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Can I save my wok after a grease fire?

Okay, I have to be the worst person in the world at seasoning things. I went through a year of attempts at seasoning and subsequent rust with my cast iron pan until we finally came to some kind of detente. And now, my problem is: the wok.

Yes, I got an iron wok from World Market, and managed to get a few basic seasonings in. Then someone (who shall remain nameless) left it in soapy water overnight, and the result was a rusty mess. I cleaned, I scoured, and following different seasoning instructions this time, I let it get really, really hot. And then I put oil in it. Result: fire.

Now, we dealt with that ok -- nothing a big ol' lid won't handle. But this morning, I find that the bottom of the wok is covered in a gooey substance. I've tried washing it off with hot water, with little success. I applied the scouring pad lightly (hey, what if there's a good season under there?), but that only took some of it off. When I dried the wok on medium heat, the gooey stuff started smoking.

So: any advice? I've thought of taking some old veggies -- onions, potatoes -- and using them in the hot walk to move the greasy stuff around. But is the greasy stuff really just oil, or could it be some of the manufacturer's wok covering that I hadn't managed to get off in previous washings?

I've searched online, but all I find are instructions on how to season normal or rusty woks, or how to put out or avoid grease fires. But I'm beyond *all* of these in seasoning incompetence. Help!

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  1. you need to get that stuff off the wok and start over.

    honestly, wok cooking at home is rarely worth the effort since you don't have the right kind of fire for the vessel.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hotoynoodle

      I wonder about that. I don't do that much cooking in it anyway -- else it would be better seasoned on its own and not so sticky -- so I'm wondering how much the effort is worth it.

    2. The thick film is burnt oil. It's the same type of stuff that ends up on the side of skillets after many hours of use.

      You can try boiling it off with water and baking powder or just scour it off.

      In regards to seasoning, heat the wok and rub with an oiled paper towel. Repeat about 3 times. This should only take about 5 minutes. The real seasoning and non-stick properties result from constant use and time.

      4 Replies
      1. re: dave_c

        you can also put it in the oven when you do a cleaning cycle.

        1. re: hotoynoodle

          That's a good idea. Potential problem is the gunky residue may reignite. Also, it depends upon whether the handle on the wok can take the heat.

          1. re: dave_c

            Yeah, I worry about that... and wood handles.

            1. re: philoclea

              ok, wooden handles won't tolerate this method, lol.

      2. Sorry, I don't have an answer to your question -- just a question of my own. Did you heat the wok on a burner, add the oil, and have it instantly flare into a fire? I ask because I'm always afraid this might happen. I heat it gingerly with some water droplets in it, add the oil soon after the water burns off and then try to get the food in immediately....

        22 Replies
        1. re: CathleenH

          That's exactly right. But you have to understand -- my electric burners (unusually) get very hot -- and I heated this on high for 10-15 minutes. If cooking anything, on any kind of pan, I usually use the halfway mark as my "high," and would not leave it that long. I just did this because I'd read that you should try to get the wok hot enough to change colour a few times. Well, eventually, it sure did!

          1. re: philoclea

            you have an electric stove? sorry, but a wok is pointless for you.

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              It gets really, really hot... or are you thinking about the fact that the flames don't go up the sides? The wok is flat-bottomed.

              1. re: philoclea

                yes, because even with the flat bottom, the heat isn't distributed evenly like it should be for cooking that should be very very fast.

                just get a nice big skillet and chuck the wok.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  Hmmm.... uneven distribution of heat is precisely what I've been having when I use this wok.

                  I have a nice big skillet -- which we use all the time.

                  1. re: philoclea

                    woks are simply not useful on an electric stove. period. honestly, they are not so great even on a home gas stove. i don't own a wok.

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      "woks are simply not useful on an electric stove"

                      How do you know a wok is not useful on an electric stove and on a ome gas stove if you don't own a wok?

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        i don't need to waste money on something i know is ill-suited for my use. i don't use a baby stroller to plow snow either.

                        for the op:


                        With a flat bottom wok, the introduction of a slight angle where its bottom flattens out makes tossing with the wok spatula a bit more challenging and less fun, and often, food is less evenly cooked. Particles of food caught around this edge sometimes end up overcooking or burning, making cleanup more of a chore and increasing the likelihood of scrubbing off some of the precious, hard-earned patina. This slight angle also increases the likelihood of the wok spatula putting scratches in the area just above it in an attempt to turn the pieces of food evenly. Some people solve this problem by replacing the wok spatula with a wooden spoon with which to stir-fry, but tossing with a wooden spoon is much less efficient than with the wide wok spatula, and therefore, defeats the purpose of cooking with a wok.

                        Although the flat bottom wok is specially designed for better balance on flat American stovetops such as the electric stove, it can be a challenge to stir-fry food evenly in it as the flat bottom that sits directly on a coil heats up much hotter than the rounded sides above it. Food can easily burn if it is not tossed quickly enough and tossing is made more difficult for the reason mentioned above.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle


                          There is a difference between "not optimal" and "useless". In fact, a pretty big difference. I have a wok, actually many woks. I can tell you from experience that even a wok on an electric stove can do something that no frying pan can do. It is not to say a wok on an electric stove is ideal or optimal, but it is far from useless. As for the overcooking at the edge.... the point of using a wok shape cookware is to able to toss foods with ease. Much of a surface you see for a wok is to for moving and catching foods. The real cooking surface is small. If one is to toss foods, then you won't get food burning at the edge. I have never done that. In addition, I don't use a wok spatula. I use a wok ladle. That being said the of using a wok spatula of scratching the wok is a small problem. A ladle will constantly scratch a wok regardless it is round or flat.

                          Look, there are many things in life which are no ideal, but these do not render them useless. There is a huge gray area in between. It is ideal to have 7-8 hours of sleep everyday, but this is not to say having 5-6 hours of sleep is useless. It is still way better than not sleeping at all.

                          A flat bottom wok on an electric stovetop is not as good as a round bottom wok on a traditional professional wok stove, but that does not translate to being useless. A flat bottom wok on an electric stove is still way better than a frying pan for stir frying especially for fried rice. Just like the fact that 5-6 hours of sleep each night is still way better than 2-3 hours of sleep. Look, some people will also tell you that the optimal frying pan should be copper. Maybe it is, maybe it is not. But even if it is, it does not mean frying pan is useless unless it is made out of copper. Your argument is that a round bottom wok on a professional stove is the ideal design, so anything beside this are useless. No, it is not.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Sorry ChemicalK but HYN is right and you are wrong ... the use of a round wok on an electrical stove top is WRONG ... just WRONG ... I understand that there are differentiators for Wok cooking but unfortunately flat electric stove sop = Bad when it comes to WOK cooking ... I will caviat this by saying non-Induction electric since I think certain Induction equipment is acceptable. But having done ALOT of WOK cooking > 80K BTU is where you need to draw the line ... IMHO (not that I really have a humble opinion on the subject) FYI +120K BTU gets you closer to what you want ... and still you will wonder why it isn't hot enough ....

                            1. re: Bigmontyboy

                              Really? Then the opinion is wrong. You may need to read about the history of wok, and how average Chinese actually cook. High thermal output stoves did not come about until recently. Unless you think Chinese have been doing wok cooking wrong for the last few thousand years....Many Chinese today are still cooking based on wood, and rural areas simply cannot afford wasting energy:


                              Look, I am not arguing that a low power stove is what everyone should get. However, just because someone has an electric stove, it does not mean the person has to toss away the wok, and can only a frying pan. That was what this is about. It was not about low power stove for wok vs high power stove for wok for wok.

                              1. re: Bigmontyboy

                                "Wrong"? What does that mean, exactly? An electric stovetop may be suboptimal for wokery, nevertheless many people get by that way. I used my round-bottomed wok that way for about 20 years. It works better if a support ring is used upside down, which allows the wok to sit down on the heating element. (I learned this trick from a friend from Hong Kong.)

                                We can't all afford high-output professional-style gas ranges. The wok snobs will not keep us from doing the best we can with what we have, if we want to cook with a wok.

                2. re: hotoynoodle

                  I believe a wok is far better than a skillet for stir-frys. You won't get the full restaurant flavor, but at home you still get good results when compared to a skillet.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Ditto. Used to stir fry in my skillet and never had the same success as my wok. Flavor is completely different. I have an electric stove (not by choice).

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    The trick to proper wokking on an electric stove is to keep the burner on high and move the wok on and off the burner to regulate the heat. Its not very safe but it gets the necessary BTUs into the pan.

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      No, a wok can be used quite well on an electric stove. I used mine that way for over 20 years (I now have gas).

                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                        I've read all of your posts here, & frankly your opinions are just that - OPINIONS. And have no basis in fact. I've been cooking since 1974 with a carbon-steel wok on an electric stove & have turned out wonderful authentic Asian dishes that would make you go back on your words in a nanosecond. And no, I'm not saying that to brag. Just in the hopes that you realize that your experience doesn't automatically mean everyones' experience.

                        I'm saying that because your comments are so very defeatist - like you're the be all & end all of wok cookery, & it simply isn't fare to convey yourself that way when your remarks simply ARE NOT TRUE.

                        To the OP - your wok isn't ruined. And while I definitely do NOT want to get into the same brouhaha I did on another wok-seasoning thread here, it's not the end of the world re: what happened to you. You simply used way too much oil. Seasoning your wok does NOT take any amount of oil that would puddle in the wok.

                        You simply wipe the wok thoroughly with oil, using a paper towel, then heat it just to the smoking stage (on your stovetop or in your oven). Then let it cool down & wipe it out. Repeat 2 or 3 times. Then start cooking in it.

                        However, with what you have to work with now, I would break the normal rules & put some hot tap water & just a dab of dish soap into your wok & let it sit overnight. Next day scrub it out well with whatever - plastic, steel wool - it really doesn't matter at this point.

                        Then just start reseasoning - PROPERLY - from scratch. Nothing is ruined or lost - just a little time. :)

                        1. re: Bacardi1

                          "I've been cooking since 1974 with a carbon-steel wok on an electric stove & have turned out wonderful authentic Asian dishes that would make you go back on your words in a nanosecond."


                          and that's just YOUR OPINION. good grief. no need to shout.

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            Opinions are all and fine, but let us remember that you wrote:

                            <woks are simply not useful on an electric stove. period. honestly, they are not so great even on a home gas stove. i don't own a wok.>

                            I would say that your opinion lacks the support of long time experience since you don't own a wok, and based on your past posts, you don't seem to be an expert in Chinese cooking neither.

                            I perfectly understand why some people prefer high thermal output stove over an electric stove, but to outright say <you have an electric stove? sorry, but a wok is pointless for you.> is not helpful especially you do not own a wok.

                            It is one thing to say a brick oven is great for pizza. It is an entirely different thing to say that pizza should be not be consumed unless it is made from a brick oven.

                            We should be here to guide people and to share experience, not to out right discourage people from trying (unless you think it is dangerous).

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              currently not owning a wok is not the same as "never" having owned a wok.

                              if you, or anybody else, can be happy with the results you get using an electric stove and a wok, that's just great. woks are simply not designed to be used with that sort of heat source. right tool for the right job. if a person enjoys cooking with a wok, for whatever reason, then whatever.

                              is there some chow law that i missed and i need to preface everything i write with "imho"?

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                Owning a wok for a short period of time does not make for extensive experience, and as I have mentioned that, based on your past posts, you don't seem to be an expert in Chinese cooking.

                                <woks are simply not designed to be used with that sort of heat source>

                                You have mentioned this a few time, but have not yet clarified it. So I like to ask: "Then what is a wok designed for?" Do you see yourself as an expert in wok history? Woks are not designed for an electric stove, but neither do 99% of the cookware out there. Most cookware were invented prior the application of electric stove.

                                Wok (鑊) is the legless version of Ding (鼎), which has a history 3000-4000 years. For example, the ancient text: "鼎大而無足曰鑊". Both ding and wok were originally designed for wood fire, not gas, not electric, not induction, not even coal. Based on your argument, then no one should own a wok unless they use wood fire which really does not give high heat thermal output.


                                <if you, or anybody else, can be happy with the results you get using an electric stove >

                                I doubt anyone here has said that electric stoves are the best source for wok cooking, but that is far from being pointless or useless. Many people also are unhappy with their frying pans experience on electric stoves as well -- no less than people who are unhappy with their wok experience on electric stoves, but that does not mean they should stop using the frying pans or woks.

                                <is there some chow law ...>

                                No, you didn't miss anything, and you certainly do not need to write IMHO. However, you should also understand that if you are going to state a very bold statement like "you have an electric stove? sorry, but a wok is pointless for you.", then you should expect to boldly defend it. Are you saying that it is ok for you to disagree with others' practice (people who use wok on electric stoves), but it is not ok for these people to defend their practice?

                  2. It is mostly burned oil. Just remove it and re-season the wok. In short, yes, you can save your wok. I have had this happened before. No big deal.

                    1. You can't pour oil in. You need to rub it in with a paper towel. Use an oven mitt to hold the oil paper if you're scared.

                      1. Use Crisco to clean and season, NOT oil. That's the yellow gunk. Lard is better.

                        You doing it all wrong:


                        1. I've had my woks for over 40 years, on a variety of stoves. I've learned that there are many uses for them, as their shape can be capitalized on for less-than-traditional cooking. For example, I really like to buy those 3 lb. boxes of bacon trimmings, chop them up and render the whole batch in my wok. There's no spatter because of the wide sides, and it also does a wonderful job of tuning up the seasoning. I also like to make Joe's Special in them because you can toss a large batch easily. Once you put the spinach in, it steams but it does in any pan, so no big deal. I've also made tortilla chips in them, again less spatter.

                          If your wok is gunky, remove the gunk by whatever means you like--scrape it, scrub it. Sometimes if you heat the wok just above hot to the touch the gunk will loosen and can be removed more easily. You can use those coarse stainless steel or brass scouring pads and hot water. Then, dry it, heat on medium on the stove and wipe out with a paper towel and oil, then store while glossy. Repeat a few times, you'll be fine.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: blaireso

                            Where do you get 3lb boxes of bacon trimmings? I feel like I've been missing out!

                            1. re: dtremit

                              Gosh, let me remember. I'm thinking at Food 4 Less, maybe Kroger's/Smith's??? Been doing it for years, so I must've started at Safeway or Ralph's at one point. Refrigerate the bacon bits, sprinkle at will, enjoy! and you have all that lovely bacon fat to strain and keep for whatever.

                          2. There's some absolutist nonsense being posted here. An old-fashioned (meaning iron or steel, no nonstick coating) wok is darn near indestructible (at least when used in a home) and always can be reseasoned.

                            You can use a wok on pretty much any kind of heat source. Some work better than others. I used round- and flat-bottom woks for many years in a place (Hawaii) where almost all home stoves are electric. Woks are good to have even if you don't cook east Asian much ... better than any western pot for deep-frying, for tossing pasta with sauce over heat, etc. There are tricks to be learned, such as NOT stir-frying meats as soon as you toss them into the wok ... a minute or two sitting in the bottom of the wok gives you caramelization/browning that's otherwise hard to achieve on a home stove. (It goes without saying that you shouldn't deep-fry in a round-bottom wok unless you have a ring or stand to safely stabilize it. The advantages of deep-frying in a wok are use of much less oil, and the shape of the wok keeps the spattering under control. You shouldn't deep-fry in a wok without having a wok lid at hand in case of fire. But then every wok should have a lid ... essential for steaming when you stir-fry veggies.)

                            7 Replies
                              1. re: emu48

                                I have never deep fried anything. That said, I'm having trouble conceptualizing how the wok is better for deep frying -- with the rounded sides converging, when you initially put stuff in it'll fall and crowd at the bottom, despite eventually floating up to where there's more surface area. Wouldn't a straight-sided pot with medium height side, like a dutch oven (cast iron, for example), be better?

                                The above may potentially read as if I'm being argumentative, but it is only a question from someone seeking to learn who has never deep fried! :)

                                *** I lie, I did try once, to make corn nuts. I used my 8qt stock pot filled with about 2" oil, and the oil exploded up when I dropped the hominy in, which I thought was dry but there was a lot more internal moisture than I realized. Ooops. Whata mess.

                                1. re: jedovaty

                                  I don't think a wok is better-better, but it can be potential better for people, especially for people who don't deep fry in large quantity. So it actually is the opposite of your example.

                                  In the case, you just suddenly want to deep fry a few chicken wings, maybe as few as two pieces. The wok (due to its round bottom) requires a smaller amount of oil to do so than a pot. Let use your example. You will need much less oil to fill a wok to 2" deep than to fill a 8 quart pot to 2" deep.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    The volume part makes sense.

                                    But who on earth would want only two chicken wings? :D That sounds like super-model food, perhaps served with half an almond and a couple chiffonades of butter-leaf lettuce!

                                    1. re: jedovaty

                                      <But who on earth would want only two chicken wings? :D >

                                      Your girlfriend allows you to eat more than 2 pieces of fried chicken wings? :P

                                      She is a keeper.

                                2. re: emu48

                                  The gas cooktop I've had for the past 12 years goes out whenever I use a wok ring, I think the flame needs more air than the holes in the ring allow. So, deep frying is out here. If you flip the wok ring so the wok is lower above an electric element, and be patient, your wok will achieve sufficient heat for most applications. Asians have used woks for thousands of years for deep frying, they just don't cook mega meals the way Americans do (the 2 chicken wing theory, LOL) so a few pot stickers per serving is fine. I don't have one of those wire drainers that hook on the rim of the wok, but those are designed to keep food warm as you rotate cooked food out and raw food in. Deep frying in a wok works!

                                  Also, from a prior post, those bamboo scrubbing brushes are a great idea for cleaning out gunk, I'd forgotten about them. My kitchen stuff exceeds my memory!

                                  1. re: blaireso

                                    There's a kind of wok ring, sold widely and cheaply, made out of heavy steel wire. It gives the flame more air and lets the flame lick up the sides of the wok. Look on amazon.com or at a great San Francisco online seller called The Wok Shop. The wire ring also is suitable for use as a trivet if you like to bring the wok to the table.

                                3. Hi there:

                                  I see the OP occured in Feburary 2012, so it was a few months ago and he/she has probably cleaned up the wok by now. For benefit of those searching:

                                  This happened to me just last week, see here:
                                  http://tinyurl.com/72oay4h [[goes to smugmug]


                                  I was woking first time with a very high output burner, which was on for about 30 seconds, and I put grape-seed oil in, and poof, smoke->fire.

                                  My wok was well seasoned, and when I put the fire out, there was a nasty sludge. I got it out by waiting for things to cool, then turning on the burner (not full power, something more manegable), waiting for smoke to show up, then pouring water in from a kettle and using my brush to scrub it. Took only about 10 seconds and it was done. I don't recommend doing it this way in retrospect, very dangerous.

                                  I read this thread, and have the following suggestions/comments, even if the OP and I have somewhat different setups:
                                  - if the OP used a high-smoke-point oil, it's clear he/she has a fairly strong stove, if oil was poured in and eventually ignited. I never got that to happen on my stove in the kitchen. With this strong stove, one could stir fry so long as portions are managed.
                                  - if low smoke point oil, then we can't really make conclusions?

                                  To clean sludge out on the home stove, I'd recommend having a bristle brush on the side (I got one made out of bamboo for $3 at the local restaurant supply; see attached). Get some water boiling. Heat up the wok, SLOWLY, on a low to medium heat, until it starts getting hot but not smoking. Pour water in and scrub.

                                  Don't heat on high or get to smoking, as others have said, it may heat up. You use boiling water to help drop the temp difference between the wok and the water to help minimize any potential for warping, and to help release the sludge. I used cold water on mine above because I don't care if mine warps a bit, so long as it sits on the stove. In retrospect, that was very stupid, perhaps there's a chance the metal would crack and drop the sludge onto the burner and envelope everything/one in flames. I had a fire extinguisher on hand.

                                  If you want to be safe, don't even heat up the wok, just pour boiling water into it.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: jedovaty

                                    Actually, I wound up tossing it -- but a transatlantic move and a new baby had to do with that. My stove, as I mentioned in earlier posts, may have been electric but got really, really hot. It worked fine for stir frying! (For most dishes, I set the heat halfway up for "high" heat, anything higher would burn.) I understand that an electric stove doesn't have flames going up the sides, but as far as heat goes, it really doesn't get much hotter on a home stove than that one!

                                    Anyway... I'm now in another country and will have a gas stove for the next two years. So -- a new wok is in order!