By Adam Seidman and David Wallach
We test a lot of amazing “innovative tech” for our magazine. For the most part, we have a good handle on whatever is put in front of us, but sometimes we reach out to experts to help us get an in-depth look at if a product measures up to their marketing hype. That’s what we did with this review of Smithey Iron wear, reaching out to foodie and experienced home chef Adam Seidman for his thoughts.
If you’re into cast iron and cooking then you are familiar with Staub, the legendary French purveyor of all things cast iron. Newcomers in this space are rare, especially in a market dominated by decades-old mainstays such as Lodge and Le Creuset. When we were given the opportunity to test out Smithey Ironware, we were intrigued.
Smithey Ironware is born from American steel, fire, and artistry to create cook wear that is durable, reliable and meant to last a lifetime.
Founder Isaac Morton took his expertise in restoring old cookware pieces and started creating and sharing a cast iron cookware line that honored the classic style of vintage pieces, but also harnessed modern technology and processes. From that idea — that a lost art might be restored into a modern icon — Smithey Ironware was born.
Smithey sent us their version of the holy grail of Asian cooking: the carbon steel wok. I already had a cast iron wok (yes, it’s a Staub) but I find it too cumbersome to make certain dishes, especially those that require quick heating and lots of tossing. A handmade carbon steel wok, made in America, using artisanal techniques? I couldn’t resist.
This thing is beautiful. It looks like a work of art but that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to use it, for fear of degrading it. If you’re the type of cook who’s willing to invest $300+ on a pan, you’re going to want to use it. And these have been built to be good looking and robust.
Smithey refers to their pieces as heirlooms and has invested the time and guarantees into ensuring that you can still use their products and pass them on to future generations. This wok certainly looks the part. The handmade finish is striking. Hammer indentations line every square inch of its surface, invoking a steel ocean that cascades down the handle and into the surface and maintains a uniform thickness around the entire bowl. The base is flat, with a tiny upward bulge, which prevents liquid ingredients from pooling and getting lost in the center.
It’s truly a work of art, finished with an embossed quail on the handle and a brand marking on the underside. When you open the box, you’ll be greeted with a rich bronze color that no photo can do justice. This color is almost certainly from the pre-seasoning process that Smithey employs (more on this in a bit) and will inevitably fade through regular use. Mine began discoloring after a single stir-fry and started developing a wonderful iridescence from the heat and oil. I have mixed feelings about this, since the original color was certainly pleasing, but a high-quality wok should always turn black and glossy over time, and this seems to fit the bill.
It took me a few days to stop admiring the craftsmanship and then it was time to cook.
The artisans at Smithey have crafted a product that could stand toe to toe with older traditional woks.
The overall shape is uniform, a perfect circle with great rounding on the sides to facilitate high tosses and easy frying. As woks go, it’s a bit smaller than the recommended 14″ that you’ll see everywhere, but I didn’t find the reduced surface area or volume to be an issue. There will be some cognitive dissonance when you pick up your wok. It is deceptively light, despite its all-steel construction.
The curve and height of the handle make tossing a breeze, though the handle isn’t particularly ergonomic, and that height can prove uncomfortable, especially when lifting and pouring things out. I found it tough to grip and the edges started biting into my hand after repeated use. You can invest in a small grip or sleeve to give myself a little more padding and leverage. Smithey currently sells a leather handle cover for their cast iron line but not for their carbon steel offerings.
This thing gets hot. So hot. Smithey advises heating your pan up slowly, but even at low heat, my oil started smoking within minutes. I turned the burner up to max and it performed admirably, instantly bringing my oil to temperature. Heat retention was exceptional, with minimal discernable heat loss during tossing, and I saw no evidence of “hot spots” or dead zones. I was able to achieve an even cook on all my ingredients without hassle. As pans go, this was one of the more pleasurable cooking experiences I’ve ever had.
The wok comes pre-seasoned, with a card in the box proudly proclaiming that all your wok needs a quick rinse in lightly soapy water and is ready for use. The seasoning itself is good but it’s a good idea to season it again on your own. Even with a generous amount of oil and heat, I found that it was prone to some minor sticking, especially on the sides as my slices of beef got pushed up to the edges. It took some significant elbow grease (with a light touch so as not to scratch!) in order to remove the stuck-on bits, which had charred themselves into a new coating. This will more than likely resolve itself after consistent use. If you’re planning on frying your proteins or softer noodles with high heat right out of the box, I recommend seasoning again prior to first use, just to be extra sure.
Smithey is high tech- low tech. They have evolved the idea of cast iron into a best in class cook wear. It’s rare when unrealistically high expectations can be met or exceeded, particularly when it comes to cookware. It’s also rare when you get a product and can say “this is exactly what I wanted.” Smithey’s carbon steel wok succeeds on both these counts.
Whenever I buy cookware, I want it to last long enough that my children will fight over who gets what when I’m gone. I fully expect this wok to be near the top of the list. I’ve come away very impressed with Smithey Ironware and may have to admit that it’s stolen a small piece of my heart from Staub and I find myself excited to try their flagship cast iron.