As its name suggests, an electric wok is a modern version of the traditional Asian stir-frying pan that derives its heat from electricity rather than from a stove burner. While the body of an electric wok is usually similar in shape to that of a traditional wok, the electric version is typically set apart from the traditional one by its handle style, coating, and built-in heating unit. Fans of this type of wok note that as it can be used anywhere that an electricity source is available, it is very convenient. Many cooking enthusiasts denounce electric woks, however, arguing that they cannot produce the high heat levels needed when stir-frying, and that they cannot be properly “seasoned.”
Like a traditional wok, the body of an electric wok usually consists of a wide metal pan with rounded sides. Here, the similarities between the electric pan and its traditional counterpart often come to an end. The main difference between the two is that a traditional wok derives its heat from contact with a gas or electric stove burner, while an electric model features a built-in heating element that is connected to an electricity source via a power cord.
Other common differences between electric and traditional woks include handle style and coating. Instead of the long wooden handle found on many traditional woks, the electric version typically features two short plastic handles which are positioned on opposite sides of the pan’s exterior. Further, unlike many traditional woks, an electric wok’s interior is often coated with a non-stick material.
Many advocates of the electric wok feel that its built-in heat source gives it a major advantage over traditional woks. Rather than requiring a stovetop burner like traditional pans, these woks can be used anywhere they can be plugged in. This means it is possible to prepare food at the dining table or even in a hotel room or at a campsite that features power outlets.
The electric wok has many detractors within the cooking community, however. Many of these individuals argue that this type of wok does not heat evenly and cannot reach the very high heat levels needed for stir-frying. For these reasons, electric woks may not perform as well as traditional models. Finally, the non-stick interior found in many electric woks prevents them from becoming “seasoned,” or gradually building up a glaze of food-derived oils, a phenomenon which occurs in uncoated woks, and which is believed to enhance the taste and quality of stir-fried foods.