Carbon steel wok from Sur La Table - should I replace it?
I have this 14" dia. wok from Sur La Table that I received as a gift.
The first problem is that it's very heavy; second, it's starting to show rust patches on the inside. I followed the instructions on prepping it, but it never achieved the patina that I've read about. Food sticks, and it's hard to manuever. So my question is, should I just get rid of it and get a lighter, more basic wok, or is it worth keeping and re-prepping? I'm wondering if anyone out there owns this same wok and likes using it?
I like to explain why a carbon steel wok (or a cast iron) is considered the best. Once a carbon steel wok is seasoned, it is fairly stick-less and it can take on a very high temperature. A stainless steel or a bare aluminum wok will never be stick-less and a Telfon wok can never take on high heat.
Here are two seasoning videos. I used a seasoning method much closer to the second video, but I know both methods work:
As for the rust, bushwickgirl and Caroline have given great explanation.
Here is a video which demonstrates that a seasoned carbon wok can both tolerate high heat and remain fairly nonstick, which allows you to do proper stir-fry. He was doing an egg fried rice and you can see neither the egg nor the rice stick to the wok. It takes time to get there, but once you get there, you will realize how inferior a Telfon wok is.
Nice videos! The nonstick quality of the last one with the egg is impressive.
I've had my carbon steel wok about 20 years now, and because I go through periods where I don't use it at all for perhaps 6 months or more, I've come to avoid the advice I've seen to oil the wok before putting it away. Rather than let a layer of fresh oil get rancid or gummy, it works for me simply to clean up the wok and then put it over heat in order to evaporate ALL water from the surface. Then I hang it up.
Luckily, our humidity is not so bad, so only once did I have to clear away some rust and start the seasoning anew.
Yup. Your wok is basic, but you don't say what you're cooking on. Because it is a flat bottom wok, I will assume your friend knew your kitchen, and that' you're cooking on electricity? Wok cooking goes MUCH better if you're cooking on induction or gas. The reason I mention this is that part of the weight of your wok is in the handle. I prefer woks with the short handles on both sides for several reasons. If you cook in a wok ring (but why would you need one with a flat bottom wok?) it makes it easier to tilt the wok at a steep angle so you can push food you want to keep warm while cook other stuff in the same pan up the side and away from the heat. The handle can also make the wok more tippable on that side. But this is all personal preference.
As for the rust spots, you're not drying your wok properly OR you live in a humid climate. In either case, coating it with a very thin layer of peanut oil applied and spread with a paper towel before storing it should take care of any further rusting. ALWAYS clean a wok immediately after using, even if you've steamed things in it by boiling water in the wok and using bamboo steamer baskets. Scrub it out with one of those bamboo wok cleaners, rinse well, dry well (you can dry by heating it too), then coat with the thin but even film of peanut oil. Next time you use the wok, heat well before cooking. The thin layer of oil will "cook in" and help build that wonderful non-stick finish that well seasoned carbon steel woks are so famous for. Good luck!
I've had carbon steel woks for years, actually, just two, but they last forever, and as Chem says, they're as basic as it goes. Just keep using it and you'll develop the seasoning. When washing my wok, I scrub it with a special bamboo brush and hot water only, NO SOAP, but you can use a green non-metal scrubbie. One tip: after you wash it, put it back on the burner, let it dry over the flame and wipe the interior with a little peanut or whatever oil you use to stir fry with. That'll end the rust patch issue and sanitize it as well.
The food is sticking possibly for a few reasons, no seasoning, (patina) you're putting cold food into the wok, which will cause sticking, or your wok is not hot enough before adding the cold oil and commencing the stir fry.
If you think the carbon steel is heavy, you should heft a cast iron wok! I don't take my wok off the flame when I stir fry, I just use the wok spatula to do all the work, instead of flip frying. It keeps steady heat in the wok on my not so hot gas flame and saves my wrists.
I hope you're able to cook on gas, electric doesn't really cut it for stir frying.
Here's some interesting reading on the wonderful concept of wok hay, from cookbook author Grace Young, excerpted from her book, "The Breath of a Wok." Maybe you'll find a few stir frying pointers in the article, and it's a nice read, anyway: