Working the line of curvy vessels is fast, hot, and furious business | Photo by Alex Paganelli on Unsplash

No Wok? No Problem. The Skillet Will Do the Trick for Delicious Chinese-Style Dishes and More

You can still “wok the wok” with the pan of smaller curves — and you’ll even save space and money

Jarvis Wai-Ki Clarke
4 min readNov 5, 2021


There’s a remarkable resourcefulness in being able to churn out a variety of dishes from one thing, only.

Like the ever so popular Instant Pot — a gizmo that just about covers all cooking bases — the wok is no exception when it comes to handling a diversity of dishes.

Thanks to its trademark curvature of outward sloping high sides, it can pretty much see to every cooking task but the kitchen sink, from deep-frying batches of spring rolls to steaming a whole fish.

But it’s most famous for its choreography of fast stir-frying — an awesome spectacle of fast moves that defines the rhythm of Chinese restaurant kitchens.

The wok comes in hot, heavy, and fast: The scene of stoic chefs tossing and swirling ingredient after ingredient — singeing a few eyebrow hairs while at it — over what looks like a space rocket launch.

And yet, in spite of its incredible versatility and utility, woks aren’t particularly common across North American households. To which, its absence can be more so attributed to an underlying incompatibility at home.

It’s Too Hot and Curvy to Handle

Besides awkwardly occupying precious kitchen cabinet space, if it can even be accommodated, the wok craves a super high heat and a generous cooking area that can support its shape.

As with large pizza ovens and commercial flat-top grills, woks are rather more easily accommodated within the restaurant kitchen, where its entire body can specifically rest among the flames.

Because of its curved design, it wants to sit in and among a pit of fire where the flames can travel up its sides for complete heating.

And it’s no wonder how it’s the kind of work that’s not often brought home — flames throwing out an impressive 25,000 to 35,000 BTUs versus a residential score of 12,000 to 15,000 BTUs.

Amazing as they are, however, it goes without saying that woks operate best at the highest possible temperature, and with as much contact with the heat source as possible.

But the round bottom of a wok was never intended for the flat stovetop

Either a gas range or electric stovetop at home just wouldn’t come close to replicating the commercial settings — even with the aid of a trivet to help elevate it — which means that the wok would not otherwise heat up as fast or as completely.

Although a wok won’t necessarily set you back in price, you’d inevitably face this particular setback of an underperforming vessel.

Thinking about bringing the wok outdoors to the grill? It’s not so promising or practical, either.

Stick with the Skillet — It Also Has Slanted Sides

Wok or no wok, the recipes largely stay the same. And so do the results.

Yet it’s important to note how much shorter the slanted sides are on a typical skillet. And so, you won’t be able to cook as many ingredients as you would within the wok — and the tossing action will come with more spills.

You will then need to consider cooking in smaller batches. But a 12-inch skillet handles a stir-fry for two without issue.

Because of the style of cooking involved with a wok as well — hot, fast, and furious — a skillet, by comparison, however, doesn’t require as fast of a hand at tossing and turning. And watching.

Sautéing: You don’t need to worry as much about burning food with using a skillet that’s instead more manageable to control heat with and food in.

If you’re also not acquainted with how to cook with a wok, the temperature of the oil in it can really escalate, and it is sure to catch you off guard, which is a matter of safety that’s worth stating.

To that point, a skillet also requires less oil. And it produces less smoke — so there’s less of a worry of upsetting the smoke detector.

Without the taller sides, you’re also less likely to run the risk of breaking up the food and over mixing it, such as accidentally crumbling up cubes of tofu.

Passionate about Chinese dishes and traditional methods? The wok may still steal your heart. But it really does require special practice, experience, and touch.

A heavy cast-iron skillet is a terrific way to cook up the odd Chinese dish.

Related: Swap Out Fish Sauce with These 3 Pantry-Friendly Options



Jarvis Wai-Ki Clarke

With an appetite for words and a curiousity to follow a story, I love exploring the kitchen and the home as much as the outdoors, photographing along the way.