Welcome to Take My Money, a column where we geek out about our favorite products.
Thanks to the pandemic and rapidly rising costs of living, Americans are cooking significantly more than they’ve done in many years. I have a proposal for those new cooks (and the old ones, too): get a wok. Nay, get this wok from Made In Cookware, which I’ve ridden hard through the pandemic and beyond to fast, cheap, and absurdly good lunches in lieu of going out for a Wendy’s run, or picking up Chinese takeout when I don’t feel like cooking for an hour or more. Ultimately, this gem of a wok has led me to cook more at home, eat out less, and in turn wrest more control of my diet. You should get one. Here’s what you should know.
What Is the Made In Wok, and Why Do I Love It?
Nowadays, most American kitchens are outfitted with a few stainless steel pans, a non-stick pan or two, and a few large pots. Maybe a cast-iron skillet, but the psycho-cultural brain fog hovering around the maintenance of one is so dense they are rarely used. Woks are almost non-existent here, which is a shame because their utility aligns with American values quite nicely. They cook lightning fast, they last forever, and they’re just plain fun to use.
There are loads of brands to choose from, but I prefer Made In’s version. An American cookware company with a wide array of pots and pans to choose from, its wok is a bit different than most. It’s a touch heavier, for one, which means it holds heat brilliantly and is best handled with two hands. It’s also got a flat bottom, which is untraditional but necessary—a normal wok has a more cone-shaped bottom, designed to sit over the burners that look like converted jet engines—because ranges in the US are almost all flat.
Why You Should Get One
Need for speed
For better or worse, time seems short these days. Woks are the ideal vessel for the temporally challenged home cook. Preheat the wok over the burner (bonus points for tossing it in the over while you get the prep work out of the way), oil it, and toss, stir fry, and sizzle your way to a completed meal in 10 or 15 minutes. No joke, the time it takes to cook meals in this wok is more dependent on your ability to chop vegetables than it is any cooking time. Why does it cook so fast? Well…
A carbon steal
Cooking speed comes down to heat level. Heat level comes down to a heat source (your stove) transferring energy into a cooking vessel (your wok), and that vessel’s ability to retain that heat no matter what you throw in it.
Like many woks, Made In’s wok is made of carbon steel. Carbon steel is a bit like cast iron in that it is what’s called a “reactive” metal—AKA it will rust if you toss it in the dishwasher. But carbon steel and cast iron are prized by chefs for a more fundamental feature: their weight. Weight is the key determining factor in heat retention; a heavier pan will take longer to heat through, but it will hold that heat better if you throw a bowl of refrigerator-cold beef in it, too. At nearly 4.5 pounds, Made In’s take on the wok is on the heavier side, which means getting those crusty bits on the edges of your meat and vegetables won’t be an issue. It also means, when it’s full of food, it’s a pretty good as a makeup arm day workout.
Though the stir fry is sacred in my house, Made In’s wok was designed with more in mind. For one, the handle curves just above the rim of the wok and back down again so it can squeeze between racks in your oven for a braise (or, again, to get it hot before cooking). The wider-than-normal, flat base also means it keeps its balance well and can even be used on an electric or induction stovetop. And because it’s on the bigger side for a residential-minded wok, it also makes a great deep fryer (I’ve fried okra, chicken wings, and Oreos in mine). If you’re still unsure how you’d use it, I recommend The Wok: Recipes & Techniques by J. Kenji López-Alt. It’s literally the bible of wok cooking at our house and does an excellent job teaching even the most layman of home cooks how to use a wok effectively.
Maintenance? Not so much
As mentioned before, Made In’s wok is carbon steel, and therefore shouldn’t be put through the wash or, I don’t know, dumped in a vat of lemon juice. Don’t let this deter you: you don’t have to “season” this pan. Simply cook in it, wash out the pan under the sink, and wipe it clean with a paper towel. You don’t need to season the wok, because you’re effectively seasoning it while cooking in it (the fat from the oils you use and food you cook polymerize to the pan and create a barrier between the reactive metal and your food). If there’s food stuck to it, just fill it with water and put it on a burner set to high. A light boil will pull whatever gunk is clinging to the pan off and you’ll be on your way. I’ve had this wok for two years now and I haven’t seasoned it once.
The Bottom Line
The Made In Wok is the most versatile and most used pan in my kitchen. If you’re short on time, or just really like the stir fries you get from your favorite takeout joint, it’s absolutely worth the money.