The Full Wok Accessory Guide
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These tools are helpful for stir-frying, steaming, deep-frying, braising, and more.
We've organized the below guide by two tiers: must-haves (i.e. a chuan, spider, and tiered steamer) and nice-to-haves (i.e. a perforated oil skimmer and an outdoor wok burner).
If you ask a Chinese chef from the old guard what tools and accessories they’d consider essential for cooking with a wok, they might look at you with confusion, not understanding the question. Alternatively, if you’re related to them, you'll be met with a stare of disappointment that you'd even ask them something so obvious after having spent your childhood in your family's restaurant.
And by “you,” I mean me. Because all of the above is exactly what happened when I asked pros from both the northern and southern regions of China—as well as my father, You Feng Lin, a retired New York chef by way of Fuzhou—what tools they'd advise wok owners buy.
Their initial answers were short. “I’m a bit perplexed by the topic; what more than a wok, ladle, and spatula?,” a restaurateur told me. But, still, I pushed on. Because to harness the versatility of the wok at home—for steaming, stir-frying, deep-frying, braising, and smoking—you should have some essentials on hand (most of which are very inexpensive) and know why each is helpful. I organized this list by what I consider to be must-haves and what are just nice-to-haves.
Tier 1: Must-Haves
Why: “Wok chuans are specifically designed to easily maneuver the curve of the wok,” says Candy Hom, the Cantonese founder of Soupbelly, an Atlanta, GA-based Chinese pop-up.
Chuans have a thin lip that easily gets under food (which also makes them good breaking up ingredients while stir-frying). The chuan's wide head and slightly curved lip helps to toss, redistribute, flip, and pick up large amounts of food. It also has a longer handle affixed at an angle, keeping your hands away from the wok's direct heat.
ZhenSanHuan HandMade Iron Chuan (Spatula)
FJNATINH Wok Spatula and Ladle Set
What to get: Chuans come in all types of materials (silicone, nylon, wood, stainless steel, and even carbon steel). We recommend a stainless steel or wood spatula to go with a carbon steel wok. For safety, you want your chuan’s handle length to, at minimum, match the width of your wok. Too short and you’ll find your hand stuck hovering over the wok’s basin. For a 14-inch wok, a chuan that’s at least 14 inches long is a good bet (steer clear of commercial-length chuans, though, which are too lengthy for at-home use).
Wooden Spoon or Spatula
Why: If you're worried about a metal chuan scratching the surface of your wok, you'll want to pick up a wooden spoon or a spatula (you're likely to already have the former). Although, according to Grace Young, "Wood is just too thick. So when you're stir-frying something with rice noodles, beef, chicken, you cannot get under it. That means you're actually going to start ripping your meat.”
FJNATINH Wooden Spatula
What to get: This reasonably-priced model from Amazon runs for $12 per spatula. We don't think you could go wrong with it.
Why: For deep-frying or simmering anything, you need a spider, which will allow you to easily lift and drain small portions of food.
Hiware Solid Stainless Steel Spider Strainer
What to get: Growing up, we used traditional brass skimmers for our family restaurant’s soup station because they were lightweight, strained quickly, were heat-resistant even as they sat in hot water all day, plus, they were inexpensive to replace. However, these skimmers have sharper edges that can snag delicate foods. An all-metal spider is a good solution. With a stainless-steel model, sticking's not an issue and cleanup's easier, as they're dishwasher-safe.
Why: Few pieces of Asian cookware are more iconic than the wok, but multi-tiered bamboo steamers give it a run for its money. For steaming, a tiered, bamboo steamer is a must (it can also be used for smoking, although if you plan to do this we recommend having one allotted solely for this purpose, as the smoke will permeate the wood). Because bamboo steamers stack, this allows you to cook multiple levels foods at once. They're great for serving, too.
Joyce Chen Bamboo Steamer
What to get: Any bamboo steamer smaller than the diameter of your wok will work. We recommend 10- to 12-inch steamers—anything larger won't easily fit in a 14-inch wok. It's worth noting that some chefs use stainless steel steamers. ("I prefer the metal. It’s cleaner," says Man Cheng, a New York-based Chinese chef and restaurateur.)
Circular Steaming Racks
Why: A metal steaming rack, a wok, and a lid (more on the latter below) allows you to turn any piece of heatproof dishware into an instant steamer, which is particularly helpful for dishes like steamed whole fish or steamed pork ribs. Metal steaming racks are also useful for smoking in a wok. While you can't steam or smoke multiple items at once (like you're able to do with a tiered steamer), these low-profile racks are cheap, versatile, and well worth having around.
Fnoko Stainless Steel Steaming Rack
DS Distinctive Style Steamer Rack 8.5 Inches
What to get: We recommend buying a couple of sizes, so you can accommodate different foods and dishware.
Why: For steaming or smoking (if you're using a circular steaming rack) or braising, a lid is helpful to have on hand. It can also be useful for stir-frying, when you want to trap steam to speed up cooking or, in the event of flare ups, snuff out any unwanted flames.
Winco Stainless Steel Wok Cover
Zhen San Huan 14-Inch Natural Wood Wok Lid
What to get: For most home cooks, we recommend a domed, metal lid, with a heat-resistant handle (like this or this), which will give food enough clearance when cooking and ensure adequate circulation. You can also opt for a flat, wooden lid, which is easier to store. As long it forms a decent seal, it should be good.
Hot Dish Tongs
Why: While not traditional, hot dish tongs are mighty helpful when using heatproof dishware with a steamer rack or a bamboo steamer.
Billowing steam and hot dishes make it tough grab onto a plate or bowl of steamed food, even with a kitchen towel or pot holder—which is what I did until my father introduced me to these tongs. They use (only a little) tension to easily grab the edges of the crockery, allowing you to safely lift the dish up and out.
Rimobul Stainless Steel Folding Retriever Tongs
What to get: Stainless steel steamer tongs, like these, that open wide and have inverted ends that get under and hold onto dishware are your best bet.
Why: Every surface of a wok is used for cooking, so you want to make sure the walls are well-coated with oil, too. At my dad’s restaurant, I remember my cousin Hua Zheng, a showman of a chef, spooning a ladle of hot oil from the neighboring wok he’d use to oil-poach or pass through) onto his wok, glazing the interior all over before pouring the excess back into its neighbor.
But at home, where we barely have the space for one wok, much less two, a squeeze bottle works, allowing you to squirt a ribbon of oil around the curve of the wok.
Tablecraft Clear Heavy Duty Squeeze Bottle - 12 oz
What to get: The cheap food service/prep bottles are generally fine, and the smaller sizes are best, since they’re not ideal for storing large amounts of oil. You can also keep other sauces and oil, like soy sauce and sesame oil, in squeeze bottles for easy access when stir-frying.
Why: These chopsticks are longer than what you're used to eating with—and thicker, to boot. They're great for turning and flipping foods when deep-frying and I find them much gentler on noodles than Western tongs, too, allowing for better mixing of lo mein, chow mei fun, or yi mien.
GLAMFIELDS 16.5-Inch Wooden Cooking Chopsticks
What to get: You can't go wrong with a pair of cheap, wooden ones . And as we explained in in our 101 on deep-frying wooden chopsticks have another benefit: "Wooden chopsticks are also a quick way to roughly gauge oil temperature. If you dip a chopstick in hot oil (above 212℉), trace amounts of water trapped in the wood will evaporate, which makes tiny bubbles on the surface of the chopstick; the hotter the oil, the faster the bubbling."
Lots of Prep Bowls
Why: Stir-frying happens quickly, so you want to have all of your ingredients prepped and measured out prior to cooking. Having a fair number of small prep bowls helps.
Choice Standard Weight Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl
What to get: Don't spend a lot of money on these (a restaurant supply store is a good place to look). In general, we like metal prep bowls, which are more durable than, say, glass.
Tier 2: Nice-to-Haves
Perforated Oil Skimmer
Why: A perforated skimmer is helpful for deep-frying and braising. When frying large batches of food, you're able to cook the contents, then dump the food in the skimmer that's set over a heat-proof container. When braising, a big, perforated skimmer allows you to fish out a large amount of food out of liquid in one fell swoop.
Winco Stainless Steel Round Skimmer
What to get: Look for a stainless steel perforated skimmer and with a sturdy handle. It should be roughly the size of the middle of your wok, and have a rounded curve to it. You'll also need a large, heat-proof container to set the skimmer on, either to drain oil or place the skimmer in between uses. A large bowl with a sturdy base works (or you could use a wire rack set over a sheet pan).
Why: Whoa, so low on the list, right? Because although a hoak (a large, wide ladle)—or just simply “the big spoon” as Cheng laughingly calls it—is critically important for Chinese restaurants, for the at-home cook with a smaller wok, a hoak is less essential.
In a restaurant, a hoak is used when stir-frying, to add sauces, and for serving. Like the chuan, the hoak hugs the curve of the wok, for tossing and corralling ingredients. At home, though, a chuan is more essential. And, as Kenji says of the hoak in The Wok: Recipes and Techniques: "For times when you really need one, a Western ladle will do just fine." That said, for picking up a large amount of food, especially if it's liquidy, a hoak is helpful. And chuans and hoaks are often sold as sets, so if you buy one, you'll certainly be able to put it to use when stir-frying or braising.
Anchor Wok Utensils Set
What to get: A hoak is slightly angled from the handle, but not nearly as much as the Western ladle. A stainless steel hoak with a heat-resistant wooden handle is a good pick.
Why: Growing up, I watched my father and cousin use steel wool to scrub their commercial carbon steel woks. They’d throw it in the still-hot wok with water from the spigots installed above the range, give it a quick scrub using their chuans to move it around, then dump it out, leaving the wok clean as a whistle. But at home…don’t do that.
Our powerful commercial burners and the constant use of the woks meant that re-seasoning was always occurring and that shellacked non-stick patina wouldn't be damaged. Your personal wok’s finish, though? It should be treated more delicately. Wok brushes made from bamboo are the easiest way to clean your wok. They're cheap, heavy-duty, and easy to use: Just brush in a circular motion under running water.
Town 11" Bamboo Wok Brush
What to get: A good bamboo brush should be bound securely at the top and have densely gathered “bristles” (narrow strips) that fan out. You want it to feel stiff and robust, but not so much that it hurts your hand when you rub it against your palm. This will be too abrasive on your finish. On the other hand, don’t buy one that’s too soft, either, or it won’t do a whole lot.
High BTU Stove
Why: Okay, this obviously fits under wish list items, but I’d be remiss not to mention this since every chef I spoke with spent a lot of time lamenting the inability of consumer ranges to bellow the enormous flames that invoke the magical element of wok hei. As Kenji said, “Your biggest constraint in a Western kitchen is actually your burners, and it comes down to heat output and burner shape…At home, our burners are a good 20-25 times weaker.”
The best you can do, though, is to opt for gas. “I know a lot of people aren’t able to choose this for their home, but it really is the first essential item for wok cooking,” Hom says.
Eastman Outdoors 90411 Portable Kahuna Wok Burner
What to get: Well, that’s a whole other in-depth conversation. But if you're planning to buy a new gas range, brands like Zline, JennAir, and KitchenAid even have the option for built-in wok rings. If you're not planning on replacing your stove, there's always the option to get an outdoor wok burner.
Read More:How to Buy, Season, and Care for a Wok