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Incompetent Carbon Steel Wok Seasoner Throwing in Towel - Seeking Fdbk on All-Clad Wok/Stir-Fry Pans

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I give up. My 3rd carbon steel wok just got hauled to the curb in the recycling bin and I've come to the conclusion I'm completely unable to season them no matter how many instruction videos/manuals/blogs I read!!

I've read previous threads on woks and don't want to get a cast iron one because of the weight. I love my All-Clad cookware and wondered if anyone has their wok or stir fry pan. If so, what do you think?

bk

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  1. I am sorry to hear this. I am sure you have tried everything you could have. If you ever decide to give it another try, make another post.

    Depending what kind of cast iron wok, some are very heavy and they are not only difficult to move around, they also take a long time to heat up which means they don't work for the stir-fry technqiue very well.

    I have some reservations for stainless steel woks, just because meats tend to stick to the wok very easily, which makes it difficult to stir fry. It is not a problem if you mostly cook vegetables. For meats, you just have to put more oil in a stainless steel wok than a carbon steel wok.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      Thanks so much for your input C, I hadn't thought about the meat issue but you're quite right. You've saved me some grief and money. Thank-you!

    2. Well, I was lucky to find one on the street. It looked like a wedding gift that no one had used. I like my all-clad wok. Nothing seems to stick to it, but then I haven't cooked any meat in it yet.

      1 Reply
      1. re: achefsbest

        Wow, that's impressive...I wish I lived in your neighbourhood!! If you do cook meat, please post, I'd love to hear how it goes.

      2. I looked at an All-Clad Wok yesterday and found it to be too heavy.

        How much heat do you have on your "Wok burner"? I have an aluminum Wok from Calphalon but, you need a REALLY HIGH heat source to work with it.

        1. Do you have a gas burner or an electric stovetop (or, gulp, induction)?

          2 Replies
          1. re: ipsedixit

            We have electric and induction burners (no gas lines running to our house).

            1. re: Breadcrumbs

              You may think that you haven't seasoned your wok properly because you are using it on an electric burner that is not getting hot enough to make stir fry properly. Just a guess.

          2. What do you mean by "I'm completely unable to season them "? Exactly, what went wrong?

            8 Replies
            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Ok, here's the sad story:

              The first wok was a cheapy I picked up in Chinatown. I brought it home and washed it, then put it away knowing it needed to be seasoned before using. When I pulled it out a month later, it had rusted. I was a bit put off by this but looked online and found you could sand it down. Did this then proceeded to season by rubbing w oil and using the stove top method. I did this twice and then proceed to use the wok. Food had a strong metallic taste. Tried to use it a couple more times and had the same issue. I tossed the wok.

              Wok #2 - Purchased at a restaurant supply store. Seasoned according to web instructions using stove top method. Didn't seem to be seasoning evenly and there was a persistent sticky residue that just seemed unsanitary - this was still an issue after about a dozen uses. Out it went.

              Wok # 3 - found a "professional" carbon steel wok that had a factory lacquer coating. Lacquer is applied to protect and prevent rusting but, is to be removed, over low heat prior to seasoning. Trouble was, the lacquer just wouldn't come off uniformly. After repeating the process for the 4th time and making minimal progress I ran out of patience and gave up.

              cue the violins!!

              1. re: Breadcrumbs

                You still have not explained exactly HOW you were attempting to season your wok. Saying that you "[s]easoned according to web instructions" is meaningless b/c there are so many instructions floating out there on the web as there are stars in the midnight sky.

                But that said, let me go through each of your wok seasoning efforts.

                #1. Why did you sand the rusty wok? If a wok is rusted, wash it with warm water and soap, then scrub it with a stainless steel pad. Then rinse with hot water. Then set the wok on the stovetop, fill with some water, bring the water to a boil and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Then clean with soap and water and scouring pad again. That should remove the rust. If you were sanding it I fear that you might have sanded away some of the steel, but who knows.

                #2. As noted above, need to know exactly HOW you were seasoning your wok. Need more specifics.

                #3. You can remove the lacquer using the method I outlined above in #1. Works like a charm. Again, you need to explain HOW you were trying to remove the lacquer.

                All of that said, let me pass along how I generally season a carbon steel wok.

                After washing and cleaning the wok as outlined in #1 above with soap and water, I heat the wok on the stovetop to get it screaming hot. If you are doing this inside, open the windows and all the vents and leave the women, child and aged at the movie theaters for a couple of hours. Let the wok heat up (or burn) until you begin to smell a chemical odor emitting from the stovetop, and the wok should take on a brownish or bluish hue on the surface. Now it's hot enough.

                Now cut up some scallions into roughly 1 inch pieces and rough chop some ginger root (about a handful or so). Make sure both are bone dry.

                Make sure your wok is still smoking hot, then use a good oil with a high smoking point. We use pork fat or grease. But you can use other things, but just make sure the oil has a high enough smoking point.

                Coat the wok with your choice of oil or fat. Tilt the wok around and work with it to make sure the oil coats the entire surface. Then add the scallions and ginger. Stir fry the scallions/ginger ALL AROUND THE WOK SURFACE, trying to reach the very top. Do this for about 20 minutes, but no less than 15.

                Then discard the scallions and ginger. Use a soft sponge and warm water (no soap) to clean your wok. Then heat up your wok on medium heat until dry.

                Your wok is now seasoned.

                Understand a few things about woks, and cooking with woks.

                When using a new wok, the first few times will have a slight metallic taste that will go away as you use it more and more.

                Soap is a wok's worst enemy, next would be steel scouring pads.

                At our restaurant, we almost never "washed" our woks. Just a bit of warm water, swish it around, dried with a cloth and boom, you're ready to go again for another round.

                Carbon steel is the way to go. Don't give up.

                Good luck.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Sincere thanks for your wonderful instructions, your confidence is infectious and if I do get the courage buy another carbon steel wok, I'll definitely use your method.

                  To answer your questions:

                  Sanding the rust on the wok: poor choice of words on my part. I used a wool based scouring pad

                  How I seasoned: similar to your method but not exactly. I heated the wok on high. When it turned blue-ish and water droplets bounced and evaporated immediately, I used long tongs to hold a cloth that I'd dampened with oil. I rubbed the oil on the entire interior surface and then, turned the heat to low for 15 minutes. Per your method, it sounds like I should have left it on high.

                  Thanks very much for taking the time to assist me with this.

                  1. re: Breadcrumbs

                    Here is a link which you may find helpful - if you want to give carbon steel wok another try:

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6685...

                2. re: Breadcrumbs

                  Bread,

                  Seems like you have tried many times. Well, in the case that you may want to give the carbon steel wok another try. Here are some of my comments to your three woks.

                  When you see minor rust, you can just scurb it off with a brush. Bar Keeper's Friend is an excellent cleaner to remove minor rust as its acidic nature dissolves the rust. Bar Keeper's friend is just great to have overall, especially if you have stainless steel cookware. The metalic taste is normal for a new wok, it will eventually go away. Some people believe that you can get that taste off by stir frying onion or scallion. Stir fry them at high heat and to point that they start to turn black. Stop and toss the burned food away. Clean.

                  The sticky resiude is a sign of imcomplete seasoning. Basically, the oil is turning from liquid to gummy substance, but was stopped before it gets a chance to turn into hard solid. This can be resolve by putting the wok on stove top and seasoning long or put in the oven and bake longer (whichever was your method)

                  I hate lacquer. I would have tossed that thing out like you did.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    C,

                    I swear by Bar Keeper's Friend. Its one of those products that when I'm using it I always think, what on earth would I do if they ever discontinue this!!!!

                    That said, for whatever reason, I didn't even think of using it on the wok. Your point around using the scallion certainly supports ipseixits method of seasoning above. Of course all this dialogue is making me think I should give this (gasp!) another shot.

                    I didn't have induction last time around so maybe I'd get better heat this time.

                    Maybe I'll pay someone to season it for me!!

                    1. re: Breadcrumbs

                      Breadcrumb,

                      Carbon steel is a popular material for Chinese wok really because (1) it can handles high heat, (2) it is relatively nonstick once it is seasoned. A stainless steel wok can handle high heat, but meats stick to it. A Teflon wok is nonstick, but it cannot handle high heat. The thin cast iron woks (as oppose to the thick one) are excellent choice too. Many people claim that seasoning on these thin cast iron woks is easier than the carbon steel woks.

                      It is my opinion that it will more difficult to season on an induction stovetop because the heat does not travel as far up. Consequently, it is more difficult to season the side of a cookware. You can always use the oven method as illustrated here:

                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNPe5-...

                      I personally still like the stovetop method because it gets much hotter.

                      1. re: Breadcrumbs

                        Breadcrumbs,

                        I just stumbled on this youtube and it is a competition between a wok vs a skillet for fried rice. Both use relatively weak stovetop. One use a wok and there other use a skillet. Watch 3:55 for wok and watch 4:20 for skillet. What you will notice is that much of the wok surface is not actually for heating the food, rather for maneuvering the food. Fried rice is a good obvious example, but most stir fry dishes can benefit from the shape of a wok.

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

                        Of course, if you can get a real restaurant stove, that will be better:

                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehgnv3...

                3. According to a review in Cook's Illustrated, they prefer to use a standard 12 inch non-stick skillet for stir frying instead of using a flat bottom wok / stir fry pan.. They said a standard skillets large flat bottom is better suited to flat western stovetops.

                  16 Replies
                  1. re: Antilope

                    Woks work best on a fire ring. My gas BBQ came with an optional grill plate that was basically a griddle with a hole in it that had a flame ring that sat on top. It certainly worked better then the stove top's flat burner.

                    1. re: Sid Post

                      The Cook's Illustrated review found that even FLAT BOTTOM woks and stir fry pans didn't perform as well at stir frying than a regular non-stick skillet on western stovetops.

                      1. re: Antilope

                        Sid and Antilope, thanks for passing along the CI info. Very interesting. I'll give a stir-fry a try in my non-stick skillet and see how that works out. I do like the depth of the woks though, especially if you're stir frying cornstarch coated meats which tend to require more oil because ultimately it's discarded. Also, I find the depth of the wok is great for noodle dishes.

                        Prior to the carbon steel fiasco, I had an old t-fal wok that served its purpose at the time since I rarely made more than stir fried veggies at the time.

                        1. re: Breadcrumbs

                          Check the William Sonoma outlets to see if they have any more of their All-Clad stainless saute and simmer pans. A deeper skillet with more of a bowl shape it can also double as a wok. Best of all it was only $64.99 for the 4 qt. pan. Comes with a lid too.

                        2. re: Antilope

                          And many people have problems with that Cook's Illustrated review. A skillet simply cannot make certain asian dishes like a wok can. A good example is fried rice. CI has made mistakes. CI did a reviews on Westernized Japanese knives some time ago and I disagree the method. The sandpaper method is a not a good test for estimating edge retention in a kitchen setting

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            RE: the CI review.

                            There is stir-fry and then there is STIR FRY.

                            The former can be done with any old pan or skillet (assuming the chef knows what she's doing). The latter requires, maybe even "needs", a wok.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Ipsedixit,

                              Don't be so nice. You are going to send out confusing messages. We are not talking about if a pan or a skillet can be used to stir fry. You would have never heard a word from me if CI states a pan or a skillet can be used for stir fry. I would be the first to defend that statement, but that is not what CI said.

                              That CI review didn't say a pan can be used as a substitution for a wok. It states a nonstick pan is better than a wok for stir fry. Better. Not any cast iron or carbon steel pan, a *nonstick* pan is the best. Any of us who have been using a carbon steel wok or a cast iron wok at home, well, we better start saving money because CI said that we have been using the wrong tools.

                              With a nonstick pan, not only you will handicapped yourself from shaking and tossing the food in a wok, you will also forbidd yourself from using high heat. Again, if CI wants to say a nonstick pan can be use for light stir fry at home, I would have no problem, but please don't tell me it is the best.

                              I, for one, am not going to toss out my carbon steel wok because I think the CI review is false and the reviewer frankly has no idea what he is talking about.

                              Let me quote that CI review if you have not read it:

                              "We can now safely say that we don’t like stovetop woks, period."

                              "For these reasons, we prefer a 12-inch nonstick skillet for stir-frying."

                              I also have problems with a knife review CI made. Ridiculous if you ask me.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                Everyone is entitled to their opinion, I suppose, and CI is definitely entitled to theirs -- as self-righteous and myopic it sometimes may be.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Sure. What you said is true.

                                  It is just that everytime the CI article get cited for the evidence to get a nonstick pan over a traditional wok, I feel I have the responsbility to speak out my opinion.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    One thing to add.

                                    The CI review and point of view regarding woks may hold some value for home cooks.

                                    Anything but a wok will not work in Chinese restaurants where high heat and quick cooking is required, however.

                                    I can't imagine making even a simple dish like stir-fried pea shoots in a non-stick skillet if I was prepping an order for this dish at a restaurant. Or even making fried rice, or chow fun, etc.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      ipsedixit,

                                      I did use a nonstick pan for stir fry when I was in college, so I definitely understand that it can work. However, I am not going to say it works better than a carbon steel wok even for a home kitchen. Sure, we may not able to "bao (爆) using a wok on a low power heat source, but so is a pan. If the heat source is the weakest link, then it is the weakest link and a nonstick pan is not going to be better. At least the wok give me the shape to allow me to toss and navigate the foods.

                                      I think you may have misunderstood my original point. I don't have a problem when a person says that a pan can be used for stir fry. Not at all. I did it. What I disagree is that a nonstick pan is best tool for stir fry in home kitchen. Forget the restaurant thing. For home cooking, I would argue that there are many things you can do with a pan (I did it), but there are many you cannot do. Fried rice is a good example. I really want to see someone do a good Cantonese fried rice on a skillet by simply pushing the rice around -- squeezing the rice all together into a one big sticky ball....

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        "Fried rice is a good example. I really want to see someone do a good Cantonese fried rice on a skillet by simply pushing the rice around -- squeezing the rice all together into a one big sticky ball...."
                                        ________________________________________________

                                        Bingo! You nailed it.

                                        The inherent difference -- really, the singular distinctiveness -- of a wok versus other pans, skillets, etc. is it's shape, which allows the cook not only to "stir fry" but to move the stuff from one hot heat zone (center bottom) to another not so hot heat zone (outer circumference).

                                        A skillet, pan, etc. is simply not able to provide different cooking zones that -- in my opinion at least -- is critical to stir fry cooking.

                                        I remember when I watched my dad cook with a wok as a little toddler. He used to cook the sliced beef really quick in the hot oil, then scoot the meat to the upper part of the wok (and it stuck there like magic!), then toss in the veggies, some noodles, stir fry those and then push the meat back down with the rest of the stuff and, voila!, beef chow mein. It was so awesome, he moved so quickly and deftly he looked like a conductor directing an orchestra ...

                                2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  Ck - that's not the whole story. What CI was really saying was this: for most home stoves, a wok is not a good choice because home stoves generally cannot put out the level of heat needed for wok hei. In the absense of that kind of firepower, they've concluded that a skillet is the way to go for home stirfrying. I happen to agree.

                                  1. re: joonjoon

                                    That I disagree. Most home stoves in China are not stronger than the home stoves in US. In fact, the whole "ultrahigh power, ultrahigh btu" wok cooking is a relatively new introduction. I think the idea that you cannot use a wok unless you have a restaurant firepower stove frankly goes against a practice followed by a huge population (the Chinese population) for more than one thousand years.

                                    On the 2003 issue, CI stated the reason, their objection has to do with shape, not thermal power or wok hei. Quote:

                                    "We don’t like stovetop woks—at least not conventional rounded models. The traditional wok is designed to sit in an open cooking pit with flames licking the sides of the vessel. Of course, on a flat American stovetop, a round wok wobbles and has little direct contact with the heat source. For these reasons, we prefer a 12-inch nonstick skillet for stir-frying."

                                    So I happen to disagree with CI.

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      "Most home stoves in China are not stronger than the home stoves in US. In fact, the whole "ultrahigh power, ultrahigh btu" wok cooking is a relatively new introduction. I think the idea that you cannot use a wok unless you have a restaurant firepower stove frankly goes against a practice followed by a huge population (the Chinese population) for more than one thousand years."

                                      ________________________________

                                      It's not the level of heat that is an impediment to wok cooking in the U.S.

                                      Rather, it is the heat source that is an impediment. Gas is ideal, electric not so much. The former is standard in China (at least historically, maybe not so much nowadays); the latter is more prevalent in the U.S.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        Really? There are more electric stoves in US than gas stoves? Either way, CI did not mean it as a electic stove issue. It is an issue all around for home kitchen.

                      2. Breadcrumbs,
                        I will let you know if I cook meat in my all-clad wok.

                        That said, I used to work at China Moon and I found that I couldn't get the same results at home on a gas stove, no matter how hot I got the pan, as I did with a real wok ring like we had in the restaurant. I can't remember the amount of BTUs of the restaurant wok ring as opposed to home, but I remember it was a monumental amount.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: achefsbest

                          Thanks achefsbest, I hope it works out. You've made me wonder whether there are any propane fuelled wok units for outdoor use. Our gas grill has a side burner but it's ok, at best.

                        2. Like many other good things in life, there's no way to rush the seasoning process. If you follow some good basic seasoning procedures you will, with time, end up with a well seasoned pan. My wok is well over 30 years old and it has a nice patina of use and is what I would call adequately seasoned. This took years - not months, weeks or days. Season it, use it, season it again, use it again and continue to use it over and over and over and the finish will build up until eventually you have a nicely seasoned surface. So what if the first few meals have a sort of metallic taste? It's not a huge deal and it just goes with the territory. Throwing out a perfectly good pan because you are unable to create the equivalent of 20 years worth of seasoning with a couple of uses is just wasteful. I hope someone picked your discarded wok up off the street and gave it a good home.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Nyleve

                            Wonderful reply and SO INSIGHTFUL! This trend toward "seasoning" CS or CI in one afternoon, or even a few months, is absurd. The initial seasoning is important, but nothing at all like what happens after a few years or ideally, decades....

                          2. Have a look at the discussion on seasoning woks in Grace Young's "Stirfrying tothe Sky's Edge" if you can, it is as clear a presentation as I've ever seen. Pictures in in-progress woks are shown, and she says they look bad until they're fully seasoned. I've been using the same 14' flat-bottomed wok for 25+ years on electric and gas and that puppy is pitch black. It was the first thing I put on my new stove. The house is not a home without it.
                            Re CI: bollocks. Reductio ad absurdum.

                            1. Here's the thing about seasoning woks... What would be considered seasoned by some would be considered "icky-gross" by others. You may have been on the road to a properly seasoned wok, but washed off the "icky-gross" and the seasoned surface you were shooting for.

                              The end result a garage sale deal.

                              Maybe a cast iron skillet is the best way to go for you.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: dave_c

                                "What would be considered seasoned by some would be considered "icky-gross" by others. You may have been on the road to a properly seasoned wok, but washed off the "icky-gross" and the seasoned surface you were shooting for."
                                _________________________________

                                Same could be said for properly seasoned cast iron cookware.

                              2. I'm glad I found this thread as I am going crazy with this wok thing. I enjoy Asian cooking and have several woks. Actually I have 1 SS, 2 cast iron, 2 carbon steel aand 2 non stick stir fry pans. I just about gave up on the carbon steel also because I don't use them enough to maintain them. When I cooked raw meat or tofu in them everything stuck so I just used CS for veggies and added cooked left over meat in them. The non stick Analon and Calphalon pans are great. I made fried rice in the Calphalon yesterday and came out good. I could never do that in SS or CS. I do prefer CI woks but as mentioned, they take long to heat up etc. I am a lover of CI and know how to take care of it. I have the Lodge CI Wok which can be non stick when seasoned. CS seems like there is always a brown sticky service on it and I do know the methods for taking care of it, but I think you have to continually use CS to maintain it. Meats, noodles and rice will stick in SS, CS and maybe CI, but not non stick and I make noodle and rice dishes a lot.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: taurus30

                                  taurus,

                                  I have a carbon steel wok, and I am able to season it to the point of frying rice without sticking. I think it depends the stage of which it is seasoned. Most Chinese restaurants use carbon steel woks for fried rice. Here is a nice video which shows the nonstick property of a seasoned carbon steel wok.

                                  http://youtu.be/ehgnv3lNg5E

                                  It is nonstick-like, can handle very high heat, can handle very rough utensil works...etc.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    Thanks for the video, I love to watch that. As I mentioned, the more CS and CI get used, the better.I use my CI pans quite a bit and when not, they are in the oven baking with everything else. My CS woks do not get used much. Now they were seasoned correctly but I just looked at them after not getting used in a while and they are brownish color. How do I know what is seasoned and what might be rust?

                                    1. re: taurus30

                                      "How do I know what is seasoned and what might be rust?"

                                      Rust tends to lean slightly to red, orange color.

                                      http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3201/2...

                                      You may not able to tell in the mist of a very dark pan. You can wipe it with a white paper towel (or even just paper), and see what get wiped off. Also rusted pan will have a metallic iron smell to it. Finally, rust tends to come off easier. If you wipe your finger across, rust will come off much easier than seasoned surface. Rust is also lighter and more powder like.

                                2. Hey bk! I also have an extensive set of A-C SS and my recommendation to you would be to go for the 12" Chefs Pan with sloped sides (and domed cover) rather than the 14" Open Wok with straight sides. It's shallower than a traditional wok but the capacity hasn't been an issue for me cooking for 3+ adults. I'm assuming that you're cooking with gas? My 36" Wolfe brings the heat necessary to heat this pan screaming hot to ensure a good stir fry.

                                  1. I can't relate to the problems described in this thread. My experience is that a "cheap" steel wok from Chinatown works just fine. I've never really wanted another one. I don't use it much anymore, but when I got it about 40 years ago, I used it a lot for the next 20 to 30 years, most of that time on a conventional electric range. I used the ring upside down, so the wok sits against the heating element and gets really hot in the center. The oil must be hot before putting the meat in. This is tested by putting an ordinary bamboo chopstick in the oil. When it's hot enough, bubbles will come out of the end of the chopstick. I don't remember if things stuck in the beginning, but it doesn't matter. Use it often and the seasoning will get better with age. As for rust when it sat for a long time without use, I never worried about it. Rust will not kill you. Just wash it out, then cook with it.

                                    That's my approach, which can be summed up as: "Don't worry so much about it."