A wok is a versatile tool in the kitchen, and is ideal for sauteeing, stir frying, pan frying noodles, and deep frying. You need to be able to get fire under it (they’re pretty much useless on an electric stove), but there are electric options available, and outdoor gas wok stands. The outdoor gas woks are especially handy for deep frying, so you don’t have to worry about grease splattering everywhere.
There are often workarounds or (aha) wok-arounds? if you don’t have a wok. We’ll try to note alternative cooking techniques. But, if you can, it’s worth getting one.
Woks work on the principle of maximizing surface area. Most of the outside of the pan is in contact with flame; and most of the food is in direct contact with the hot pan. This cooks food quickly, and lets moisture evaporate quickly — limp and soggy stir-fries often occur when you can’t cook vegetables fast enough, and they end up boiling in their own juices. The sloped sides also let you pull food out of the middle, to quickly cook off excess liquid.
They’re pretty straighforward to clean (steel wool works well). But they can rust if you don’t look after them carefully. After you’re done with your wok, put it on a low flame until all the water boils off, to dry it. Then wipe it with a paper towel and a bit of vegetable oil (or, lard is probably traditional). This will keep it from oxidizing.