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Help us wok tall (haha . . . no, really, help!)

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So, I decided to season my cast iron skillet tomorrow, despite the fact that it is huge, and I have a pea-sized center of gravity, and a kitchen-loving cat, and very old oven mits. But this isn't about the skillet. It's about the wok.

Eight years ago I fell in love with a boy who came with his own wok. I know, right? Lucky girl!Unfortunately, he was a college student, and it was late, and he tried to season it with vegetable oil on an electric range. It . . . did not . . .turn out . . . well. The bottom is blackened, and the rest is, mainly, left unseasoned (there are some specks of amber haunting the surface). This valuable addition to our kitchen has lived its sad life in the back of whatever cupboard was designated for the unweildy or rarely used (hello, skillet).

I want to rescue it. I can pick off flakes of the (now) decade-old vegetable oil with my fingernail, if I work carefully at the edges. So, my questions are: what is the best method for cleaning this without harming the surface, and how to best season it properly, once I triumph.

Cleaning and seasoning. Help?

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  1. Easy to do:
    Hot water, lots of soap, copper or steel wool, rubber gloves, and lots of elbow grease. Rinse and dry thoroughly. Then season like a cast iron skillet: many threads on this, like this one:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/325752

    1. This is some funny writings.

      You can season a wok on an electric stovetop. I have done it. I am not sure if you are trying to season a skillet or a wok or maybe both.

      It is very normal that the first coating seasoning surface being brown and amber instead of pure black. It will take awhile before the entire wok goes black. I really have little idea of your current wok. I don't know if it does not have much seasoning or too much burned carbonized materials stick to it. Afterall, you said you can pick the flakes off, so it sounds like you have a thick layer of carbonized materials. To remove these flakes, you can use steel wool, scurb the heck out of it. If there are only a few pieces, then you can use a hard plastic (like old credit card) to do the job instead. After this, you can reseasoning the wok. As for seasoning, there are tons of variation, but all involves a heated wok and oil. Make sure you open the window or your fire alarm may go off.

      I believe a picture worths a thousand words, so this video may help. It is one of the better ones on youtube.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDp_2x...

      2 Replies
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        Come to think of it. The treatment you two have given the wok is boarderline cruelty.

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          *Innocent*.

      2. If you have an electric drill, a wire brush on the drill can be a big time saver.

        1. Most of the advice I found online seemed to be against the use of any abrasive implements, like steel wool (which I have). Two websites advocated the use of a sponge, which gave me a nice laugh, but was not very helpful.

          The electric range would not have been a problem, save that it was a very weak one. I don't think it heated the wok enough for proper seasong. I asked my boyfriend if he tilted the pan, to better heat the sides, and he just squinted off into the distance (where his youth mockingly sits) and confessed that he couldn't remember. See, Chemicalkinetics, I had to ask, because I wasn't there. I am *innocent* in this matter.

          The oil did not adhere to the sides of the pan at all. The bottom is a blackened pool. I feel better now that I have chow 'permission' to use the steel wool.

          Or, even, a power tool! Oooh . . . a kitchen task that involves a trip to the hardware store is my kind of Saturday.

          Thanks for the links and advice, guys.

          1 Reply
          1. re: onceadaylily

            Onceaday,

            I think it really depends on what stage is your wok at, which I am not sure. You certainly do not want to use very hard abrasive when the seasoning surface has been built or that it is been built. However, if you have have a thick layer of carbonized materials (like built foods) built on your wok, then you need to remove it. So it really depends what stage you are at.

          2. While many sites may advocate a gentle touch, from what you have explained your wok fits more in line with what you would do to restore a piece of cast iron. Restoration has to occur if there is significant rust or crud(hardened food stuffs from long ago or in your case oil from long ago that never hit the point of seasoning). The objective being to get the piece as close to new as possible. Then you can give it a good washing, rinsing and drying and begin with the seasoning. With normal use and cleaning you shouldn't have to do this again.

            Some of that baked on crud can laugh at steel wool and make you think you are never going to get it clean hence my drill and brush recommendation. Keep at it and the hard work will pay off.

            1. Is putting the oven on self-clean an option with this pan?

              1 Reply
              1. re: Paulustrious

                Alas, a rental flat in chicago comes with a stove that likely sulk at boiling water, let alone 'cleaning' it while you read a book.

              2. I agree with Paul. If the built on curd is minor, then you can just use credit card or steel wool to get rid of them. I assume this is the case because you said you barely used the wok. However, if significant amount of curd is built, then one of the easiest way is to bake it off. Either do it the self-cleaning cycle of an oven, or do it on stovetop by heating the pan at high heat. It will be faster to do it on stovetop, but probably safer and easier to do in it an oven.

                1. The wok isn't even seldom used, it was just once badly seasoned and then resigned to whatever cupboard would fit its bulk. I have toted this thing through three states, in four separate moves, without evening cooking a chive in it.

                  The first, and only, time it met with a stove, the oil did not adhere to the sides of the pan, but pooled at the bottom (in too thick a blackened layer for me to think this is a good base to build upon). I now think that using abrasives to remove this, and *carefully*, and *with great dedication*, a re-seasoning process will give me the wok dangled in front of me so many years ago.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: onceadaylily

                    This sounds like going to be a story of redemption.

                    1. re: onceadaylily

                      You will tell us, won't you, how that poor, abused wok turns out?
                      In my vocation, I have seasoned any number of woks and cast iron skillets. I can tell you that no matter how bad your initial seasoning may have been, after you cook with it a few times, you will have the perfect seasoning in spite of your skill or lack thereof.
                      However: in my first apt, I had a low-power electric stove and had to season a wok. I did it successfully, and here is how I did it:
                      1) scrub it hard when you get home from the store, until you get down to bare, shiny metal
                      2) thoroughly rinse and dry
                      3) heat up the elecric coils on the electric stove till red-hot
                      4) put a couple of tablespoons of veg oil in a small bowl, did the edge of a paper towel into the oil, and rub it all over the inside of the wok; it should only be a sheen on the metal, not a pool of liquid on the bottom
                      5) stick it bravely onto the red coils, and watch until smoke comes up
                      6) immediately take off the wok, turn off the coils, and let the wok cool to room temp
                      7) repeat 4-6 for two or three more times.
                      ready for your stir fry experiments!

                    2. I would strongly advise you to season the pan in the oven, not on the cooktop. If you do it on the cooktop a second time, it will come out just as bad as it did the first time (because the same process yields the same results.) The reason why the bottom got black and the sides were left unseasoned is simply because the bottom got hotter than the sides. This is mainly due to the shape of the wok with sloping sides, obviously the sides aren't going to get that hot on a typical US range. If you want your wok to be seasoned evenly, you need to use very even heat, like a hot oven, at 450 degrees or more. It will smoke, so have your fans running.

                      I'd use steel wool, and just strip as much of the first mistake off as possible. The oil may be rancid by now anyway, so you may as well get rid of it.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: pweller

                        I really was wondering if I was setting out to repeat history. My stove is gas, but weak enough so that a pot of water, covered, takes well over ten minutes to come to a boil.

                        (My last stove was a very old stove that seemed to think it was a dragon. It was called The Waste King. I'm not making that up. That's what it said on the stove.)

                        The wok has two wood handles. Is this not oven-safe?

                        1. re: onceadaylily

                          Not really oven safe because the wood handle will dried up to say the least if not charred. One way around this is to wrap wet towel around the wood handle and bake the wok and hope the wet towel will provide enough water to protect the wok.

                      2. If it's going to take half an afternoon of your valuable time to pick crud off the old wok, I'd forget it. You know what? Woks are cheap, even nice ones. Get thee to Chinatown and pick up a nice new one for between $10 - $20. Need not be fancy, but carbon steel. That's what I'd do.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: comestible

                          I was waiting for someone to suggest that, but I *like* to rescue things, to restore them. It's gratifying in a way that shopping can never be.

                          1. re: onceadaylily

                            Yes. Who doesn't like to rescue a cookware to bring it back to life. I am guessing your problem is not crud because you have not used the wok much. You can take a picture and post it here if you like.

                          2. re: comestible

                            I like this wok, a lot... if you decide a new one is in order:

                            http://www.amazon.com/Typhoon-Profess...

                            I like it because it's a thicker carbon steel than most cheap woks and, well, it cooks really well in my experience. It also addresses your need to do hard work - you will have to remove the lacquer that comes on it (although it's food safe) and then season it correctly.

                            Otherwise, good luck with your wok resurrection.