As you excitedly gather the ingredients to make a stir-fry meal you remember that you lent a friend your wok. Fortunately, there are 3 pieces of cookware you can use instead of a wok.
Here’s what to use instead of a wok:
- Sauté pan
- Nonstick frying pan
Ahead, I’ll talk about how to use these three cooking tools much like you would a wok so you can satisfy your Asian food cravings anytime your wok isn’t available!
3 Wok Alternatives
No wok? No problem! A sauté pan is the first piece of cookware you can reach for once you realize your buddy is using your wok.
Sauté pans are not the same as skillets (even though those work as a wok alternative too; more to come on that).
A sauté pan features a spacious surface area with straight sides. Some people call these pans the frying pan and saucepan hybrid.
You can’t use a sauté pan interchangeably for a frying pan, or else there’d be no need for two separate pans. Rather, sauté pans are recommended for certain cooking scenarios.
One of these is cooking in the oven. Although that’s not so much a feature you’d do in wok cooking, a sauté pan can handle temperatures of around 390 degrees Fahrenheit. A little bit of heat doesn’t bother this pan in the slightest.
The tall, straight sides of a sauté pan make whatever liquids you use in your wok recipe (or the liquids that accumulate during cooking) less likely to seep out everywhere. You’ll have less countertop cleanup to contend with after dinner.
The diameter of a sauté pan’s cooking surface is equal throughout. If you need to work with large quantities of food when making dishes such as Sichuan kung pao chicken or Thai-style beef, you’ll be glad you have a sauté pan.
The second wok alternative I’d recommend is a skillet.
I already explained how sauté pans are not skillets, but what exactly is a skillet anyway?
A skillet is a pan-like cookware with slanted sides rather than straight ones. Some people call skillets just that while others refer to them as frying pans, but the latter isn’t quite accurate.
A frying pan is rather shallow whereas a skillet is deeper. When the time comes to make liquid-heavy wok recipes that could cause spillage, like stir-fried beef with snap peas and oyster sauce, you’ll be glad you chose a skillet over a shallower pan.
However, since skillets have angled sides, you do have to be careful about your cooking technique. Rotating the skillet too much during cooking could cause the liquid to spill.
Those slanted angles make for a perfect tipping spout, so you end up with oyster sauce all over your countertop and not on your beef and snap peas.
Another difference between frying pans and skillets–and this is quite a big one–is that skillets come with lids. That makes a skillet especially adept at braising.
With a lid, you can trap in the heat of what you’re cooking to reduce the overall cook time.
However, you will have to get used to timing your dishes, as the faster cooking times can cause you to overcook your favorite wok recipes at first.
Try to resist opening the lid of the skillet more often than you have to. Each time you do that, you release steam and heat.
It will only take longer for your favorite meals such as Jaeyook Kimchi Bokum (Korean spicy marinated pork with kimchi and chilies) or sweet and sour pork to finish cooking.
Nonstick Frying Pan
The third piece of cookware to use in lieu of a wok is a nonstick frying pan.
You know from the last section that frying pans are shallower than skillets, but they’re excellent for browning, searing, frying, and cooking foods. For that reason alone, you should have a pan or several in your kitchen already.
The nonstick surface could be a coating of Teflon, which is polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE, a type of synthetic fluoropolymer.
If not Teflon, then you would have seasoned your nonstick frying pan to create a patina and a nonstick surface. This is common with carbon steel and cast-iron pans especially.
The other materials used to make frying pans include clad stainless steel (usually with a copper or aluminum core), stainless steel, copper, and aluminum, including anodized aluminum.
The average diameter of a frying pan is 12 inches, which creates a large surface area for getting your fill of Singapore noodles, Kung Pao fish, or stir-fried shrimp.
Frying pans feature lower sides than even skillets. The sides are flared at about the same angle.
For that reason, you must be very careful when handling cooking liquids in a frying pan, as they can easily spill onto your countertop or under the grille of your stovetop.
Frying pans do not include lids, so if you’re looking for faster cooking times, a skillet might be the more appropriate choice.
Since you’re not obscuring your food with a lid, you can track the cooking progress of your food in a frying pan, which can potentially help you avoid burning it.
Is a Wok Really Necessary?
You tried making a wok meal in a nonstick frying pan, a skillet, or a sauté pan, and wow! You’re impressed.
You had always thought a wok was the crucial ingredient in making Asian recipes taste authentic, but maybe not.
There is a growing consensus that a wok might not be required for your most sumptuous stir-fry meals. An Epicurious article from 2015 talks about doing a little cooking experiment where one recipe was prepared the same way, first in a wok and then in a skillet.
The Epicurious writer mentions that in the experiment, the food cooked in the skillet had a cleaner taste and was preferable of the two.
Of course, that’s just one person’s opinion, and everyone has their own opinions.
Even still, that article might have been onto something. Here are some benefits of skillets and sauté pans over woks. Think of this as food for thought!
You Can Season Skillets and Pans Like You Can a Wok
Seasoning is to heat cookware with oil to create a nonstick patina. When you season your cookware, you also increase its durability and longevity.
Before you lent your wok out to your friend, you seasoned it religiously. Now you can carry on that tradition with a sauté pan or a frying pan so your meals have that quality of wok hei to them.
Wok hei is a Chinese term that means “breath of a wok” and refers to the way that flavors are melded into your meals when cooking with a wok.
Despite that wok hei has wok in the name, a wok is not a crucial part of the equation!
Pans and Skillets Are More Beginner-Friendly
Everyone knows their way around a frying pan, even if you’re a complete kitchen newbie. A wok is like a skillet but not quite, so it does require some technique and expertise to figure out, but not by much.
Cooking stir-fry recipes such as pork fried rice with shishito peppers and corn is something you can do the first few times you pick up a skillet or a sauté pan. The learning curve with these common cookware options is less than cooking with a wok.
Wider Cooking Surfaces Make for Easier Cooking (in Some Cases)
When it comes to making mapo tofu or sweet and sour tofu, a wok is hard to work with. The large pieces of tofu can break due to the size constraints of a wok.
This is none too appealing if you’re obsessed with the presentation of your food!
Cookware with larger surface areas such as a skillet or a nonstick frying pan will ensure your tofu stays intact from beginning to end so you can plate it with pride.
You Can Cut Down on All the Oil
One of the key ingredients in wok cooking is oil. No, I don’t only mean the oil you use to season your wok, but the oil in the recipes as well.
Although some oils are touted as heart-healthy and otherwise good for you, that’s only certain types of oil such as vegetable oil.
Many more oils contain saturated fats. Consuming these fats in high quantities could lead to heart damage that may eventually progress to heart disease.
Cooking wok recipes in a skillet or a sauté pan allows you to reduce the amount of oil as well as the high cooking temperatures usually required for the oil to cook food through.
Safer and heart-healthier? That sounds good to us!