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Nov 20, 2009 07:26 AM

(Yet another) Wok Seasoning Question

Can a new carbon steel wok be used after the initial seasoning, or does the seasoning process need to be repeated several more times before the wok is really usable? Thanks!

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  1. First, (not answering your question directly), please make sure you clean the wok first. Most carbon steel woks came in with protective machine oil, so you will need to throughly clean it before you season it.

    In answering your question:
    Can a new carbon steel wok be used after the initial seasoning?
    Kinda of. It depends how you season it and your definition of usable.

    After you seasoned it on stove top (assuming you use stove top method), I personally would advise you to stir fry some chopped onion with oil (half onion or a whole onion). Don't be shy, stir fry the onion in high heat and to the point which the onion starts to blacken. Then, you can turn off the heat and continue the stir fry motion for a just a bit. Once the wok is cool down, you can throw the burned onion away. This "wasteful" procedure does two things. It further seasons the wok and remove some of the metal taste.

    From there you should be ready to cook your first real meal, you will probably use slightly more oil in the beginning, just because the cookware is still new. As time goes on, you can probably able to cut down the oil. Basically, it is more of a trail and error here. You will want to put as little oil as possible without foods (especially meat) sticking to the wok, and you will get a feel for that.

    22 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      Thanks once again for your great advice. I'm taking on the wok-seasoning project this weekend. I was planning on using canola oil; is there any reason not to? Would you like to come over and show me how it's done? :)

      1. re: CindyJ

        Hehehe. I am sure you will do just fine. :)

        If I am correct, you said your last seasoning did not go well because it turns into sticky substance? This usually happen in oven seasoning and not stovetop seasoning.

        I think Ching He's seasoning video on youtube is useful, but I think you said you have already watched it, right? Anyway, it is here:

        The method I use is closer to this guy:

        But they all work and they are really not that different.

        Just make sure you have (1) window open, (2) exhaust fan on high, (3) fire distinguisher nearby -- you will not really need it, but just in case.

        Then just pour some oil in the wok and heat it up on until it starts to smoke and slowly swirl the oil around. If it smokes a lot, then turns down the heat. By the way, it is best to work with lard, peanut oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil.... avoid olive oil because olive oil has a low smoke point. Be careful not to splash yours with hot oil. If necessary, wear oven mitts to swirl the oil around. Oven mitts give you small protection, but you also lose some dexterity, so your decision. Also do not work with a wet hand beause any water dropping into the hot oil will make the oil splashes around.

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          I've seen (and just watched again) both of those videos. In the second one, he never says anything about using oil. Is he seasoning it with heat alone? Also, my wok is flat-bottomed and I don't have a wok ring, so I don't think his method would work for me.

          Re-watching the first video, I think I began to see where I went wrong the first time. As she uses the paper toweling to spread the oil around the pan, I began to think there wasn't enough oil in that pan. I'm sure I used too much oil the last time. Should I just trust myself that there's enough oil in the pan, even as the paper towel is burning? And backing up a bit, how much oil should I start with?

          1. re: CindyJ


            I don't understand him either :P What I did is to first heat the wok until it turn bluish without oil and after that I finish with real seasoning with oil and turn the wok bit but bit like he did. I don't even know if the first step is really necessary. I just do it because I was trying all sort of methods. The wok ring actually help to season the side/edge of a wok, so you can tilt it easier. I don't think you have to have it.

            I think Ching He method is easier to follow. I don't think you can really turn the oil into sticky substance on stovetop. I have not had it happened to me and I have used various amount of oil.

            Anyway, you want to use enough oil that you can comforably cover your flat surface, so maybe between 2-3 tablespoon -- depending the size of your wok? As the oil starts to smoke a bit, then you can swirl around the side and then use the paper towel (with a tong) and wipe the wok. You may add more oil if the paper towel soaks up too much oil. You don't want the wok look completely bone-dry. Afterall, you are trying to turn the oil into carbon on the cookware. It should still look like a very thin layer of oil on it. In other words, it should still look slightly shiny/glossy and not that dry dull color.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Okay... so I spent the morning seasoning my wok. I followed your instructions, and the instructions in the Ching He video and the instructions that came with the wok. All recommendations were similar and consistent. I added some ginger to the onions I stir-fried, based on something I'd read along the way.

              I'm fairly happy with the results, but there are a couple of "tacky" spots. Are those spots not carbonized enough? Should I leave them alone for now, or perhaps re-heat those spots? If I reheat them, should I add more oil or not?

              1. re: CindyJ


                Slightly tacky, slightly glossy, right? You CAN reheat the spots, but I don't think it is necessary. They will go away in times, so don't worry about them.

                If they are really gummy and sticky, then you can scratch the gummy things off with an old credit card and then maybe do a real heat up and cool down just a very thing layer of oil.

                Now your vegetables will not stick to a wok, so the challenges usually come from meats. Here is a trick, I used to apply for a new wok. Heats up the wok with small amount of oil in it and when the oil just barely starts to smoke, stops and cools it (like10-20 seconds) and then discards the hot oil into the sink or somewhere. Now, wipe the extra oil away from the wok using a paper towel.

                Now you can cook as usual: heat up the cookware, add oil, then add meat.

                The extra first step of "heating oil and throwing it away" basically is a mini-seasoning step, and it ensures you have a new nonstick layer right before cooking meats. This is not necessary for an older wok.

                Oh yes, but the way, you may need to re-season the wok from time to time, but re-season is never as labor intensive as the first one. The re-season usually only requires the mini-seasoning step I mentioned earlier.

                Please update us on your progress. Thanks.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  You continue to be so very helpful -- thank you SO much!

                  The wok is only mildly tacky in a couple of spots, and glossy over most of the surface. I won't do anything about the tacky areas right now.

                  I'll be trying the wok out tonight. I'll be cooking "Martin Yan's Genghis Khan Beef" from "The Breath of a Wok" cookbook. I'll be sure to follow your advice and mini-season the wok before I cook. When I add that small amount of oil, should I spread it around the inside of the wok with a paper towel, or just leave it on the bottom?

                  I'm curious about your vast knowledge of "wokery." Are you a chef or merely a seasoned home cook? Where and how did you learn so much?

                  1. re: CindyJ


                    :) You flatter me. I am a home cook and not even that seasoned. I am 35. It is true that failure is the best teacher -- in my case anyway. I learn because I failed. Had I done my first seasoning perfectly, I won't know how to deal with all the non-ideal cases. I know how to deal with these non-ideal cases, like gummy substances, because I have done them myself. In short, I failed a lot.

                    In answering your question, about adding the oil. Just add the oil to the warm/hot cookware and periodically swirl the oil around by tilting the cookware. You don't need to swirl the oil very fast or swirl it all the way up to the very top. You just want the oil to coat the cooking area part of the wok (the bottom area). After the oil starts to smoke for 5-10 seconds, you can then turn off the heat. Once the oil has cooled down somewhat you can discard it and wipe the wok semi-clean with a paper towel.

                    In theory, you can discard the hot oil anytime, but it is safer to wait for it to cool down a bit.

                    On last suggestion. This is probably mentioned in your cookbooks anyway. Usually, it is easier to cook the meats first and then the vegetables. This is not a must. I know a few people go the other routes, but I would say 80% of people believe in meats should go before vegetables. Best of luck.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      You seem wise beyond your years. :) I think I'm about ready to tackle tonight's cooking challenge, and I'm excited to see how it will all turn out. The recipe I'm using does call for cooking the meat first, then removing it to a plate while the remaining ingredients cook. It also says to leave the meat undisturbed for about 30 seconds right after it's added to the pan.

                      Well, it's time to start the cutting, chopping and other tasks. I'll let you know how it all turns out.

                      1. re: CindyJ

                        Thanks. Your recipe is correct. It is best to cook the meat first. When it is done or almost done, takes it out and then cooks the vegetables. If you cook the vegetables with the meat, then (usually) the water from the vegetables will soak the meat and change its texture, which is fine in some situations, but usually not.

                        Let's us know how it turns out. Thanks.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          It turned out quite well. It was delicious and, importantly, there was minimal sticking of the meat on the wok. That said, when the cooking was finished and the wok emptied, there was some "stuff" that had stuck to the sides of the wok. Most likely, it was the remains of the mixture the meat had marinated in for about 20 minutes -- a mixture of light soy, dark soy and cornstarch.

                          I followed the cleaning instructions that came with the wok, which said to use hot water and a non-metallic scrubber to remove any stuck-on food. I used a Dobie pad (no soap) and the stuff came right off. I rinsed and dried the wok and put it over medium heat on the cooktop for a couple of minutes to make sure it was completely dry. But I noticed that the seasoning seemed to be gone in a few spots -- probably where I had scrubbed it with the Dobie pad. So my first question today is, should I re-season it before I put it away?

                          My other question is about storing the wok. It's a big thing, and won't fit in any of my kitchen storage spaces. I have storage shelves for extra-large pots and pans in my (unheated) garage, but I don't know if that's an environment that would make it more likely to rust. I'm interested in your thoughts on that. Thanks!

                          1. re: CindyJ


                            Glad you have fun. I used to use a nonstick wok, and I was pleasantly surprised when I switched a seasoned carbon-steel wok. It is essentially nonstick like a telfon wok, but I can heat it to much higher temperature and therefore the foods taste better.

                            Yes, you are correct to remove those "stuffs/carbonized chunks/curls". Otherwise they will build thicker and thicker and finally when they come off, they will rip large chunk of seasoning off with them -- want to guess how I know that.

                            Having spots of your seasoning come off is very normal and even expected for a new wok. You don't need to re-season it before you put away, as long as the wok is dry. You may need to do a min-seasoning right before your next cooking, but it is unnecessary for storage.

                            As long as you have dried the wok with a paper towel or the low heat method you used, all you need is to apply a very thin layer of cooking oil for storage. By the way, it is not a big deal if it rusts a bit outside, it is the cooking surface which matters, so you don't have to apply oil to the exterior if you think it is too messy. Thanks.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              I didn't know I had to apply a layer of oil before storing it. That raises a new concern -- depending on where I store it, won't dust particles stick to the oiled surface? Would there be any advantage or disadvantage to oiling it and then putting it into a plastic tub to keep it clean?

                              1. re: CindyJ

                                It's surprising how little dust sticks to it. It's probably easiest to get a lid that goes overtop, though, if you're still worried about that.

                                1. re: CindyJ

                                  Depending on how long you want to store it, if we are talking about a week, you probably don't need oil. If longer, a very thin layer of oiling is not a bad idea. This is actually the same method for long term cast iron cookware storage. I have a wok lid, so I am less worry about dust, but you are right. Dust will really stick to oil if the wok is open.

                                  You will need to clean the oil off before you next cooking session, so I don't think a little dust would matter, but I suppose it can be very nasty if there are a lot of dust around. You can put it in a big plastic bag or you can flip the wok upside down. Both should eliminate dusting.

                                  I have read (but not tried) using a paper towel. Dry the wok as usual, then put a 1-2 pieces of paper towels on the cooking surface of the wok and put "something" to weight down the paper towel. This is it. The idea is that the paper towel will absorb the moisture and prevent the water to rust the pan. No oil needed and no need to worry about dust.


                                  In short, if you already have a cast iron storage method, then feel free to use it. The ultimate goal is to prevent rusting, so any viable method is good.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    Okay... so what I've decided to do for now is to oil it lightly, then hang it from a hook on the wall of an indoor closet. Before hanging it, I'll cover it with plastic, so the handle will come through the plastic, but the pan will be covered and dust should not be a problem.

                                  2. re: CindyJ

                                    Yes, dust will stick to it. And the longer you go between uses the nastier it will get. I don't personally oil mine before I put it away for just that reason. If anything with a newly seasoned wok if I was concerned there wasn't enough seasoning on it to prevent rust during storage (which is why you're oiling it) I would heat it up and while it's warm (not hot) I would spray it with plain Pam inside and out. Wipe off as much of the Pam as possible so that it looks like there's none left, but trust me there is. That should be enough to protect it from rust, but it won't get nasty like a film of oil would.

                                    1. re: chuff

                                      The instructions that came with the wok specifically say to NOT use a spray-on oil like Pam.

                                      1. re: CindyJ

                                        They say not to use it for cooking, and they're right. It won't work to cook with in place of oil. It's perfect for storage, though. They're not suggesting that the Pam is going to hurt your wok, they're just telling you that it won't be effective to cook with. Actually, you could've seasoned the wok with Pam if you wanted to. It makes a beautiful seasoning.

                                        1. re: chuff

                                          The seasoning instructions say, "NOTE: Do not use nonstick cooking sprays as they can leave a hard to remove sticky residue on the cookware." And in the instructions in the section called "After Each Use" it says, "You may wish to wipe a thin film of cooking oil over the inside surface to prevent incidental rusting and help maintain seasoned surface. Do not use nonstick cooking sprays."

                                          1. re: CindyJ

                                            Yeah, just very very lightly. I guess my language was confusing. When I said "apply a thin layer of oil for storage", that thin layer is thinner than "apply a thin layer of oil for seasoning or cooking." For storage, apply a thin layer of oil and wipe it until it is almost gone. You can have more, but not necessary. For seasoning or cooking, you really want to able to visibly see a layer of your oil.

                                            Your method sounds very good. Good luck.

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              Oh, I understood that. I put some cooking oil on a paper towel and spread it around the inside surface of the wok. Then I wiped it with a clean paper towel and stored the wok away.

        2. Personally I like to clean the wok really really well, fill it as full of water as I dare, boil that water in the wok for a while, clean it again, stir fry a large amount of salt in the wok (like close to a pound) over very high heat until the salt is very dark, then season as others have described on the stovetop with oil. After all of that is done I like to put a large amount of oil in and deep fry a good sized batch of fried potatoes or french fries. It sounds like a lot, but the whole thing doesn't take much more than an hour, and after it's done the wok is seasoned surprisingly well. In my experience it shortcuts quite a bit of time trying to cook in a wok that's still developing its season.

          3 Replies
          1. re: chuff

            Salt-cure. Yeah, that is another method, though I have not used it. I heard it is a great method. The boiling water part, I never quiet get and you are not the first person mentioned that to me, not even the first three, I think.. I do not worry about rust because a carbon steel only rust when it exposes to both water and oxygen at the same time. Immersing a wok in water actually will not rust it (not fast anyway). What I don't get is that what is boiling water for? I mean the thing I want to clean off the wok is the factory oil and since oil does not dissolve in water, I don't understand what the boiling water is doing.

            I think stir fried potatoes and french fries or whatever oily foods is great, but are you suppose to eat them or are they supposed to be tossed away? Many people believe the first dish is to be tossed away. Is that what you are suggesting?

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Eat the potatoes, toss them away, whichever. It doesn't matter. I always eat them. By the time I get to that point the wok is well cleaned and getting pretty well seasoned. I think the only reason to toss them would be an off taste from the new wok, but I've never had that problem. Either way potatoes are cheap, so if you want to toss them toss them.

              As far as the boiling it's just another cleaning step.The protective film may not be water soluble, but the hot boiling water burns it and helps the remaining little bits of it that you can't see flake off. There's ALWAYS lots of nasty little brown bits floating in the water after the boiling step, as well as a film on the water.

              I've had very good luck with the salt seasoning method. I think it works extremely well, and it really helps to give the wok a nice dark patina. Following it up with an oil season give great results. One thing, though - after I posted I watched the youtube videos that were linked. I personally would never allow a single paper towel to burn into the wok that much during an oil seasoning. Brown is okay, but when my paper towel starts to get too brown I switch to a different one.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                I should probably also mention that I almost always do the whole seasoning, but particularly the boiling outdoors on a turkey fryer burner. This way I can boil right up to the edges without worrying about it. I tilt the wok around periodically so I've boiled right up to the rim all the way around.