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Dec 30, 2010 02:29 PM

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.

    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: 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.

      3 Replies
      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.

        1. re: slopfrog

          I watched you tube video that suggest wrapping wood handle in wet rag and cover in foil for protection. We did that but still have not got all the lacquer coating off our wok yet. Even after scrubbing with steel wool and setting on fire.

          1. re: Marlene73NC

            We used two treatments with oven cleaner left overnight in a plastic bag on the patio. The first shot got some off, the second did the rest. It still took some scouring, but was much easier, I think.

      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 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.

          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.


          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.


                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!