Cast Iron Wok vs. Carbon Steel Wok – What’s the Difference

The type of wok you use can make a world of difference in your cooking. Woks are adaptable and can be used to cook a wide variety of food. However, there are different types of woks from which you have the option of choosing.

Depending on the type you choose, cooking with the wok and cleaning the wok may become an overall easier process.

In this article we will cover the major differences between cast iron and carbon steel woks. In order to help you choose between the two main types, we will cover maintenance, cooking, storing, and other important elements.

Both types of woks are well known to be long-lasting and dependable. On the other hand, when you compare them seriously, you will be able to see that they both have unique characteristics, strengths, and shortcomings.

Typically, cast iron woks tend to be longer-lasting, however, a downside is that they often are more expensive and take more time to maintain. Alternatively, carbon steel woks are very easy to use, yet they are less likely to last a long time in comparison to cast iron woks.

Whichever type of wok you choose depends entirely on your preference, though, depending on the what they are used for, each type of wok has their own benefits. There are even some individuals who choose to purchase both types for convenience. Let us now compare both types of woks and display the differences between them.


Cast iron has an incredible reputation when it comes to how long it lasts. Often, if it is cared for carefully and diligently, it can last generations (as hard as that may be to comprehend, it is not at all an exaggeration). Its durability has led to cast iron being praised as an incredible material for cookware.

On the other hand, cast iron does need to be seasoned frequently. It is rugged and the material requires seasoning every so often. How frequently it needs seasoning depends entirely on how often you choose to use it.

Cast iron cookware requires seasoning yearly or biennially (every 2 years). However, how do you ‘season’ cast iron cookware?

Firstly, you must scrub it with soapy water and let it completely dry. Next, you can spread vegetable oil over the inside of the pan and then heat it inside of an oven at around 375°C. After 1 hour it must be completely cooled down and it is possible that you may need to repeat the process a few times.

The process itself ensures that a thin coating of carbonized oil is infused into the material. The material itself is permeable, meaning that the oil easily absorbs into the cast iron material and remains there for quite a lengthy amount of time.
The benefit of making sure that the wok is coated with such oils is that it will remain, essentially, a non-stick pan naturally. As a result, a non-stick spray is not required whenever you decide to cook using a cast iron wok.

In contrast, a large drawback of the material’s permeable quality is that alongside the oil, other liquids and residue can also permeate the wok. This means that you should refrain from cleaning it using dishwasher detergent since it can easily be blended in with your dishes.

Using soap to clean such a wok would also remove part of its oily coating, meaning that it will no longer retain its non-stick quality.

Let’s have a look at carbon steel woks next. Carbon steel cookware in general is much easier to keep in good condition. The material itself is not permeable, therefore there is no need to fret about seasoning it every so often.

The carbon steel material is neither as durable nor as thick as cast iron, meaning that it is less resistant to wear. As such, carbon steel woks would only last for (at most) 2 decades, and this depends entirely on how it was built in the first place.

The Cooking Process With Carbon Steel And Cast-Iron Woks

Whether you are working with a carbon steel wok or a cast iron wok, the dishes you make with them will have a subtle difference in taste. This is because, as previously mentioned, there is a distinction between the weight of the materials and the thickness. Cast iron is a thicker material, meaning it requires more time before it fully heats.

In comparison, carbon steel tends to completely heat up at a quicker rate. However, most of the heat accumulates at the bottom of the cookware due to the fact that it is closest to the actual stovetop.

As a general observation, food tends to be cooked quickly when cooked using a carbon steel wok. When it comes to having food cooked in Chinese diners or restaurants, to get your food quickly prepared a cast iron would not be suitable. Cast iron would result in longer wait times, which can be quite inconvenient for the customer.

When it comes to cooking at home, if you are not in a hurry to prepare food, a cast iron wok would be highly suitable. This is because the material heats up evenly, thus ensuring that you heat up the entire pan and that the bottom of the pan does not accumulate too much heat.

A drawback with cast iron is that it is not as suitable for cooking with foods that have high acidity. Examples of such foods include lemons and tomatoes. Foods that are high in citric acid can easily cause the seasoning on the wok to be removed.

Without the layer of carbonized oil, the wok no longer retains its non-stick quality, thus requiring you to repeat the seasoning process again. For those who are fond of these types of foods, it may be more advisable to use a carbon steel wok when cooking with them.

Wok Cleaning Process And Storage

Cast iron is definitely more high maintenance than carbon steel due to the requirement of seasoning the pan. On the other hand, annual or biennial seasoning is not too much of a chore, and it can also make the cleaning process much simpler in comparison to handling a carbon steel wok.

In general, depending on the shape, a cast iron wok can be much easier to clean efficiently. The material itself (if seasoned correctly) is non-stick, meaning that you will not have to worry about having to scrape off food stuck to the wok. It is quite easy to actually wash or wipe all of the food residues out of the material.

In addition, since soap is inadvisable with cast iron, you will not have to worry about soaking the wok with water and then using dishwasher detergent. The process of cleaning is simple, you can easily use a sponge to gently remove all residue. It is also possible for you to use some sort of brush as long as it is not too harsh on the material.

Depending on how big your wok is or how big your cleaning station is, cleaning a wok should be easy. At most, it typically requires a few minutes to be completely cleaned.

Next, let’s have a look at carbon steel woks. When newly purchased, carbon steel does have the same non-stick attribute as cast iron. However, over time as the wok is used over and over again, the coating is worn away.

As such, without the non-stick quality, food can become stuck to the material. This makes it much harder and more inconvenient to clean. This is especially true, for example, in a restaurant setting where food is meant to be cooked quickly and efficiently.

When it comes to removing all of the food stuck to the wok after cooking, you may need to soak it first. Again, this can be incredibly inconvenient. For those who do not have time to wait, you may be tempted to actively scrub the residue off of the pan.

Scrubbing can also result in wearing off of the non-stick coating quicker. This means that it needs to be replaced more frequently.

How about storing cookware? When you need to store your cookware, be aware that cast iron woks are much heavier and thicker than carbon steel. It depends entirely on the brand or type you purchase, though, it is still good to note that it might be difficult to store.

Those who have a lot of storage space will have less to worry about. On the other hand, another drawback of cast iron is that it can be quite heavy. As long as you do not need to move it too often or too far, it likely won’t be as much of a problem.

Cast iron is best stored on lower shelves since it can be quite heavy. It can also give you easier access to the wok, especially if reaching higher shelves may be problematic.

Cast Iron vs Carbon Steel: Cost

From all of the information that was presented so far, which do you think is going to be more expensive? Many people would typically guess cast iron. It is durable, has a long lifespan, heats evenly, and more. However, the cast iron material is easier to work with.

Cast iron is plentiful and much easier to mould in comparison to carbon steel. Due to the manufacturing process, it is likely to be less costly. Typically, cast iron woks are between $20-$50. However, the branded products are likely to be priced much higher.

When it comes to the cost of carbon steel, first we must account for its manufacturing process. Carbon steel is more difficult to shape and work with in comparison. As such, they can be much more expensive to purchase.

Carbon steel woks are typically around $50 and can increase in price, though it is possible to find cheaper ones. However, it is important to bear in mind that these types of woks are unlikely to have a lengthy lifespan. Meaning that you may be required to replace them more often, thus resulting in more costs.

FAQs: Cast Iron And Carbon Steel

There are a few common questions that arise when choosing between cast iron or carbon steel. In order to help you decide which would be best, here are some of the most common questions and our researched answers.

Is It Safe To Use Carbon Steel In My Cooking?

Yes. It is perfectly safe to use carbon steel cookware in general. Carbon steel does not have toxic material so it is safe to use. On the other hand, it does come with a non-stick layer which can get into the dishes you are cooking once it begins to wear away,

Before making a purchase, it is important that you purchase a carbon steel wok that actually comes with a non-stick attribute.

How Often Does Cast Iron Cookware Require Seasoning?

It depends entirely on how often you cook or what type of ingredients you are cooking with, although typically it is advised that you season your wok once a year. This is likely to be more frequent if you cook daily (roughly bi-annually).

Can I Place My Wok inside The Oven?

Carbon steel and cast iron are both durable enough to be able to withstand oven temperatures. In contrast, they can be quite large. As such, they may not fit inside of a small oven (this is particularly true if you choose to include a large lid).

In general, it depends on how large your wok is and the size of your oven.

Does My Wok Need A Lid?

Many of the woks that are available for purchase are accompanied by a lid. In general, the types of dishes cooked in woks don’t require the use of a lid. Woks are typically used for food designed to be prepared quickly, such as stir-fried rice.

Which Type Of Wok Is More Durable?

Cast iron is typically more durable than carbon steel. However, both cast iron and carbon steel are durable enough to last for a few decades, if properly maintained. It is important to note that your cast iron cookware may develop cracks if dropped.

To help you make the most suitable choice in cookware, we have covered many of the essential features between carbon steel and cast-iron woks in this article. Regardless of which one you choose, don’t forget to cook safely!

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