but then are almost immediately lifted out of that oil. Stir-frying in a frying pan doesn’t quite work the same way.

So far it seems to me that the good old wok is winning out. The final consideration is storage space. Does your kitchen have enough room to hold both a frying pan and a wok? If not, I’d probably go for a wok.


Rosemary Mantini has always loved words. When she isn't working as the Associate Editor at Tidings Magazine, she's helping others achieve their writing dreams, and sometimes she even relaxes with a good book and a glass of wine.

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