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Question for experienced wok users

lilgi Mar 10, 2012 07:31 PM

What kind of problems arise from purchasing inexpensive carbon steel woks? It would be for occasional use only and had my eye on this one frugal item in particular:

http://www.webstaurantstore.com/16-ha...
not at the expense of occupying kitchen space, if not a good item. Should I be looking for something heavier? Tia!

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  1. Chemicalkinetics Mar 10, 2012 08:54 PM

    I don't have exactly this wok, but I have something very similar:

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/831824

    http://www.williams-sonoma.com/produc...

    It is on the thin side. Therefore it is very easy to handle, but it is more easy to warp (change shape).

    2 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics
      rosetown Mar 11, 2012 10:44 AM

      Chem - in your home kitchen environment, I assume that you're not worried about warping and in need of replacement? I'm thinking it would last a lifetime.

      1. re: rosetown
        Chemicalkinetics Mar 11, 2012 11:20 AM

        Hey Buddy,

        Actually, my thin Williams Sonoma wok warpped on me within the first two-three days. Very minor, but I can feel it. I think warping also depend what kind of bottom we are talking about too.

        A minor warping on a round bottom wok is not a problem at all, and will be next to impossible to notice. However, a minor warping on a flat bottom wok can be more noticeable. For the original poster, I don't think this thin wok should be a problem since it is a round bottom wok.

    2. ipsedixit Mar 10, 2012 09:03 PM

      You should be fine. We used to only get regular carbon steel woks at our restaurant, used them daily, beat them up, and they lasted easily a year or more before we had to replace them.

      I've never really understood buying expensive woks, esp. for home use.

      1. Bada Bing Mar 11, 2012 10:34 AM

        That looks like an optimal wok and at a good price.

        Woks just don't get expensive, unless you go into stainless or nonstick woks which are without question inferior in performance, although well-to-do consumers who don't know better still buy them.

        1. i
          INDIANRIVERFL Mar 11, 2012 10:48 AM

          I have a large and and even larger All Clad woks. I use a carbon steel wok that I pick up for about $20 US. It works better than the expensive ones, and I sometimes use it on a 80000 BTU burner.

          2 Replies
          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL
            p
            pabboy Mar 11, 2012 01:09 PM

            Where do you have an 80000BTU burner?

            1. re: pabboy
              d
              Dave5440 Mar 14, 2012 07:07 PM

              Outdoor burners that you would use for a turkey fryer go up to 100k,

          2. g
            GH1618 Mar 11, 2012 10:58 AM

            Inexpensive carbon steel woks are the thing to use, but in my opinion "hand hammered" is a gimmick. Most likely, at that price, the thing is not created by hand out of a sheet of metal, but formed in the usual way, then a pattern added by hand. I don't see any point to this.

            1. lilgi Mar 11, 2012 07:20 PM

              Thank you all! I was very happy to place that order after reading your comments. I didn't want to make a $10 purchase on an item that would only be used once or twice.

              The issue was the huge leap from $10 to $20 - relatively speaking - while I know that this is usually an inexpensive item, it wasn't clear to me if there is a difference in quality between the others. Actually when taking into account the shipping and the purchase of the ring, the total cost was closer $25, still slightly less than others when including shipping but this one seemed to be the best value.

              The other issue was carbon steel versus cast iron and being a half-pint, I was thrilled that I didn't have to go with cast iron - well that's not entirely true since I adore the cast iron pieces that I have - but a 16 inch wok might have been a bit much.

              @Chemicalkinetics - ALMOST got the flat-bottomed after seeing the one you posted, but I thought I might enjoy cooking more with the round bottom surface. I was also looking at the single handled pow woks (that have a hole for hanging) but noticed that the angle was much steeper although difficult to judge from a photo and more expensive. The height of the 16" handled pot is taller so that indicated to me that the sides would be steeper, but I only looked at a few.

              1 Reply
              1. re: lilgi
                Chemicalkinetics Mar 11, 2012 07:53 PM

                Good to know our final decision. I have many different kind of woks. Two handle Cantonese wok, single handle pow wok (aka Peking wok), flat bottom, round bottom...etc. Round bottom woks are great. I am sure you will enjoy it.

              2. lilgi Mar 12, 2012 09:01 PM

                Okay, any tips for those that are seasoning disabled?
                I've been able to maintain my cast iron rust free, but my surfaces are far from being non-stick and I'm used to working around that. I also used Sheryl Canter's method for seasoning cast iron on one of my carbon steel pans and thought I was successful, until the seasoning came off with one use. It took more than a day to lay on 6 ultra thin coats until the finish was the most stunning fig color, very even all around- until I used the pan. In any case I used Canola oil, because it was what I had, and after all that method is supposed to be for cast iron. Any reasons why it wouldn't work on Carbon steel, or was my problem simply the oil? I was doing these coats at 500 degrees. Stove top method did not work for me, tried that as well.

                I did read on a different thread that a coating is supposed to be scrubbed off the wok as soon as it arrives, thinking that the dishwasher might take care of this but thought I would inquire here first. Hoping you could all share your favorite methods for seasoning your woks.

                20 Replies
                1. re: lilgi
                  Chemicalkinetics Mar 12, 2012 09:12 PM

                  It seems you have not gotten a handle of seasoning these cookware yet. I am sure Sheryl Canter's method works, but I don't bother it because the slick seasoning will be gone in a week or two.

                  "Until the seasoning came off with one use"

                  You probably cook with very acidic solution. Don't do it with a new wok or new any cast iron or carbon steel cookware

                  I don't think I have used caonla oil, but I don't see why it cannot work. I have used peanut oil, grapeseed oil, lard...etc. They all work. Stove top method works best for me, while the oven method is somewhat subpar, but if you have to use the oven method, then do what you have suggested -- at high temperature.

                  "I did read on a different thread that a coating is supposed to be scrubbed off the wok as soon as it arrives, thinking that the dishwasher might take care of this but thought I would inquire here first. "

                  It depends. If the wok is covered with machine oil, then you can usually scrubbed it off with some detergent and a brush for a few times. If the wok has a lacquer coating, then you will have to probably either use (a) steel wool with very hot water or (2) lacquer remover like acetone...etc.

                  "Hoping you could all share your favorite methods for seasoning your woks."

                  Stovetop seasoning.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                    lilgi Mar 12, 2012 09:22 PM

                    Ck, I'm guessing the acidity came from tomatoes.

                    Would you mind sharing how you go about seasoning your wok? Maybe you have it posted somewhere and can share the link?

                    1. re: lilgi
                      Chemicalkinetics Mar 12, 2012 10:21 PM

                      lilgi,

                      A little of tomato is fine. The only time I have seen seasoning completely comes off is when I was adding vinegar to make a sauce in a wok. Since then I learned to add other ingredients before the vinegar to "buffer" the acidity.

                      You may find this two youtubes video to be pretty:

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

                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prG54xRLtEw

                      The general idea is to heat the wok to smoking hot, add oil, and use a paper towel to constantly wipe the oil inside the wok. The wok should turn dark brown or black.

                      Here is an old thread where I posted a lot replies. Some of the replies may be helpful -- if you have time to look through them.

                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/668597

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                        lilgi Mar 12, 2012 10:30 PM

                        Knew ya'd come through ;D

                        Thanks so much, there are a ton of threads but hard to weed through everything to get what you need. Late night is the best time for me to do this and by now I'm cross-eyed. I'll have a look, I'm sure I'll have a ton of questions afterwards.

                        Btw, when the coating came off it did not chip off - I've had that happen as well - this time it faded off in one use, but by far it was my best attempt at getting a hard coat (or so I thought).

                        1. re: lilgi
                          Chemicalkinetics Mar 12, 2012 10:42 PM

                          "Btw, when the coating came off it did not chip off - I've had that happen as well - this time it faded off in one use, but by far it was my best attempt at getting a hard coat"

                          I have seen both.

                          The chipping of coating was something I used to experience when I was new and simply let the carbonized layer over-build. Some people call it curd. When it chips, it rips everything along -- including the seasoning off. To solve this problem, just make sure you don't let the curd grows too much, and remove the excessive build-up. Since then, I haven't had this problem. You can either use a bamboo brush to remove the curd or a plastic scraper.

                          http://www.auntjenniespreschool.com/r...

                          The bamboo brush and plastic scarper is hard enough to remove the excessive carbonized curd, but not hard enough to remove the seasoning. It is kinda of the same idea as people using "table salt" to scrub carbon steel cookware.

                          Ironically, I had never seen the dissolving problem until just a month ago when I poured white vinegar into a new wok to make a sauce. The entire seasoning just dissolved in front of my eyes in matters of 10 seconds.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                            lilgi Mar 13, 2012 08:11 PM

                            I reread your post this morning and realized I was completely confused when you posted I'd be okay with seasoning the same way that I did the last time (amazing what a good night's rest and a cup of coffee will do.) I'd say the tomatoes incident was an expensive lesson, now that I'm aware of the effects of acidity I'll make sure to take extra care.

                            That thread btw was perfect. Every bit of information I had read prior to Cheryl Canter's article and your sage advice was beyond conflicting, and there are just too many variables to consider, very glad to know this wasn't cognitive ;D. Enjoyed the first video as well and pretty much followed what she did.

                            My attempt this time with stovetop seasoning was infinitely better, but I'll leave you to judge since I'm posting photos. I'm leaning towards Cheryl's method for several reasons, primarily because I was not pleased that the wok was glazing while in movement (no choice really if I want to cover the entire surface which I do). There were visible streaks and minor spotting, just a tiny bit of stickiness towards the top but enough for me to notice, and the coat was pretty thin. It's also easier to control and spread the oil evenly with Cheryl's method, wipe until the surface is matte and even and leave fixed and undisturbed in the oven for an hour after an initial 20 minute warm up. The biggest problem with hers is the demand for 6 coats, which I began to question after trying your method, especially if I have to worry that after doing 6 coats it would wear off using anything even mildly acidic.

                            I decided to give the wok one more coat using the 500 degree oven method to see if I can even things out a bit, but the third coat didn't turn out nearly as dark as the first 2.

                            First photo without oil, second with two stove-top coats, third is after the last oven coat, and the last one is a closeup where you can see the streaks under the last coat.

                             
                             
                            1. re: lilgi
                              lilgi Mar 13, 2012 08:16 PM

                              Second two photos never posted :P

                               
                               
                              1. re: lilgi
                                Chemicalkinetics Mar 13, 2012 08:37 PM

                                lilgi,

                                What I found to be helpful (no matter which initial routines you take) is to perform "mini-seasoning" in between each cooking session for the first week or so.

                                By "mini-seasoning", I mean heat up the wok to the point that it barely and faintly smoking, then add about 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of , swirl the oil around inside the wok. Once the oil starts to barely smoking. Turn off the heat. Wait for 30 seconds or so, and dump the hot oil into the sink. Try not to use extra virgin olive oil, just use regular cooking oil -- anything but extra virgin olive oil.

                                Do this mini-seasoning before or after each cooking session (either before or after -- necessary for both).

                                This will maintain a nonstick surface, which will help assist you in the first week of cooking. Eventually, you won't need to do this.

                                Because this mini-seasoning is so easy and so quick (maybe ~2 minutes), it should not take too much time from you.

                                It is essentially like what this person did in the first 8 second of the video. He has a professional stove, so he can do it very quick:

                                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nn2PJ9...

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                  a
                                  ahack Mar 13, 2012 08:46 PM

                                  I'll just add that if you happen to do some deep frying in your wok, it will help with the seasoning as well.

                                  1. re: ahack
                                    Chemicalkinetics Mar 13, 2012 08:48 PM

                                    True. :)

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                      lilgi Mar 13, 2012 09:40 PM

                                      Momofuku fried chicken soon :)

                                  2. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                    lilgi Mar 13, 2012 09:39 PM

                                    Thanks for reminding me! Yeah, I'll be frying away like that in no time... ;D
                                    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                                    One more thing that I wanted to mention about seasoning via the stove top method, was that I found the smoke to be something I'd rather not deal with on a regular basis. This was only one pot, I have several to season, and in time there will be a few I'll have to go about recoating. With the oven the smoke element is removed from the equation, I just don't want to think about painting this kitchen anytime soon.

                                    Just wanted to mention that for anyone contemplating both. Not sure yet why Cheryl requires six coats, I'm not entirely sure it's just esthetics though.

                                    1. re: lilgi
                                      Chemicalkinetics Mar 13, 2012 10:10 PM

                                      "One more thing that I wanted to mention about seasoning via the stove top method, was that I found the smoke to be something I'd rather not deal with on a regular basis"

                                      No question. It does not smell good at all, and you definitely want to open the window and everything. Do think about the mini-stovetop seasoning. It does not nearly produce the same amount of oil fume because you are supposed to only barely get the oil to the smoke point. It should help keep the cookware in prime condition for the first week.

                                      Good luck with fried chicken.

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                        lilgi Mar 13, 2012 10:15 PM

                                        Ck, as always you are an incredible help, I think I'm a seasoning geek now, as well as a knives geek - yikes!

                                        Thanks, I'll save some chicken for you!

                                    2. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                      Bada Bing Mar 14, 2012 06:29 AM

                                      This seems like good advice to me in every part (except the putting-oil-into-the-sink! find a can or something, because fats can accumulate in pipes)...

                                      1. re: Bada Bing
                                        Chemicalkinetics Mar 14, 2012 07:33 AM

                                        Good advice.

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                          lilgi Mar 15, 2012 11:01 AM

                                          Finished my last step yesterday, and practiced the swirl. You had to see me bringing that hot oil all the way up to the rim (do you get that I'm a little cod about even-ness?) -finished off the the remaining space at top with an oiled brush and got rid of the excess oil. Fried a small sliced onion in the wok, I remember you posted that some time ago. Done.

                                          In one other clip I saw someone use a piece of ginger and swirl it around. I liked that idea, might try that next time since I love the fragrance.

                                          1. re: lilgi
                                            Chemicalkinetics Mar 15, 2012 03:20 PM

                                            "In one other clip I saw someone use a piece of ginger and swirl it around. I liked that idea, might try that next time since I love the fragrance"

                                            Ultimately, it is just about frying something to reduce the metal taste from the wok.

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                              w
                                              will47 Mar 15, 2012 05:23 PM

                                              I could be wrong, but I think that adding smashed large pieces of aromatics like garlic or ginger briefly, and then removing them is one way to flavor the oil without burning whatever you're cooking; similar to "blessing" the pan in European cooking. It will flavor the wok. I think that's a different use from cooking jiu cai, scallions, ginger, or other things during the initial seasoning process.

                                              With other recipes, you might add garlic or other aromatics in just at the very end of cooking.

                                              1. re: will47
                                                Chemicalkinetics Mar 15, 2012 06:45 PM

                                                "I could be wrong, but I think that adding smashed large pieces of aromatics like garlic or ginger briefly, and then removing them is one way to flavor the oil without burning whatever you're cooking"

                                                Agree, but I thought you were talking about using ginger to do the first initial wok cooking. Most carbon steel or cast iron still has a very strong metallic flavor after the initial seasoning. As such, it is recommend to have a "trial cooking" or "initialization cooking" where the foods are to be tossed away.

                                                Anyway, what you spoke of using smashed garlic ginger in the beginning of the cooking is true.

                    2. w
                      will47 Mar 13, 2012 01:56 PM

                      I think this sort of wok should be pretty durable and provide good results. However, keep in mind that if you don't have a good wok ring, it may be difficult to use on some stoves; if that's the case, you may want to use a flat bottom wok instead. And, if you have induction or electric, definitely use a flat bottom wok unless you have one of the special induction wok burners.

                      If it were me, I would get a slightly smaller one (14-15") for home use. The size of the cooking area will be much the same regardless of the wok's total diameter (depends more on the size / power of your cooking element, and distance from the cooking element, than anything else), but having too large a wok might take longer to heat, and may encourage you to over-crowd the wok. If you're using it on a home stove, you want to be really mindful to not crowd the pan.

                      As far as whether to use the double-loop handles or the 'bao' style single-handle wok, depends more on your cooking style. I will say that with the 'bao' woks, the ones with a metal handle often have better balance than those with a wood handle.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: will47
                        Chemicalkinetics Mar 13, 2012 02:19 PM

                        "The size of the cooking area will be much the same regardless of the wok's total diameter"

                        Agree.

                        "may encourage you to over-crowd the wok"

                        Agree

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                          lilgi Mar 13, 2012 03:46 PM

                          CK, I have a few photos for you later - a work in progress as I continue my seasoning adventures today and will report back. Wok looks good!

                          1. re: lilgi
                            Chemicalkinetics Mar 13, 2012 07:09 PM

                            "Wok looks good"

                            Good to hear.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                              lilgi Mar 13, 2012 08:06 PM

                              ~my precious~

                               
                               
                              1. re: lilgi
                                Chemicalkinetics Mar 13, 2012 08:23 PM

                                :) I almost said, "What do you mean by seasoned wok? It is unseasoned" Then, I realized that you mean it is a new wok. Somehow when I first read the above statement of "Wok looks good", I thought it means "The wok looks good after seasoning"

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                  lilgi Mar 13, 2012 08:27 PM

                                  Wanted to post pictures of the way it arrived first ~ not bad for less than $11 ~

                                  1. re: lilgi
                                    Chemicalkinetics Mar 13, 2012 08:41 PM

                                    Not bad at all. By the way, regarding your wok ring, you are using it on a gas stove, right? Feel free to experiment if you like the ring with wide side down or wide side up. Wide side up will bring the wok further down, closer to the stove.

                        2. re: will47
                          lilgi Mar 13, 2012 08:03 PM

                          Hi Will,
                          The 16" pan is perfect, 14" would have been too small and I like to see plenty of surface around my food when I'm cooking. Nothing I can do about the heating aspect of it since I already have it here (I had posted to you earlier today and never double-checked to see if it had gone through).

                          Thanks for the advice on the handles on the pow wok, will definitely get one with a metal handle, 16-inch though for sure! Posting photos below :)

                          1. re: will47
                            ritabwh Mar 23, 2013 11:03 PM

                            i dunno about flat bottomed woks. i've never cooked with one. it just seems that the flat bottom defeats the purpose of the original wok shape......

                            1. re: ritabwh
                              Chemicalkinetics Mar 24, 2013 08:53 AM

                              <it just seems that the flat bottom defeats the purpose of the original wok shape>

                              Some what, but not completely, thus many Chinese use flat bottom woks.

                          2. The Professor Mar 13, 2012 10:22 PM

                            I received my wok as a gift from my father in 1973. He probably paid around $15 for it back then.

                            It is as black as night after all the years of use and I have used it almost _daily_ since then for Asian, Italian, Hungarian, Polish, Thai, French, Spanish, and other ethnic foods...and 39 years later, it's still __hands down__the most important and versatile pan in my kitchen.
                            I couldn't be without it.
                            Probably the best gift I ever received...

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: The Professor
                              Chemicalkinetics Mar 13, 2012 10:26 PM

                              Probably like they say... When a Chinese house is on fire, the first thing they grab is the wok.

                              P.S.: $15 in 1973 is a lot more than $15 now. It is closer to $70 in today's money.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                The Professor Mar 14, 2012 03:32 PM

                                ...And it was worth it!

                            2. Candy Mar 14, 2012 12:26 PM

                              Taylot and Ng make very good carbon steel woks and are inexpensive. If your cooktop is electric get a flat bottomed wok and don't bother with a wok ring. I have 3 woks one I've had for almost 35 years and the others close to that in age. They are by Atlas. I've had no problems with warping or of any kind.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Candy
                                lilgi Mar 15, 2012 10:54 AM

                                I like that you have more control over the amount of oil being used with a round wok rather than a flat-bottomed one, and I have a gas range, so no issues there really with needing a flat bottom.

                                I had a nice wok given to me as a wedding gift and never used it - ended up giving it away only a few years ago, only to find that another one has made it's way back into my kitchen in no time. Funny how that happens sometimes, maybe the other one just had bad chi :).

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