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Jan 30, 2010 06:24 AM

Do I need to re-season my wok?

I made a mess of my wok yesterday. It was well on its way to becoming nicely seasoned, but after stir frying finely diced chicken which had been tossed in a combination of egg white and corn starch (I was making chicken lettuce wraps), a crusty mess remained on much of the inside surface. I tried using kosher salt as an "abrasive" for scouring the wok, but now, when I run my hand over the surface, it doesn't feel smooth.

What's the best way to proceed from here? Should I "bite the bullet" and give it a good scrubbing with something like Bon Ami, and then begin the seasoning anew? Or is there a way to preserve the seasoned parts and re-season the rest of it?

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  1. Whenever I cook stuff that sticks to the wok, I fill it with water immediately after I'm done and let it soak until the mess softens, then I brush it with a plastic brush. I dry the wok well and reheat/reseason it in and out. In time, and depending on the wok's material and coating (if any), it may develop its own "coating".

    1. I agree with Dracodl that it's a good idea to fill carbon steel cookware with hot water after cooking if there is a burned-on residue. You can also boil the water and scrape gently with a wooden spatula.

      Since kosher salt didn't take off all the crusty gunk, I'd suggest *really* biting the bullet and going straight to steel wool. Scrub to bare metal and reseason. IME, it's a lot easier and faster to reseason carbon steel than cast iron.

      1. CindyJ,

        Didn't read this until today and my advice is probably too late, but this may come in handy the next time. If the burned on foods still resume foods and are still soft, you can soak the wok in warm water and you can scurb them out with a soft brush or soft pad. You may have to repeat once or twice. If the burned on foods are completely crusty and hard, then you can do what you did with salt or use a hard plastic scraper or an old credit card. These should minimize the damage done to the seasoning surface. If necessary, you will just have to scrub it with a stainless steel wool, but usually that is not needed.

        You will need to do a mini-seasoning afterward, but you should not have to do a full blown seasoning.

        10 Replies
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          I knew I had run into this problem before, and sure enough, this post proved it. Last night it was a cornstarch slurry that stuck to the wok, and I didn't soak it fast enough. I was able to clean the gunk off, but I've again lost some of that great seasoned finish on the bottom and a bit up the side of the wok. How, exactly, do I do a "mini-seasoning"?

          1. re: CindyJ

            By mini seasoning, I mean just heat the wok up with some oil.

            Enough oil so that it cover the bottom, but not too much like deep frying. Maybe like 2 tablespoon of oil. (don't use low smoke point oils like EVOO). Heat the area where you thinking you some seasoning rebuild, in this case the bottom. Swirl the oil a bit. Once the oil starts to smoke, turn off the heat, you can continue to swirl the hot oil, just a little bit for like 20-30 second or so.

            You can dump the hot oil if you have a place to do so. Or just let the oil cool just a bit in 5-10 minutes and dump it in the sink. Swipe the wok surface with a paper towel No need to swipe it super clean, just a gentle swipe to remove excess oil.

            Now, you are ready to stir fry again.

            The two main differences between this mini-seasoning and full seasoning are that (1) you do not need to get the wok surface to change color, (2) it takes much shorter time. (5 minutes maybe?)

            You know. I just realize my directions above maybe just a bit too much. Think of it this way. Do a empty stir fry. Yes, just pretend you are doing another stir fry except you don't add food and maybe just get the oil a tad hotter: Heat the wok up, add a little of oil, get oil to smoke, swirl around, wait for the wok to cool down, dump the oil and swipe the oil off. Just like cooking. No food.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Thanks, ChemicalK! I understand. I assume, then, that without completely re-seasoning, there's no way I can get that nice, smooth, shiny, black coating back in those places?

              By the way -- this might be related to the problem I had last night -- up until yesterday, I had been using a wooden "spatula" for my stir frying. But everything I'd read and seen regarding wok cookery showed the cook using a metal wok spatula, so I bought one and used it for the first time yesterday. I wonder if the scraping of the metal on the wok caused some of the seasoning to scrape off.

              1. re: CindyJ

                "there's no way I can get that nice, smooth, shiny, black coating back in those places"

                Yes and no. There is no way to get that black coating in one sitting except for a full seasoning. However, the wok will eventually get black over time, one way or the other. The mini-seasoning basically get you up and running (as in cooking) and the wok will get dark over time.

                "I wonder if the scraping of the metal on the wok caused some of the seasoning to scrape off"

                Yes, a metal spatula will scrap some seasonings off. The argument for it is that it does not matter in the big picture, especially for an well seasoned wok with a relatively harden seasoning surfce. You will scarp a little seasoning here and there while using a metal spatula, but the cooking will heal it back. Sort of a constant "in and out" thing, reaching an equlibrium. Basically, you will have to baby sit a new wok, but as it gets a bit more mature, it can take a beating, which is why professional Chinese chefs can treat their woks very roughly.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  I bought a new Carbon steel wok today, and decided not to wait for the delivery of the new Itwani12000 BTU wok stove (recommended on the Wok Stars) that I bought on Amazon, and went ahead and tried to season it with the lower BTU rated butane stove that I already have. I read that sometimes they are able to do the job OK, and was anxious to get started.

                  I washed and scrubbed the new wok with a copper scrubber, then dried and wiped it inside and out with peanut oil. I heated it at full flame for about 10” (until the bottom started to blacken). Then wiped it out and repeated the process again for 15”. But the bottom still did not look like it was really a well seasoned black like I expected, and it had no affect on the inside sides of the wok, even though I applied heat to the sides also.

                  Lastly, I heated it up again and stir fried chopped onions in it for 15”, (I read that onions can add to the seasoning process, and the taste), then tossed the onions.

                  But the bottom still did not look right to me, it seemed to have a burned on oil crust on the bottom? I stir fried some onions and mushroom with rice, and it tasted OK, but started to stick to the pan before I was done cooking it. I added a little more wok oil, and some hot oil, but that made it a little oily when it was done. It tasted OK, but now I am wondering if I should try to scrub clean the wok, and season it again when I get my new wok stove in 2-3 weeks?

                  I also picked up a very small 20cm Ken Hom wok that is carbon steel, but has a non-stick coating on the inside. I thought it might be handy for small meals or snacks, and that I could use a wire brush (on my electric drill) to remove the non-stick coating if I don’t like it, then season it also.

                  For years I used a stainless steel wok that served me well, then an enameled iron wok, so switching over to the carbon steel is a new experience for me. I have read a lot of posts on this website, and on YouTube about seasoning a wok…but still not sure I am doing things correctly. So I am wide open for any input. Thanks for a great website!

                  1. re: Ronbo36

                    < I read that sometimes they are able to do the job OK, and was anxious to get started.>

                    It should be fine. You don't necessary need an extreme high thermal output stove to season a wok. It is nice, but not necessary at all.

                    <But the bottom still did not look like it was really a well seasoned black like I expected,>

                    I am not sure what yours looks like. It is possible that too much oil was used and that the surface formed a sticky layer. A correctly seasoned surface should not be sticky. In addition, don't expect the wok looks pitch black by a few seasoning applications. More than likely, you will get a brown to deep brown, but not black color. Don't worry about getting a black color right away.

                    <I read that onions can add to the seasoning process, and the taste>

                    Onions or whatnot is used to remove the metallic taste during the first seasoning. You are supposed to toss away the onions, and you did, which is good.

                    <it seemed to have a burned on oil crust on the bottom>

                    A little burned on crust is unavoidable, but you don't want too much. If so, use something to scrap it off. You can use metal tool to scrap it off. it is more effective, but you will need to reseason that section. or you can scarp it off using a plastic tool. Less effective, but you don't need to reseason.

                    <but now I am wondering if I should try to scrub clean the wok>

                    Unfortunately, I cannot see what your wok looks like, so it is difficult for me to recommend if you need to start over. Chances are that you don't have to, but I won't know until I am able to see the wok. Can you take a photo post it here for us to view?

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Thanks for your response, here are two photos that I took of the new wok.

                      1. re: Ronbo36

                        Hi Ronbo,

                        The first photo suggests there is a layer of burned on carbon on the wok surface. This by itself is fine. However, this looks to be thick and uneven, and more importantly unstable -- ready to get peeled or flaked off. Sometime the camera can be misleading, so you have to inspect and verify if this is true. If so, then you should scrap it off. It will fall off soon or later, so might as well remove it now, so the proper seasoning can be built on. The ideal goal is not to remove everything, but only the unstable black charcoal.

                        There are many ways for removal. If you want to be thorough, then you can use steel wool (or copper wool in your case) or sandpaper, but you will have to reason again. A popular method is to use "salt + oil" with a papertowel. Pour in about half tablespoon of salt as the abrasive, and add also half tablespoon of cooking oil as lubricate. Now use the paper and scrub the surface.

                        I would first give the "salt and oil" method a try first. If it seems too gentle and ineffective, then scrub off the burned on coating with a green pad, metal utensil or your copper wool.


                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Thanks for the help in addressing my wok dilemma. I did as you suggested, and first rubbed it with oil and coarse salt. That removed some of it; next I hit it with the copper scrubber, and then tried a BBQ scrapper with a steel brush. But the junk on the bottom refused to come off, so my last attempt was with ‘Kleen King’ (a commercial grade powder cleaner that has a little more cleaner power than the average scouring powder), and the copper scrubber. That removed everything, so I repeated the process on the outside. While doing so it became apparent that I probably had not completely cleaned off all the protective coating in the beginning, because this time I was looking at the actual base carbon steel surface…and it looked much different (better).

                          Also, I think I used too much oil the first time around, and that coupled with the protective coating that remained, maybe caused the caked on look.

                          The photos below show the wok after I cleaned it; after 10”, and the last after 15” on full heat.

                          I used a piece of oiled paper towel (with tongs) to keep the surface oiled. It looks a lot better this time, no caked on look, and I guess will just take time to fully blacken. I have a round bottom wok on order that I will be seasoning in the near future, and just for drill I thought I might give the cast iron wok that Eleanor Hoh is promoting on her Wok Star website a try. I will certainly have an assortment of woks to try and compare.

                          1. re: Ronbo36

                            The new photos look great. They may not look pitch black, but they look "correct". In time, they will darken. In the future, if you encounter minimal build up, then you can use the salt and oil method. This is the mild form of removal, and you won't need to season afterward.

                            <I think I used too much oil the first time around, and that coupled with the protective coating that remained, >

                            Interesting, if you use a lot of oil or very thin layer of oil, you will be fine. However, there is an intermediate volume of oil which will turn into gumpy sticky substance. Regardless, your wok looks good now. Enjoy, and thanks for sharing.

        2. I would also like some feedback specifically on the wok which I have been trying to season. I started off with cleaning the carbon steel wok extremely well with soap and water and then dried it well. Then, I used the oven method (coated with peanut oil) and then stir-fried some chinese chives on the top of the stove. I got a black residue and rinsed the wok. Then, a day later, I decided to get the wok very hot on the gas stovetop and poured a bit of oil and then wiped it with a paper towel. This is where I am now. What should I do? Do I need to start over? Why do I have the spots? What is a properly seasoned wok- black and shiny? Please help!

          8 Replies
          1. re: CookingwithMochi

            Hi CookingwithMochi,

            When I cleaned my new carbon steel wok with just soap and water it did not touch the rust proof coating, and resulted in some caking on of the peanut oil and the coating. Not until I gave a it real good cleaning with a copper Brillo type pad, and scouring powder, did the gunk come off. Then it seasoned a lot easier. I’m not sure if you have the same problem with your wok, but it does look like you might still have some protective coating residue on the wok. That might account for the spots and uneven black areas on your wok in the photos. Just my humble opinion, hope it helps.


            1. re: Ronbo36

              Thank you, Ronbo! So you think that I should take a rough pad and some scouring powder, clean it again thoroughly, and then re-season? Thanks!

              1. re: CookingwithMochi

                Hi Mochi,

                I’m far from an expert of this, since this was my first experience with a carbon steel wok. But for me the proof was in what my wok looked like after I cleaned it the second time (with the copper pad and the scouring powder).

                The first time I cleaned it there was no noticeable difference in how it looked. The second time the outer coating was definitely gone, and I could see that I was now down to the carbon steel base metal.

                Lastly, it just looked much better when I seasoned it again. The wok was evenly darkened this time, no junky looking areas.

                For me it did not take that much time and effort to redo the process, and the end product was well worth it. Good luck, and good cooking, with your wok.


                1. re: Ronbo36

                  Thank you! For everyone, including Ronbo, which seasoning method is best? It seems that you all are not fans of the oven method? Should I do the Tane Chan method? Anything would be appreciated!


                  1. re: CookingwithMochi

                    One of Tane Chan method is the oven method. In fact, she default people to that. I actually do not like it by itself. You can start with an oven method and end up a stovetop, but I don't like just the oven method alone is enough.

            2. re: CookingwithMochi

              <Why do I have the spots? >

              Aside from the potential of not completely removing the coating as Ronbo said, a very likely reason for the spots is that you did an oven seasoning.

              <Do I need to start over? >

              You may not. Is there any reason you think you may need to start over beside the uneven seasoning from the oven?

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Hi Chem- You are so knowledgeable and was glad to see your feedback in addition to Ronbo's. No real reason. What did you think of the pics above? Does it look normal, in progress, etc? If I don't need to start all the way over, even just seemed that in some spots, it's bluish, almost silvery, back to the original color. I'm not actually sure how to proceed. I have attached a close up, here.

                1. re: CookingwithMochi

                  <it's bluish, almost silvery, back to the original colo>

                  Bluish is an indication of oxidization from heating. There are many styles of seasoning a wok. There is the typical oil seasoning method, which you read a lot, but there is a dry seasoning method too.



                  It looks ok, but sometime photos can be deceiving. If the seasoning surface is smooth, if no rust is formed after cooking, and if foods do not stick badly to the wok, then you are fine as it is.

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