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Cast Iron Vs Carbon Steel Wok – What’s The Difference?

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If your kitchen doesn’t have a wok in it, you probably need to invest in one. While they are most known for making dishes like stir fry, they are versatile pans that are really neat to use.

Woks come in different sizes and styles but they all have that rounded shape with a small base when you look at them. 

Woks also come in a lot of different materials too. You can find them in heavy materials or lightweight materials and it’s up to you to decipher the differences and then make a decision.

The most competitive options when it comes to the wok are cast iron or carbon steel. 

When it comes to a cast iron wok and a carbon steel wok, what’s the difference? Cast iron woks tend to be heavier and more expensive, but also last longer and retain heat better. Carbon steel woks are lighter and can be less expensive, but they may not last as long as their cast iron counterparts.

Stick with us to learn more about cast iron woks and carbon steel woks!

Cast Iron Wok

Let’s start with the cast iron edition. As we go through this guide, we will cover all of the details about cast iron.

If you know anything about cast iron, you know that it requires some maintenance and care and that it can be very heavy.

You’ve got to season it regularly and take care of it but that wok is going to last you forever if you take care of it. This particular option is less popular mostly because of the care requirements but it’s a pretty great choice if you give it a try. 

Cooking Details

When you cook with a cast iron wok, that material holds in heat like no other material can. It’s really versatile and the material’s ability to retain heat is what makes it a great choice.

When you are cooking, food stays hot and the heat spreads well to give you a really great effect

Because cast iron retains heat, this means that your food will stay warm even when you remove it from the heat source. The heating is even and it can act as a warming dish even when the burner is cool. 

That means when your family comes back for seconds, they can still enjoy really warm food from the wok. 

Cast iron CAN be non-stick if you take the time to season it and then maintain it properly.

Always make sure you season it before the first use, even if it says pre-seasoned. Then, you want to cook with it regularly and take the time to season it occasionally too. 

If you keep it maintained, it will be mostly non-stick. 

Care & Maintenance

Cleaning a cast iron wok is perhaps the most challenging part of owning one. Again, if you keep it seasoned, it won’t be too bad but you do have to be familiar with the techniques to make it a user-friendly pan. 

To clean it after use, you just need some sort of sponge or brush that is not metallic. Metallic could scrape it up. From there, some hot water will go a long way. Using soap will destroy the wok’s seasoning.

We mentioned already but part of your care process needs to include regular seasoning. Some people think that if you season cast iron once, you’re good to go forever. The truth is you should season it every few months. 

If you cook with it regularly, this does help to keep it seasoned. Making it last and keeping maintenance easy comes from proper care and seasoning. 

Cost

Here’s the thing: cast iron is a heavy material. Because of the material and the heavy nature, it tends to be more expensive.

Cast iron is popular but there is some incredible work and material that goes into them. This makes them cost a bit more. 

Carbon Steel Wok

Now let’s compare to carbon steel, shall we? These woks are lightweight and affordable. They are relatively easy to care for and they cook pretty well.

While they are not the same as a cast iron wok, they both have great qualities to consider. 

Even though carbon steel is not the same material as cast iron, it still has to be seasoned and maintained. You don’t get off the hook here. You need to plan to regularly season it just the same. 

However, it tends to be more versatile. It’s far less likely to corrode but it might not actually be as long-lasting overall in comparison to cast iron. 

Cooking Details

When you think about how a cast iron wok cooks, the first thing you should know is that the heat retention makes it pretty awesome.

It holds in heat but it also distributes heat evenly over the material, rather than just directly where the heat is coming in at.

Carbon steel is also very lightweight. No tired arms from handling a really heavy pan here.

The lightweight and thinner material gets warm quickly, distributes heat well, and is very easy to work with. There are some nuances but they are pretty simple to workaround. 

Care & Maintenance

Much like cast iron, your carbon steel wok is going to have to be seasoned regularly. They are considered to be non-stick but some of that non-stick character really depends on whether you properly maintain the wok. 

Seasoning is pretty easy and won’t take a ton of time but it has to be done regularly. Even if you cook regularly in your wok, you should plan to season it every few months to help keep the non-stick properties. 

Cleaning is also similar to cast iron here. Use a sponge or a brush that is non-metallic. Metal could easily scratch and mar your pan. It’s not likely to rust, especially if you season it regularly.

The materials are considered to be non-corrosive. However, you can take extra care to dry it completely after it has been washed to be sure

We do want to point out that since carbon steel is typically a lighter color, you might notice some discoloration on the pan.

It’s not a defect and there is nothing wrong with it. The fact is that the heat and any flame is going to leave behind discoloration over time. 

Cost

When you compare the cost of carbon steel to that of cast iron, you will find that carbon steel is more affordable. This material is relatively inexpensive.

A wok is usually more expensive than a traditional skillet or pan but it’s still reasonably priced for this material. 

The prices might also vary depending on the size or even the brand that you decide to buy in the end. Regardless, you probably won’t spend exorbitant amounts of money for this material of wok. 

Related Questions

We hope this guide to comparing cast iron and carbon steel wok pans has been helpful for you. They are both great and useful in their own ways if you know the details. 

We invite you to take a look at these questions and answers for some additional information that might be helpful! 

Is a cast iron wok useful for making stir fry? 

In our opinion, cast iron is probably the best choice for making stir fry. Since it gets really hot and holds in that heat, it just does a really great job with this particular dish. 

Do you season cast iron and carbon steel the same? 

Yes, the seasoning process for each of these materials is exactly the same. If you know how to season one, you can definitely season the other just fine.

They follow the same oil and heat process to get the materials seasoned. They both need to be seasoned regularly. 

How do you store a wok? 

Once you’ve cleaned and dried your wok properly, you can store it however you like. It just needs to be dry.

Put it in your cabinets with other pots and pans or store it wherever you like. It is a bit larger than most pots and pans. 

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