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Need help with seasoning new wok -- tough plasticy coating?

I've been having a hard time finding a carbon steel wok, but I got one at a discount store the other day. It's the Joyce Chen flat bottomed one. (Yes I know it's not authentic or very good, but it's actually here in my kitchen and sits on my range without falling over.)

I've seasoned lots of cast iron before, so it's no big deal to me to season... usually. The instructions said to wash in hot soapy water to remove the factory protective coating and then use oil to season it. No problem. So I washed it, coated it in oil, and put it over high heat. The bottom seasoned nicely, but the sides couldn't get hot enough to polymerize the oil. I didn't want it rusting in the pantry (thinking I had removed all the factory protective coating by washing at this point) so I pulled out the trusty blow torch, oiled a towel, and started heating the sides.

That's when I noticed that there was a strange plasticky coating all over the entire wok. I didn't notice it until the intense heat of the blowtorch acted on it. It was very thick, tough, and no way was washing with hot water and a scrub brush going to take it off. I'd need a sand blaster. There wasn't really any off odor when I burned it down with the blow torch.

So here I am wondering what in the heck is going on. Have they assumed that I can't season the wok right, and this coating is designed to prevent rusting until it finally burns down into a "seasoning" for the pan? It does seem to burn down into an okay seasoning. (Making me think this is the case is the fact that this is a product made largely for ignorant consumers who are used to stainless steel and non-stick cookware. Most of these people wouldn't ever be able to season the sides of this wok... there is wood all over it so you wouldn't want to season it in the oven like I normally do for cast iron. Without a handheld heat source I don't know how the upper part of the wok would get seasoned before it rusted.)

The alternative explanation is that the instructions aren't right and you really have to scrub this thing out with sandpaper. And if so, I have nasty plastic chemicals going into the food I am feeding my family. (Which I could not taste based on the first and only meal I've cooked with it.)

Someone please tell me if this stuff is bad or not... Thanks!

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  1. I hope you didn't get one of those woks with the lacquer coating. Traditionally, woks are perserved with machine oil. They are messy and dirty, but very easy to remove. As time passes, more woks are shipped with lacquer coatings due to better presentation, but they are much tougher to remove.

    To specific answer your question, these lacquer coatings are not toxic.

    There was a similar discussion if you want to read about it.

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6762...

    There are many ways to remove this lacquer surface, but it may be just easier to buy a new wok. Afterall, a carbon steel wok is only $15-20.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      hi there, i sure hope it isnt toxic. i purchased this wok: http://www.amazon.com/14-inch-Iron-Po... and hadnt read much about it before trying it today. it said on the package to heat it until the black smoke cleared. my apartment isnt very large... i scrubbed a lot of the black coating but neglected the outside of it, not realizing my entire apartment would smell awful and very toxic! i had to leave the house... wondering though if it actually is toxic so i can finish the process. thanks!

      1. re: essnbench

        I read your other post as well. I don't have this wok, but woks are usually protected by machine oil or a lacquer coating to prevent rust. I personally prefer woks with machine oil. Even though machine oil is sticky and messy, it is very easy to remove with detergent and water. I am guessing your wok has a lacquer layer. Lacquer coating can be tough to remove which is why your instruction asks you to burn the wok until all the smoke disappears.

        In my opinion, burning lacquer is probably not the healthiest thing to do. It is like burning plastic I suppose. It is probably not the worse. You will need to open all your window and turn on your fume hood. In fact, you can try to use a steel wool to scrap most of the lacquer coating off, before burning.

    2. My carbon steel frying pan came from the factory with a clear lacquer coating to prevent rust during transport and storage. I thought I had scrubbed it off completely with a Scotchbrite pad, but the pan just wouldn't season properly (the oil formed little spots and blotches instead of a nice even coating). I ended up scrubbing the pan twice with steel wool, hot water, and a lot of elbow grease. After that, it seasoned beautifully.

      1 Reply
      1. re: tanuki soup

        Yep... I think you all nailed it. The stupid thing is lacquered AND the manual wasn't even kind enough to tell me! I bought it in a box and couldn't see it at purchase time. When I got it home, I initially noticed it was awfully shiny, but figured it was some fancy new food grade wax coating they had come up with that would wash off easily like the instructions seemed to imply it would. Apparently not...Joyce Chen thinks it's okay to just cook on the lacquer, since it will be hell to get it off and the instructions don't say anything more than washing it.

        If the lacquer is non-toxic, then I think I will just go crazy with the blow torch and burn it all off. Parts of it are somewhat splotchy after the initial seasoning, but the areas that I got real good with the torch look okay.

        It's either that or I take it to work and hit it with a sandblaster. Then oil it and bring it home. I don't really want to have to do that though, since it will pockmark the surface.

        Also, I said I wasn't too comfortable putting the wok in the oven to season it, since it has non-removable bamboo on it.. but I may just decide to do it anyways. I am mad at this thing now! So what if it looks ugly when it comes out.

      2. Hi Slopfrog, yes it is a lacquer coating on the pans to prevent rusting while taking that long ship ride from China. Anyways you could scrub it off with some cleanser powder, green scrubby and a lot of elbow grease. Or you can burn it off like you did, by either tilting the pan and turning your burner on high or getting all MacGyver and using your method.. I don't think you mentioned if you had a gas or electric range. Another way to take it off might be to deep fry with some oil you are going to dispose of, gets hotter than just boiling water, and seasons the pan all at once.

        Hope you have as much fun as I do seasoning your pan. Actually you could also season it in the oven. Even with all the wooden parts on it too. All you need to do is cover the wooden parts that don't come off with some dampened rags and then cover with foil. If you need a visual, go visit youtube.com and look for Tane Chan the owner of the Wok Shop in San Fran's Chinatown, she actually shows you how to season several woks with different methods.

        1. Hey there, you ought to hop on over to the home cooking board and join us for the Cookbooks of the Month, which is Grace Young's Stir Frying to the Sky's Edge and Breath of a Wok!

          One of the woks she actually recommends is a 14'' carbon steel wok with a flat bottom and a "helper" handle. If that's the one you got, Grace Young would approve.

          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7567...

          She has a whole section on how to break in a new carbon steel wok, which she says come from the factory with an anti-rust coating that must be scrubbed off first.

          1. Scrub it it several times inside and out with a stainless steel scouring pad and hot soapy water. (She says this is the last time you should ever use a stainless steel scouring pad on your wok.) Rinse the wok in hot water.

          2. Turn on your exhaust fan and open all of the windows. Heat the wok on low heat 1-2 minutes until all surface water has evaporated.

          3. Then, she says to season your wok. Heat the wok over high heat, then swirl 2 TBSP of peanut or vegetable oil into the well. Reduce the heat to medium, then add 1/2 cup of sliced unpeeled ginger and a bunch of Chinese chives (or scallions) cut into 2-inch pieces and stir fry them for 5-20 minutes. She says to use your wok spatula to press the scallion/ginger mixture up against the sides of the wok, including along the upper edge. If the mixture gets dry, add another TBSP or two of oil.

          4. Remove the wok from the heat and allow mixture to cool, then discard.

          5. Wash the wok with hot water (no soap!), rubbing it with a soft sponge.

          6. Rinse, then place wok back on burner over low heat until water droplets evaporate. And, you should be good to go.

          ~TDQ

          2 Replies
          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            "you ought to hop on over to the home cooking board "

            Stop stealing people.

          2. If it's lacquer, I'm surprised no one suggested lacquer thinner to remove it.

            This thread motivated me to head back out to TJ Maxx & finally buy that cheesy ("Hotel" brand?) 8" carbon steel wok they've had in their clearance section for the past month. Flat-bottomed, with a tubular stainless handle & a thick coating I, like slopfrog, assumed was some kind of plastic. About 1/4 of the rim had spider-legging rust veins where the coating had been chipped away due to in-store handling. This was the last plain carbon wok in the store, as all of their new stock is Teflon coated. Originally priced at $7.99, it was now down to $5.50.

            The first thing I did when I got it home was to scratch the coating with a screwdriver blade. Yup, it cracked & flaked just like a lacquer coating would. I cut off a small square of fabric from a rag & dabbed a little lacquer thinner onto it. It took a few seconds for the coating to react, but the metal's surface now had a spot completely clear of any coating. Another scratch test with the screwdriver blade confirmed that there was indeed a bare area of steel on my wok.

            Lacquer thinner is VERY volatile & flammable! If you're going to use this, please ONLY do so outside with LOTS of fresh air & no open flames! As a mix of solvents, you should wear chemical-resistant gloves to keep it off of your skin.

            As a method for removing the lacquer coating off a carbon wok, this should work quickly & easily compared to multiple scrubbings using steel wool/scouring pads. Obviously, give your newly-stripped pan a thorough washing before you begin the seasoning process.

            5 Replies
              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                The lacquer thinner is a better idea than the sandblaster.

                I blasted it until I had a nice matte patina that I assumed was bare metal. After all, I had serious industrial equipment on my side this time. I smeared it in shortening and took it home. Nope... after trying to season it again I realize the lacquer is still there! @%$#^ I cannot believe how thick and tough this lacquer coating is! Who would have thought that it would stand up to moderate sand blasting?!

                The wok's new texture doesn't lend itself to non-stickness either. I could blast it again and then sand it smooth and reseason again, but I am done with this crap. What a giant mess. It is going in the trash. I am just amazed that somebody would even make something like this.

                "Eastern cookware for the Western kitchen" -- pfft whatever. DO NOT BUY THE JOYCE CHEN CARBON STEEL WOK!

                1. re: slopfrog

                  Thanks for sharing this story. This is beneficial information. Yes, I agree. It would be just easier to get another carbon steel wok without the lacquer finishing.

              2. re: Eiron

                Hi, Eiron: "If it's lacquer, I'm surprised no one suggested lacquer thinner to remove it."

                Exactamontemucho! And if you burn it on before you realize it, you have a tough job ahead. Angle-grinder or sandblaster after that, on steel. Not that that's a problem.

                Acetone works, too, if that's what you have (along with smarts) before the torch comes out.

                Aloha,
                Kaleo

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  Hi Kaleo! I used this pan quite a bit during Spring/Summer/Fall for cooking veggie chunks on the BBQ. It took a beautifully even layer of seasoning, but either I didn't season it heavily enough or my cooking technique isn't surface-friendly. Or both. :-) The exterior looks great, but the interior looks 'blotchy'. Still, nothing ever rusts. And I never have to worry about baby-ing it or care how it looks!

              3. Old post but I thought I'd share my experience. I just bought the Asian Fusion wok from BB&B which is carbon steel and had the lacquer coat. I was prepared to remove the finish which fortunately is non-toxic anyways so I tried to prepare by making sure I already had the devices needed to remove this coating. The general tips (mineral oil, acetone / lacquer remover and hot oil) were not working out so well. My guess is they really harden the lacquer so these things can sit in warehouses for months on end.

                Nothing like giving your old man a phone call. First thing he mentioned was fine sand paper. I was fresh out since I've been sanding down a steel barrel to refinish an old smoker, but I did just do drywall in our basement so I had a bunch of fine grain sanding sponges. Not only did they work, but it took minimal effort. I first heated up the pan nice and hot with a *small* amount of evoo so I could make the lacquer stand out a bit. You can tell because the areas will have a plasticy-yellow~ish hue to them. That is just the oil from the lacquer coating. Then let it cool, washed it with soap / water and dried it. Took a sanding sponge to it and that plastic looking sheen came right off. The inside top areas were a bit more difficult, but they will eventually come off in time and you shouldn't really notice it since it's a small amount.

                Here is an idea of the sanding sponge used, http://www.lowes.com/pd_313004-1069-7.... Works much better than a scouring pad IMO.

                I'm used to seasoning cast iron and since we cook quite a bit here seasoning is never an issue. Hopefully this helps anyone else looking to remove some lacquer coating from an otherwise perfectly good wok or other carbon steel cookware!

                4 Replies
                1. re: ewolkowicz

                  Purchased the same wok, regret it. Gotta say it's absurd that they put a lacquer like this on it. For a start, it's rather confusing, especially when following a carbon steel seasoning guide where the flame reacting to the steel is visible on an untreated wok. Think I've destroyed it. Don't really wanna sand paper it though, totally ridiculous. Been through all the threads on chowhound dealing with this same wok and the distress at seasoning time. Some of the posts made me laugh, attacking it with a blow torch and such. Good luck to those who end up here.

                  1. re: lsmurp

                    Probably easier to just buy a new wok which has no lacquer since carbon steel woks usually cost about $15-20

                  2. re: ewolkowicz

                    ewolkowicz: Thank you for sharing your experience. I have been shopping for a wok for a while, and it looks like the only option I can find in my area is the same lacquered wok from BB&B.

                    In case you still see this (rather old) thread, could you let us know how your stripped wok has been doing, please?

                    I am surprised pretty much all woks I found find on the market are coated with one thing or the other, and thus do not seem to be made for high heat cooking.

                    1. re: vil

                      Vil,

                      Since we've had the wok (over a year now) it has been just fine. The only thing to keep in mind is that the sanding will cause some slight discoloration or patterns in the steel if you sand it hard enough, which is just fine. It's still steel underneath the steel ;). General use also causes that.

                      I tried mineral oil which didn't help at all. I did not want to use any chemicals at all on something I planned to use for food. I don't remember if I mentioned it, but the fine drywall sanding sponge worked perfectly. I put a good amount of pressure and removed the lacquer with a circular sanding motion. I then cleaned it out and sprayed it with vegetable oil (using a pump sprayer) and heated it for a few minutes (not high heat). As long as you give it a light oil coating after every couple uses you will be fine.

                      I suggest removing the lacquer coating on the outside as it can cause the wok to turn brown-ish, but it won't hurt anything if you don't. High heat will also cause that carbon steel to change color so expect the outside / bottom to turn yellow / brown after a while, or quickly after a high temp cook. These things conduct heat like no other so high heat is almost never necessary. It is designed to cook vegetables and sliced meats very quickly and evenly and I can say it does a great job. For the price and a little elbow grease, it's a good wok, especially with a nice hefty bamboo handle.

                  3. I couldn't find a bare carbon steel wok, so bought one with somekind of dark grey plastic (maybe lacquer) coating. I failed to dissolve it off, even with acetone, or burn it off completely with very high heat. So I sanded it off with one of these:

                    http://www.sparkyabrasives.com/Item--...

                    in my drill motor. Took some work, but worked well. Took it down to steel in the "white". Then put on a nice season over coals and some open fire on my outdoor wok and dutch oven cooking setup.

                    1. I think that's the one that has a silicone coating. Does it look like this?

                      http://www.overstock.com/Home-Garden/...

                      1. Okay, I am very experienced with carbon steel and woks, and just purchased the Asian Fusion Stir Fry Pan from BB&B (which is a GREAT 12" wok!!), and wow--the lacquer coating was quite intense. They said to remove with steel wool soap pads and that did indeed removed a lot of the lacquer, but not all of it...

                        What did remove it all was to unscrew the bamboo handle from the wok, and then bake the lacquered wok for 30 minutes in a 500F oven. The lacquer vaporizes off (with almost no odor), and the steel turns a light gold. It comes out all ready for seasoning!

                        If you can't remove the wood/bamboo handles, I have also done this is the past by wrapping the handles in wet paper towels and then foil over the paper towels. This method can affect the finsih of the varnish on the wood somewhat, but no worse for wear.

                        Another issue I have noticed with some woks (Helen and Joyce Chen woks always do this) is that the high all over temps from being in the oven expand and contract the rivets that hold the handle holder to the wok, permanently changing their size, and therefore the handle will never be "factory tight" again--still fine to use and some will be barely notice, but the very slight wiggle of the handle drives me nuts...! I like my pans and woks ROCK hard and ultra steady!

                        But again, the high temp bake is a really easy and simple way to remove those stupid lacquer coatings from carbon steel pans and woks.

                        1. If it is really that difficult to remove the lacquer, with people resorting to sandblasting, chemicals and temperatures way above what you would ever cook at, then is it really an issue if it stays on?

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: TheRedShirt

                            I think they are "food safe" coatings, but the biggest issue if you don't remove is that you will never get down to the steel and therefore never start the seasoning process...

                            Or rather, you think you are, but then a few weeks or more into use, your wok--as the lacquer finally starts to let go due to the heat of use--will get flaking and peeling of your "seasoning" into your food--but what is really going on is that the lacquer is finally coming off, along with seasoning you started on the wok...! I read so many negative reviews about carbon steel cookware where people have given woks and skillets very low ratings because of this exact scenario. Truly manufacturers have failed consumers by not explaining the coating process and how to remove in more detail.

                            It's just time consuming to remove the lacquer--but take the step and start with raw steel as you should. You can tell when the lacquer is removed as the cookware will no longer be shiny, but duller and more matte silver toned and you can SMELL the steel if you stick you nose close to the cookware; a great tip as the lacquer covers up all the smell of raw unseasoned steel. After seasoning you should smell--for lack of better description--an oily smell, but never steel-ee or metallic.

                            The secret to the coating removal is heat and then scouring pads--bake in a hot oven for half an hour, or boil water in the cookware for 40 minutes, or, as the chefs in Chinese restaurants do, heat the cookware over a high flame until it changes color (as the lacquer is burned off), and then goes back to lighter gray in color. After the heat treatment of choice, scour with stainless pads but good, and then season.

                            After you taste a dish prepared in a good seasoned wok, you will appreciate all the work that goes into the beginning of the seasoning process...!

                            1. re: toddster63

                              Oven cleaner worked for me on my Joyce Chen Stir Fry pan. I'm just naturally lazy. :-)

                              1. re: DuffyH

                                That's a great tip--do you just spray on and then scrub, or did you let it set...?

                                1. re: toddster63

                                  I let it sit overnight. I use the blue lid can, made to be used on cold ovens. It works really well. Spray it on thick, leave overnight, and the next day it washes right off. I always follow up with a soapy wash to make sure all the oven cleaner is gone.

                                  Oven cleaner is also my tool of choice for stripping built-up crud off the outside base of stainless frypans. Same procedure. It can void a warranty, so there's that. But it works like magic. :-)

                            2. re: TheRedShirt

                              I agree with toddster. For certain, you won't able to season the wok properly, and there is always a question of "food safe" coating.

                              In the old days, they don't lacquer. They usually just coat the woks with oil -- which is messier and dirty, but much easier to remove.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                I do prefer the machine oil--as long as you can shop like you do in at The Wok Shop in SF; where the woks are displayed (often seasoned), and then, and only then, when you choose, do they bring forth the oily, messy and filthy wok for you to deal with.

                                There was a drawback to the machine oiled woks--I remember those days, shopping in Chinatown, or even going into a Sur La Table, and if you touched the woks at all you had to find a sink to wash your hands before lunch, or getting back into the car--and you often got that dirty oil on your arms and clothes... Wok shopping was much messier with the oiled woks. I remember when shopping in Chinatown meant old jeans and t-shirts as it was going to be a dirty endeavor...!

                                I had a friend who worked at a Williams Sonoma at one point, and the employees used to hate to have to deal with anything of raw steel because of the oil....

                                1. re: toddster63

                                  <Wok shopping was much messier with the oiled woks.>

                                  Yep, but it takes only a fraction of time to wash off the oil and start seasoning the cookware.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    And it's so much easier with shopping on the internet; in the old days when you wanted a wok--ya' went to Chinatown!

                                    1. re: toddster63

                                      Not true. I bet you could do "mail order" from restaurant supply store. :)

                            3. Morning !-

                              There are a number of Youtube videos available in English, which show how to:

                              1.) Remove the coating inside the wok.
                              2.) How to properly season steel wok.
                              3.) How to even COOK using a wok.

                              My favourite, at least in Europe is Kenneth Hom. Born in Arizona, USA, trained in Chicago, Illinois, USA, degreed in California, he later became the "champion" of the Wok and Wok cooking in the UK for over 30 years.

                              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Hom

                              Mr. Hom was awarded an O.B.E. for his culinary efforts in London. He now enjoys living between France, Thailand, with an occasional visit to his restaurant in Rio.

                              There are a number of his helpful videos available on Youtube, including one on cleaning and seasoning a wok. Poke around on Youtube when you have the time.