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Arvid

Wondering about iron woks

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Arvid

Hi all, I am new to this forum and this is my first posting. I’m a Swedish guy now living in Jakarta, Indonesia.

 

i am wondering about woks.  I recently bought a wok in Glodok, Jakarta’s Chinatown. I had decided in advance that I wanted around bottomed 14” (36cm) hammered carbon steel wok.  The guys in the store sold me a wok that, according to them, fit these specifications.  Since the purchase I have tried to find out: what type of wok have I actually bought?

 

Surfing the web, the wok that closest matches what my wok looks like is a Japanese (not Chinese) wok from a brand called Yamada. My wok looks exactly like theirs, apart from the logo.  What concerns me me is that on the Yamada site, they describe it as an “Iron Wok”, not carbon steel, not cast iron, just iron. In fact, many of the woks for sale in Jakarta are described as “iron woks”, and I an see that they are NOT cast iron. So what are they? I never see “iron woks” talked about on the internet.  In my research, all sources say that the choices are Carbon Steel or Cast Iron, but never simply “Iron”.  So I hope somebody can answer my question: what is an Iron Wok?

 

 

 

 

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abcdefg

 

 

On 12/31/2019 at 12:00 AM, Arvid said:

 In my research, all sources say that the choices are Carbon Steel or Cast Iron, but never simply “Iron”.  So I hope somebody can answer my question: what is an Iron Wok?

 

The problem is arising from imprecise English translation of the terms.

 

An iron wok usually refers to a wok hammer forged from high-carbon steel. They are shaped out of a sheet of steel. In Chinese this is simply a 铁锅。They look something like this picture, though home models typically have a handle on one side and an "ear" across from it.

 

1576121740_.jpg.1885813f325674f14baae5e12985b147.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The advantage of this kind of wok is that it gets hot fast and can cool down fast. So one can quickly vary temperatures during different phases of cooking a stir-fry dish. Here's a Chinese link: https://baike.baidu.com/item/铁锅/10477357?fr=aladdin

 

A Chinese cast iron wok is not much thicker than a hammered carbon steel one. In the west, cast iron cooking vessels, skillets and pots, are typically very thick and heavy. Not true with Chinese ones. These are called 铸铁锅。The molten steel is poured into a mold and then it is finished by "pressing" and polishing while still hot. The composition of the steel is also slightly different, but I don't know enough to clearly explain the metallurgy. At a casual glance, they look similar to the carbon steel ones except that they are a little bit thicker.  Link: https://baike.baidu.com/item/铸铁锅/3165592?fr=aladdin

 

1258616991_pigiron.jpg.0eba1f2a19662bc91a50fec59a0b3849.jpg

 

Either of these will do an excellent job. Before the first use, they need to be cleaned and seasoned. Neither of these has a non-stick coating. That's a good thing because they tolerate high heat better. (Nonstick woks in Chinese are 不粘锅.)

 

The reason it's not odd or silly to talk about "iron woks" 铁锅 as a group without being more specific is that some woks are made from aluminum alloys instead. These non-ferrous woks, while typically thick, are not very heavy. They are treated with substances that bond to the metal and give them a non-stick surface. They are popular among casual home cooks. Not so much among  serious home cooking enthusiasts or professional chefs.  

 

I'm away from home on holiday now and don't have much time. When I get back tomorrow I can tell you more, answer additional questions. Meanwhile, you can search this forum for previous posts on the topic. We have discussed different kinds of woks several times. Use the search box in the upper right corner. 

 

May I ask why you specifically chose a round-bottom wok? (I don't mean to imply that it's a bad choice.) I assume you are cooking on gas. Do you use a "wok collar" to lift it up from the burner and stabilize it? Round bottom woks don't work on electric (induction) burners 电磁炉 unless they are concave, specially built to allow a wok to "nest" inside them with tight contact. Those are highly efficient. 

 

Hope you enjoy your new wok! And welcome to the forum!

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Arvid

Hi, and tank you so much for replying.  That was helpful.  The confusion you describe by imprecise translation is compounded by the fact that local merchants in Indonesia translate imprecisely to Indonesian and then sometimes translate imprecisely to english. 

 

Yes, I would never in my life go anywhere near a Teflon wok, any coated wok, an Aluminium wok or a stainless steel wok. Never. Also, I would never use a round bottomed wok on a flat electric stove, I have a gas stove that can handle a round bottom.

 

Since posting, I have become aware of the aware difference between western cast iron and Chinese cast iron also.  

 

So what I take away from your post is that both carbon steel and cast iron woks are sometimes marketed as simply iron woks, and I would need to recognise the difference to tell them apart.  I assume my wok is cast, in that case, because I can not feel or see any hammer marks on it. 

 

I am not very satisfied with it because it is only 1.2 mm so it quickly loses heat when I lift the pan to flip. I want to replace with a 1.8 min.

 

One thing you you said was different from what I learned in my research.  You said that the straight handled woks were “home use” models. What I had previously read was that the “eared” woks were the Cantonese/southern style and the “straight” woks were the Northern/Beijing/Shanghai style.  In other words, I understood the handles to vary by geography, not by whether they were intended for professional or home use. 

E3DCDD05-A89F-4029-B0E3-4A3D58109C14.jpeg

ECB8A2FA-F955-477A-A7F5-ECB16B954800.jpeg

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abcdefg

I'm back in Kunming now. Happy New Year!

 

@Arvid -- Here are some previous posts on the topic of woks. You may find something of interest there.

 

Selecting a Wok -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57246-selecting-a-wok-炒锅/?tab=comments#comment-443505

Using a Wok -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/51217-wok-and-chopsticks/?tab=comments#comment-392506

Seasoning a new Wok -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56214-seasoning-a-wok/?tab=comments#comment-434100 

 

Back to your original post for a moment: 

 

Quote

What concerns me me is that on the Yamada site, they describe it as an “Iron Wok”, not carbon steel, not cast iron, just iron. In fact, many of the woks for sale in Jakarta are described as “iron woks”, and I an see that they are NOT cast iron. So what are they? I never see “iron woks” talked about on the internet.

 

Strictly speaking, iron is an element. It is a mineral found in the earth. Iron ore is mined and then the iron itself is separated from rocks and impurities by smelting and refining. Steel is iron which has been alloyed with differing amounts of other metals, primarily carbon. The precise composition of the steel needed to make a good chef's knife is different from that needed to make a good wok. It's also different from what is needed to make heavy beams, girders, and rebar for the construction of a skyscraper or a bridge.

 

The precise composition of the steel needed to form a sheet of metal from which to hammer a wok is different from that which is used to pour into a mold to make a cast iron cooking pan. Some makers will list the presence of small amounts of chromium and molybdenum, though as often as not they consider it a trade secret. Frankly, the metallurgy of this is beyond my expertise. 

 

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matteo

Metallurgy is a bloody complicated subject, the following from memory and in short. Should an expert come round and find mistakes please lemme know and I'll correct.

 

You start with Iron and add different materials to change its mechanical properties, machinability, workability, corrosion resistance, suitability to heat treatment etc. You can go crazy with a million combinations and there's a universe behind this.

 

Unalloyed Iron - so containing just the impurities from the smelting process -  is the one that was used commonly before they invented steel. It is easy to work and relatively soft but because carbon steel is mechanically much better, it is no longer super popular outside of niche products.

Steel is the most common alloy and is obtained by adding a bit of carbon - it is much stronger than just iron. If you add too much carbon, your steel becomes harder and brittle, unsuitable for being worked. This, confusingly enough, is called Cast Iron.  

Cast Iron is widespread because it is easy to cast, hard as, easy to machine and resistant to corrosion. 

 

So summing up:

1) Iron, or "wrought iron" basically no carbon content. Soft and workable. Because you say that your wok is hammered, this is probably what it is made of. 

2) Carbon Steel is a Iron alloy with up to about 2% Carbon in it - can be worked and is very widespread. It will not easily be confused with Iron.

3) Cast Iron is a Iron alloy with more than 2% Carbon in it. Hard and brittle. It is used to make all kind of things including woks but it doesn't lend itself to be worked so you will have a different wok that was obtained through a different process.

 

Hope this helps and doesn't make things more confusing ^_^

 

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dougwar

Iron is the mineral and can't be used to make a wok or something like that.

All the rest are iron alloy. 

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889

Regardless of the particular alloy used, a ferrous wok is commonly called 铁锅 "iron wok" in Chinese. English is often more specific. Thus the confusion.

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abcdefg
On 12/31/2019 at 1:42 PM, Arvid said:

... In other words, I understood the handles to vary by geography, not by whether they were intended for professional or home use. 

 

@Arvid -- You might be right about the handles.  I live in the southwest of China, Kunming in Yunnan. 

 

The picture you posted looks like an excellent wok and burner set up. I would think it will serve you quite well. The hammer forged carbon steel woks I have owned don't show actual hammer marks. They are smooth. I currently use a thin cast iron wok. It is pictured and described in the links I posted above. 

 

On 12/31/2019 at 1:42 PM, Arvid said:

I am not very satisfied with it because it is only 1.2 mm so it quickly loses heat when I lift the pan to flip. I want to replace with a 1.8 min.

 

I wonder if there will really be any difference.  

 

Hope you will stick around and contribute to the Chinese cooking thread. It has been kind of dead recently; needs more contributors. Here's a link to a collection of recipes and articles about local ingredients: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52430-alphabetical-index-of-food-articles/ 

 

Jakarta is bound to have lots of interesting eats. Visited two or three times but never lived there. 

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Arvid
On 12/31/2019 at 11:17 AM, abcdefg said:

The reason it's not odd or silly to talk about "iron woks" 铁锅 as a group without being more specific is that some woks are made from aluminum alloys instead.

 

Hi Again.  I did not intend to infer that talking about “iron woks” was silly or odd.  But as somebody just getting into Chinese cooking, it makes it difficult when Indonesian sellers are advertising woks as simply “wajan besi”, Indonesian for “iron pan”. It is too non-specific to be helpful.  

 

Thanks to to you and fellow follow posters, I can now more easily deduce (with maybe 75% certainty) what alloy they are referring to, by looking at other clues. 

 

Im now pretty sure mine is carbon steel because 1) the salesman said so (not always a guarantee to be true in Indonesia), 2) the surface is smooth, and 3) darker spots appeared in the metal when I was re-seasoning it. These are not residue, these seem to come from the metal itself. I understand these to be “impurities” from the carbon steel. 

 

So thats one mystery that I’m fairly satisfied is now solved. 

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Arvid
4 hours ago, abcdefg said:

The picture you posted looks like an excellent wok and burner set up. I would think it will serve you quite well.

 That is reassuring. Thank you. 

 

The day I bought the wok, I also ordered Chinkian vinegar, Shaoxing wine, lapchiong, black sesame oil, oyster sauce, dried shiitake, chili daubanjian, lauganmau (2 types), Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, fennel seeds, and dark soy (the pearl river mushroom kind), 2 liters of cooking oil and 1 kg fresh ginger.  

 

I did not order light soy, because I still have half a bottle of Japanese Kikkoman to finish.  I hope I am not committing shameful sacrilege by letting that sauce serve as the light soy sauce in my Chinese cooking until it runs out.  

 

Anyway, now I am all set to go.  

 

Ive used the wok every day, even for western food.  

 

Ive cooked 2 Chinese full meals (1 meat + 1 veg per meal) , 2 Chinese omelette for breakfasts, and I’ve cooked some western dishes on the wok as well.  Results were good, but I have a long way to go to reach perfection.  

 

I want to to ask the people here:

 

the guy primarily responsible for for getting me interested in investing in a wok and these ingredients and to start my Chinese cooking journey, is a chinese YouTuber called Chef Wang.  He doesn’t speak English, but he has English subtitles on his videos.  After seeing 20 of his videos, I could not resist it anymore.  

 

Do you guys know of Chef Wang? If so, what do you think of him.  Is he authentic? Is he a good inspiration and a good guide?

 

to those who do not know, I’ll post a link below

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Arvid

Following my previous post, here is the link of Chef Wang. 

 

He has lots of videos, each one focusing on one dish and each one 4-6 minutes only.  

 

The link ink below is for the first dish I cooked on my wok when I got it.  I didn’t have all the same types of chilies that he used, so I used other types.  

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=L7qsyMXUiL8

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Arvid
9 hours ago, 889 said:

Regardless of the particular alloy used, a ferrous wok is commonly called 铁锅 "iron wok" in Chinese. English is often more specific. Thus the confusion.

True, that is the core issue.  

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Arvid
4 hours ago, abcdefg said:

Hope you will stick around and contribute to the Chinese cooking thread.

 

Id like that.  I’ll keep you posted.  Thanks. 

 

4 hours ago, abcdefg said:

Jakarta is bound to have lots of interesting eats.

 

Yes, I have come to love Indonesian food in the 10 years I have lived here.  Indonesia is a world in itself with many cultures, and many cuisines.  I assume China is like that too.  Many Chinese people live here too.  Many are “Indonesian Chinese”, meaning they have lived here for many generations, but they still retain their own culture.  

 

When end I am away from Indonesia I miss the food here.  

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Arvid
11 hours ago, matteo said:

Hope this helps and doesn't make things more confusing

 

That was very informative and helpful. Thank you so much. 

 

Just two two follow up questions.  

 

You say pure/wrought iron is soft and rarely used after steel was invented, apart from niche products. Then you say that because my wok is hammered it is probably made from wrought iron. I take that to mean that hammered woks are most likely wrought iron.  But the great majority of the hammered woks I have seen talked about or advertised on international websites have been described as Hammered Carbon Steel Woks.  There are very very few references I have seen to “Hammered Wrought Iron Woks”.  Are you sure you did not mean to say that you assume my wok is Carbon Steel?

 

My second question is, you say that wrought iron and carbon steel are easy to distinguish.  Can you elaborate on how?

 

I’d like to finish with a clarification: I was perhaps unclear in my previous post, but I didn’t intend to give the impression that my wok is hammered.  I don’t actually know what the manufacturing process is, but I’m trying to work it out.  I can definitely say that it is not a “turned” wok, because it has no circles.  

 

Thank you you again for your excellent breakdown of he alloys.  Very helpful.  

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matteo
3 hours ago, Arvid said:

You say pure/wrought iron is soft and rarely used after steel was invented, apart from niche products. Then you say that because my wok is hammered it is probably made from wrought iron. I take that to mean that hammered woks are most likely wrought iron.  But the great majority of the hammered woks I have seen talked about or advertised on international websites have been described as Hammered Carbon Steel Woks.  There are very very few references I have seen to “Hammered Wrought Iron Woks”.  Are you sure you did not mean to say that you assume my wok is Carbon Steel?

 

3 hours ago, Arvid said:

My second question is, you say that wrought iron and carbon steel are easy to distinguish.  Can you elaborate on how?

 

Ahaha sorry it seems that I have managed to make things more confusing after all.  Carbon Steel can be wrought/hammered, and it would be definitely be more common that wrought iron. 

These are the points I'd make to identify the material/process:

 

1) your wok is hammered or forged, not cast. There are a few hints to this:

- in your inital post you say you asked for a hammered wok, unless they completely disregarded your request that should be what you got? 

- 1.2 mm is quite thin, I don't definitely say that it can't have been cast, but much more likely comes from a sheet

- if this picture is what your wok looks like, you can spot where it's been folded. Also, if it were cast, the handle would be solid. 

- It looks really smooth, whereas cast iron is usually rougher

 

Conclusion 1: it is almost certainly NOT Cast Iron

 

image.thumb.png.8bd32edee1035a4cead92a7e7a60cd60.png

 

2) Given what said above, the wok is either made of Wrought Iron or Carbon Steel. I'm by no means an expert in woks, but I'd expect 99% of the pans out there to be steel rather than iron.

My conclusion of your wok being made of "wrought iron" only originates from you saying that the material is called "Iron" in the manufacturer website. It seems to me highly unlikely that they would call "iron" something that is actually steel. But now I'm re-checking the previous posts as well as abcdefg's comments, and I probably got this wrong. 

 

Conclusion 2: it's very likely Carbon Steel

 

 

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abcdefg

About the Chef Wang videos -- Had not come across him before, but I just now watched four of them, including the one to which you linked for Zigong-style pork ribs. He looks like the real deal. Authentic. Not a phony "TV Food Personality." He has excellent wok technique and knife skills. Clear explanations. Should be a fine role model for Sichuan cuisine.  

 

Quote

I did not order light soy, because I still have half a bottle of Japanese Kikkoman to finish.  I hope I am not committing shameful sacrilege by letting that sauce serve as the light soy sauce in my Chinese cooking until it runs out. 

 

Your Kikkoman light soy sauce should be OK to get started. They make several grades. By all means use it up. After that you can explore some Chinese brands that most chefs think have a bit more flavor. Here's a link to a recent soy sauce discussion: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/59122-which-kind-of-soy-sauce-酱油/?tab=comments#comment-459922 

 

What I would actually suggest is to not use every last drop of the Kikkoman. Save some to compare with the next light soy sauce you buy. I have done side by side comparisons of several popular light soy sauce offerings here in Kunming. I dip a small piece of raw cucumber or raw carrot into two side-by-side dishes of soy sauce and see if I can tell them apart. If I can, then I ask myself about their specific qualities: is one saltier, is one sweeter, is one more pungent. 

 

My current two favorite light soy sauce are these. The same company makes them, but one is aged longer, 380 days instead of 280 days. The older one is more expensive. I use it mainly in a dipping sauce or in a dressing for salads. The younger one I mainly use when cooking. (I don't know if this brand is exported.) 

 

768779563_IMG_9643(2)-930px.thumb.jpg.83a0b23d2889e86cba8970235fd85c03.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most soy sauce here has a quality designation, with 特级 being the top level ("te ji.") That's what both of these are. (Small print at the bottom.) I would suggest sticking with this level. 

 

272714518_IMG_9644(2)-950px.thumb.jpg.f9febd848a02fc10cf3f3e53730063a9.jpgIn selecting soy sauce anywhere, I would suggest a careful read of the label to be sure it doesn't contain additives. Lots of soy sauce has salt, sugar, and MSG mixed in. Not that any of these things are particularly bad, but it's best to be able to control how much of them you add to a dish, if any. 

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Arvid
6 hours ago, abcdefg said:

He looks like the real deal. Authentic. Not a phony "TV Food Personality." He has excellent wok technique and knife skills. Clear explanations. Should be a fine role model for Sichuan cuisine.  

 

Thats what it looked like to me to so thanks for confirming.  He seems to know his business and is not a clueless celebrity following a script.  I too admire his technique.  And not only are his explanations clear, they are sensible. No hocus pocus.  

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Arvid
8 hours ago, matteo said:

Conclusion 2: it's very likely Carbon Steel

 

That is very clear.  Thanks so much for clarifying.  

 

 

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