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Jun 10, 2009 02:59 PM

cast iron wok not holding seasoning well - moved from Home Cooking

Hi I have a Chinese cast iron wok with 2 loop handles. It's the thin type, made in the old fashion way cast in sand, in Foshan China, I got it at the wok shop.

The only problem that sometimes occurs is the seasoning turns dull after cooking. And when I cook saucy dishes, or use the wok to steam, it is especially worse. There is some char powder if I wipe on it. I never use soap or do serious scrubbing.

Yesterday my recipe involved light colored sauce and I can see it turn a bit grey and taste slightly bitter. I do use it on a 65k BTU outdoor burner so maybe sometimes the seasoning is burned off I find that I have to wipe some oil or lard and let it smoke, effectively re-season it to get the shiny look again. But the seasoning is always blotchy near the center of the wok. I also have lodge pans and have a much better experience with seasoning on them.

I am very familiar with Chinese cooking but do not have alot of experience with different makes and material of woks. I am thinking to get an extra stainless wok for saucy dishes and steaming, I know they stick more but I can manage fairly well.

But I think maybe this particular style of wok isn't optimal and I should try hand hammered iron or carbon steel wok. My wok now just doesn't seem to have a good "grab" of the seasoning. Don't get me wrong, I made good dishes on this wok but I feel there is a better wok out there.

The woks used in Chinese restaurant is large. maybe 22" and therefore I think it is not cast iron, but carbon steel.


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  1. I agree that a hammered wok would serve your purposes better than cast iron. The reason you're having a problem "near the center" is that it is at this location that the heat concentrates. Is this a flat bottomed wok or a round bottom? Because I don't steam using a wok (I have steamers for that purpose) I don't experience as much loss of seasoning as you apparently do but I can relate to the fact that the heated liquids used in steaming would destroy the seasoning fairly quickly.

    1 Reply
    1. re: todao

      It is a round bottom wok. I think I am going to get a stainless wok for steaming and deep frying, easier to see what is going on.

    2. Work with it and definitely avoid steaming and maybe saucy stuff until you get some good seasoning on it. Then you can do whatever you want to it.

      I have a carbon steel wok and wish I had cast iron. Cast iron makes a great wok because it will hold the heat. When you're done cooking wipe it down and rinse or soak in water if you have to, put it back on the stove turn it to high and add some oil and wipe it around, turn off the heat. One day you'll look and notice some good black seasoning on it.

      Be patient, it will come around and probably be your favorite pan.

      1. The original comment has been removed
        1. Thanks for your advice.. my wok is seasoned by baking in oil in the oven when I first got it.

          The thing that bothers me is I can wipe the wok with a paper towel and I see black dust, all the time. I can put my ho fun in the wok and start to see a some black bits taint it.

          I cook alot of green vegetables, I mix in garlic, chilli pepper etc plus for some heavier sauced dishes I feel I don't need the non-stick property of cast iron. For those dishes I think I want to use a stainless wok. I use all clad stainless indoors for the same dishes, things just cook alot faster on my outdoor burner though.

          1. re: CACook

            A reset I found by mistake was to leave the wok in the oven during a cleaning cycle. immediately after I re-seasoned it by cooking a few slices of bacon in the wok to get the good oils into the pores. It's been great since then -- almost completely non-stick and a quick wipe of the wok brush and it's clean.

            The process I've adopted is culled from numerous threads of advice here -- immediately after cooking, rinse the wok out with water and brush out excess gunk. Put over a hot flame to dry, then let cool for a few minutes, then oil with a high-temperature oil like peanut or canola. Then heat again over high heat for ~5 minutes to allow the oil to get into the pores -- once that's done the wok is ready to store (in our case in the oven).

            Good luck! Our wok is carbon steel but I'm sure the same things would apply to your thin cast iron.

            1. re: CACook

              I think I know the "black dust" you're talking about. It's 'fond' when your heat gets too high and the food gets hard at the bottom of the wok. When you clean it off, dust remains, it's happened to me before. Just gently use the green scrubber to scrub off, wipe oil on it and use, it will 'go away' when you start using again. Try it.

              One more suggestion - when your food starts cooking down, turn your heat down a bit. When the flames go outside of area of your food, it starts smoking.

              If you are using a gas stove, whether it's outdoors or indoors - use the SMALLEST burner. It helps focus your heat in the center of your wok instead of spreading the flame wide. I had personal experience of this when I cooked at my friend's recently. It made a HUGE DIFFERENCE when I switched from the big to smaller burner.

              I'm very glad you got the two handled wok because it keeps it light and balanced! My friend had a carbon steel with one long handle as you can see in photo. This wok had all the things that make wok cooking a chore and dangerous. The handle kept tipping when it had food in it, so I had to constantly hold it and didn't dare leave it to get garlic, had to get someone to add in. Between not getting enough heat and the material of carbon steel which doesn't retain heat well, all contributed to making my veggies "soupy".

              I disagree you don't need non-stick properties of cast iron. Cast iron is PERFECT for stir frying not just everything but especially your veggies, it gives them a crispy, crunchy texture that even picky kids love. Many parents tell me their kids who don't normally eat their veggies love them cooked this way.

              1. re: Eleanor Hoh

                I have the 'black dust' problem with my chinese wok too. I scrub with a coconut husk scrub and hot water and dry over med-high heat. I would wipe it occasionally with oil too but the kitchen towel always turn black. I would have the 'ho fun' turning black problem too. Does it ever go away? Is it harmful when ingested? What is the green scrubber you mentioned?

                CACook, have you found a solution to your problem?

                1. re: KYN

                  I just reread CACook's initial comment and didn't ask if the wok was scrubbed out with hot water and soap to get rid of powder dust that's put on to prevent rusting prior to shipping abroad! Did you scrub out first? The scrubber is the ones with green on one side and yellow sponge on the other side for washing dishes.

                  1. re: KYN

                    Black dust is not harmful, it's iron. It will always have a bit of black coming off.

                    1. re: Eleanor Hoh

                      I would have thought the black dust was seasoning, not iron. Iron would be greyish dust.

            2. I've owned cast-iron pans for years--not just woks, and at some point I learned that there's a difference between food crud left on there and seasoning. You need to be disciplined about getting it off or you do end up with the black dust from hell.

              This problem is magnified if you ever for any reason (such as letting it soak two days in the sink) let some of the real seasoning next to the black dust from hell rub off. Then you have an uneven area and an opportunity for black dust from hell to chip off into your food. I solved this on my regular cast iron pans by getting a plastic scraper; so far my cast-iron wok comes super clean with just the bamboo but if it doesn't you can bet I'll be scraping it.

              I would suggest, as someone said above, a complete restart for your wok. Some suggest salt and oil as a spa facial scrub for your wok, but I think baking off the crust at very high heat is going to give you the fastest route to complete rehabilitation for your wok. Open your window and put your ventilation on max! If there's anything left after it bakes, scrub it off.

              When you have a virgin wok again,I suggest the Wok Shop seasoning method for cast iron, which worked great for me: Coat lightly with oil, turn upside down and bake in oven at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Then let cool and fry up a big wokful of aromatics--onions, scallions, shallots, leeks, ginger, garlic--whatever you have is fine. Let it burn slightly. You'll see the patina develop nearly instantly.

              And yeah, they say when your wok is beautifully seasoned you can steam in it. That is not my experience. I steamed 3-4 sets of dumplings in a row in a beautifully seasoned carbon fiber wok and it really ate into the seasoning. I now steam in a stainless steel stockpot and life is good.