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Feb 4, 2012 12:03 AM

I think I ruined my CS wok while seasoning! Help please!

I have a new Helen Chen flat bottomed carbon steel 14" wok. After scrubbing it with steel wool and hot water, I dried it and proceeded to heat it up to a bluish color for seasoning. It took a long time as I kept turning the wok near the flame to change the color on all the metal. As per 1 video I saw.
I noticed what appeared to be areas of the lacquer coating still intact so I stopped and scrubbed it two more times till it was shiny again and started the heating process over.....I should note that I am working off a portable 3 burner stove that doesn't appear to have the high heat capabilities that seasoning may require.
No oven either.

So when heating for the second time I noticed the color change was more golden in color, I added what turned out to be too much oil and created a burnt oil black shiny mess on the bottom, of course going over it again and again w the paper towels dipped in veg oil. Only thickening the burnt mess.
I thought I was creating a slick seasoning surface, my research learned, I proceeded to boil, scrape, steel wool, scour pad and eventually sand the surface to get the black off. I got most of it off leaving a greyish hue to the metal in many of the grooves.

Trying a third time...I heated up the wok again, the flat area where I sanded the most turned an amber color quickly, then a hotter orange followed by a bright purple then blue...the color changes were freaky....I started to add the oil again and used ginger and scallions.....then bacon. An idea from another video. Of course stuff stuck to the sides.....I scrubbed it clean and dried it and oiled it... I realize that I was rushing things...I have looked up what I can on this subject. ...Now what should I do? I live in Ecuador so buying another is not an easy option, I waited 3wks and paid huge shipping cost to get it .I need to make this one work...Can I?????

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  1. I'm attempting to reseason the wok...with patience and bacon lard. I think I rushed things and will try this many times to slowly build up the patina...Reading makes me think you can't ruin one of these woks....I thought that I really did...I will update my results.
    Thanks in advance for any suggestions

    14 Replies
    1. re: Muttly

      Like you said, you may be rushing thing. Because I cannot see how your wok looks like, I do not know what condition it is at. If you are not sure, then start again. This time do it slowly. Please do not add food during the seasoning. The ginger and scallions thing is for the first cooking -- after the seasoning -- not during the seasoning.

      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        Thanks for that.....
        1st pic is where I started at this morning....and then after 2 seasoning passes.
        Am I on the right track?

        1. re: Muttly

          To judge by these photos, you're doing great. The seasoning will improve with use, and you're already in the ballpark. These woks are tough. It can't hurt to try some deep frying, etc. For seasoning purposes, though, always avoid congealing a thick layer of oil onto the pan. But that's not what you have now. Keep it up!

          1. re: Muttly

            Hmm, like Bada said, you are on the right track from these photos. Maybe you are just worrying too much. You are doing great. Make sure there is no "sticky" substance on the wok. This means the seasoning is incomplete and the oil was too thick. If it is slightly stick, then season it some more. If it is really sticky and gummy, then scrap the substance off with season it once more.

            If it does not feel sticky at all, then do a light stir fry with ginger or scallion or onion to remove the metallic smell and taste, then you should be ready to do some real cooking after this.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Thanks everyone for their input:)

              Whew, I think I may be doing it right this time, though my confidence is low....I should've photographed my pan after my 1st 3 seasoning tries to make my point. it looked horrible, It also took hours of cleaning, scraping and sanding to bring it partially back. I never did get it back to shiny metal throughout.
              I do have weak burners, I may invest in 1 very hot solo burner for my high temperature cooking.
              I have been repeating the seasoning process to build up the patina as best as possible with my current stove using bacon fat....My gut says "Go pork fat".
              I hope I'm right there with my choice. Oink!
              I have an outside kitchen so fumes aren't an issue, so I repeated the heat, wipe with fat and wipe up the excess w paper towels about 15x yesterday.
              Impatient me wants a well seasoned wok now, lol
              Going to try using the ginger and scallions today, hoping that the food wont stick and make me scrape off my hard work.
              The pan doesn't feel sticky but also not completely smooth, there are tiny bumps and ridges where the fat dried.....Is that normal?

              Ques? Can you ruin a wok with sanding? I was quite aggressive there when trying to remove the black sticky burnt oil.

              It's hard to get a good photo of the details in my wok, but this is where I am at now.


              Thanks again Chowhounds!

              1. re: Muttly

                "I do have weak burners, I may invest in 1 very hot solo burner for my high temperature cooking. "

                It is fine for now. A lot of people do stove top seasoning for woks and that is actually the standard method. Afterall, extremely few Chinese in China have ovens. So the idea that you must have an oven to season a wok is absolutely untrue. I have done it both ways, and I find the stovetop method to be better anyway.

                "Going to try using the ginger and scallions today, hoping that the food wont stick and make me scrape off my hard work."

                The usual problem of sticking is with meats and high starch foods. What I will do, is to perform a mini seasoning before each cooking session for now -- for a new wok. This works very well for a brand new wok.

                "Heats up the wok with small amount of oil in it and when the oil just barely starts to smoke, stops and cools it (like10-20 seconds) and then discards the hot oil into the sink or somewhere. Now, wipe the extra oil away from the wok using a paper towel.

                Now you can cook as usual: heat up the cookware, add oil, then add meat. "


                "Can you ruin a wok with sanding? "

                Not really. I used to sand my wok too when I was new (just like you). You really cannot sand through a wok unless you use some power tools.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Thanks for that...I feel better about it all now.

                  1. re: Muttly

                    An amber color still comes off my paper towel when I wipe.....Normal?

                    Hehe., I mean on my hot wok.

                    1. re: Muttly

                      It's the oil that got hot and turned dark.

                      1. re: Muttly

                        Very funny. It is normal. The brown color can come from two sources: either from the burned oil which turned brown, or from the seasoning surface.

                  2. re: Muttly

                    Having had my Helen Chen wok for a couple of weeks I'm impressed. After two good seasoning with organic flax seed oil this is what it looks like.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Thanks, I guess the thin metal gets darker quicker.

            2. re: Muttly


              As long as you don't let the WOK rust, they are pretty hard to ruin. I think you are rushing the seasoning process in your excitement to use your new WOK.

              While I don't have a WOK like yours, I have a thin steel crepe pan that I seasoned like I would a thin steel WOK. I did not have bacon grease or lard to work with so I used a good cooking oil. I kept the temperature below the smoke point and heated the pan pretty high to get a slight bluish tint to the steel surface. I let it sit on the burner for a about 15 minutes and then let it cool and gently cleaned it with a little soap and let it dry on low heat. The first time I really cooked with it, I threw away the first couple of crepes and cooked them with extra oil. Now crepes or pancakes cook really nice and don't stick.

              The trick I use with cast iron is to use a lot of cooking oil. First I wipe all surfaces so they are slightly wet with oil and then add a good amount of cooking oil and a few thick sliced potatoes and cook them until they are almost burnt. Something like scallions and onions won't work well because they won't last very long in high heat - the potatoes work well because you can move them around in the skillet/dutch oven/WOK to really spread the oil and get it to penetrate into the pores in the metal.

              I don't know if they have Turkey Fryers in Ecuador but, there is probably some sort of camping cooker with a high heat flame. I'm going to buy a steel WOK next time I find one in a store and use it with my Turkey Fryer burner to replicate the high heat cooking you get in a Chinese restaurant.

            3. I think it is hard to season a wok using only a burner. I know there are all sorts of youtube videos on the topic, but the bottom line is that the heat is not very even from a standard burner.

              The absolute evidence of this are the uneven color changes you see. The color changes are basically oxidation, and the varying colors represent different temperatures. They go from amber to purple to blue, going from cooler to hotter. So, when you see a pan with a spectrum of color, the amber parts were the coolest (furthest from the flame), the light blue parts were the hottest (closest to the flame). This color change, in itself, doesn't have much to do with seasoning a wok.

              I found it is much easier to season using the wokshop technique of putting the entire wok in the oven. It needs to be very hot, otherwise the oil stays sticky.

              By the way, there are 2 different color changes that occur. The first is the oxidation that occurs on the steel itself from oxidation, the second color is the oil being burned. Seasoning a wok is basically just burning oil onto the surface, which results in an amber to black clear finish over the entire wok. This is different than the oxidation colors.

              1 Reply
              1. re: pweller

                Yes, oven works best. Here's video from Wok Shop on seasoning.