By far my favorite tool in the kitchen is the wok. If you aren’t in the know, a wok is a large bowl-shaped pan that originated in China. Some believe the wok was developed some 2,000 years ago. Others think it’s a more recent innovation (only 700 years old) due to the complexity of making iron or steel cooking vessels.

Today, it’s spread throughout eastern Asia and is one of the most common cooking utensils in China and East Asia. Now, this sounds like some exotic, niche cooking item, right? Wrong.

Let’s talk about why the wok is a college student’s best friend. For starters, the concave shape and composition of the wok makes for a useful kitchen tool, allowing heat to evenly distribute and preventing hot spots which cause food to stick and burn.

Photo by Kirby Barth

Stir-fry is the ultimate college student home-cooked meal. Fast, cheap, healthy and easy it’s a great way to utilize the leftovers in the kitchen or take advantage of local farmers’ markets.

From Pad Thai, to beef and broccoli, the combinations of vegetables, meats, and sauces are nearly endless. Basically anything can be throw into a stir-fry. Carrots, peppers, and leftover chicken? Toss in olive oil and enjoy the culinary experience. Looking for something more spicy? Squash, zucchini, carrots, chicken and shrimp with peanut butter and chili paste tossed with rice noodles makes a delicious Pad Thai-inspired dish.

Because stir-fry is cooked over high heat, the vegetables stay crisp and textured while the meats are flavorful and tender. It’s a killer combination of tastes that will leave you wanting seconds.

Photo by Katherine Baker

Although most stir-fry is based on Asian cuisine and flavors, the flavor possibilities are endless! Italian flavored pastas, seafood, and other delights are all possible to make using a wok.

If you thought the only trick a wok has is stir-fry, well, wrong again. Woks can be used for steaming, pan frying, deep frying, dry frying, poaching, boiling, braising, searing, stewing, making soup, and smoking.

Because of the wok’s unique shape, you use less oil for frying, less water for pasta, and it’s ideally designed to toss and mix sauces without spilling (I mean, it is a bowl after all).


Photo by Danny Schuleman

You want to know the true appeal? The wok was developed to make the most out of limited food resources. I know as a college student on a budget, getting the most out of the food in my refrigerator is a huge plus. Using almost the same ingredients, I can make two completely different meals, both of which will leave your dinner guests wowed and you with some extra money in your pocket.

These potent combos and culinary possibilities give woks one of the best bang-for-your-buck out of all the pans in your kitchen. Pretty sweet for something that costs 20 bucks, right? Right.