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Jul 8, 2012 12:32 AM

Did I muck up trying to season a carbon steel wok?

I finally got tired of non-stick woks and decided to get a real carbon steel wok, a Ken Hom Tao Green (because it was the only one readly available anywhere). I followed the instructions that came with it for seasoning, but I think I flunked it...

First, I filled it with hot tap water and let the protective lacquer soften up, then scrubbed the inside for eight minutes with wire wool and detergent for pots and pans. Then I dried it and left it to make sure it was dry.

I coated the inside with coconut oil, then set it on high heat on my electric stove. It was giving off smoke pretty quickly, in a couple of minutes. There was an odd smell, not exactly bad, but sort of metallic. Not having any experience, I don't really know what it's supposed to smell like, but it wasn't the coconut oil, at least. And instead of the color changing evenly like on so many YouTube videos showing how to season a wok, I got a couple of small patches on the bottom that went brown pretty quickly, and the rest stayed the same. When I turned the wok slightly, the remaining oil at the bottom tried to stay away from the brown patches. There was also a strange pattern burned onto one of the patches (see the images I've linked below).,rqSXg,rqSXg#1

1. Did something go wrong with the seasoning? Could there have been protective coating left after all? Did I use too much heat? What's it supposed to smell like? Should I have scrubbed the outside too? The packaging instructions said to do that if used on an induction hub, otherwise the protective coating would melt - but I don't have an induction hub. Also, my oven isn't big enough to fit the wok in it, so I have no other method of seasoning available to me.

2. I suppose the small spots are due to the uneven heat from my electric stove. Even if the seasoning is going right, is there any hope of using a carbon steel wok effectively on such a stove?

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  1. You're doing it on the stovetop? Do it in a really, really hot oven (the highest it will go to). That might be the problem. Also, try using an oil with a higher smoke point...peanut oil or grapeseed or something like that Also, i know it's super hot during the seasoning process, but you'd probably have to reapply the oil 3-5 times before getting an even coat.

    Also, with the smell thing....they are supposed to smell bad. Smokey, burnt, and stuff... so getting a good ventilation is really crucial.

    Hope that helps

    2 Replies
    1. re: vircabutar

      Also, i dont know how realistic/practical this is...but you could try either using an outdoors grill or a blowtorch :)

      1. re: vircabutar

        Thanks for the reply, but unfortunately it didn't really help. Like I said, the wok doesn't fit into any standard oven I've seen around here. I live in a downtown apartment, so grills and blowtorches are really quite out of my league.

        Coconut oil has a higher smoke point than pretty much anything else (like it says on the page you linked). That's why I used it in the first place, and why I was concerned when something started smoking pretty quickly.

        What I wanted to know was whether I'd ruined this wok already, since the inside now looks weird to me.

    2. I like to season my wok in my oven, but since that option won't work for you, the other method I've used is to rub vegetable oil around the hot wok with a bunch of chives. Keep rubbing the chives around the wok until they're dried to a crisp.

      There's also a method of scrubbing your wok with salt to fix any issues you may encounter while seasoning, or to just freshen it up. It's called a wok facial:

      There was a COTM thread for 'Breath of a Wok' that included a few videos, a lengthy discussion and plenty of tips on seasoning. Check it out...

      2 Replies
      1. re: soypower

        From the tutorials I've read and videos I've watched (including the one you linked), I understood that cooking chives was something to be done after seasoning, just to get it extra black and remove the metallic taste. Are you saying that I can do the whole seasoning on medium heat with chives? That sounds like a really great solution.

        1. re: sponeta

          You may want to repeat the process a few times, but yes, I have successfully seasoned a wok using just that method. And I usually use peanut or vegetable oil.

      2. Try to also search "wok seasoning" on CHOWHOUND. There are tons of other threads on this.

        In replying your question, I think nothing bad has happened. You probably has an uneven heating stovetop which leads to the strange pattern. To verify this, you can rotate the wok in respect of the stove. For example, if you were seasoning wok with the handle at the 7 o'clock position, then try to rotate the wok, so the handle is now at the 2 o'clock position (or whatever other position you can think of). If a new patter starts to kick in, then it is your stove putting on uneven heat. I cannot say sure about the metallic smell. I disagree with others. Stoveop seasoning is perfectly acceptable and fine. 99.9% of the Chinese restaurants season their woks on stovetop. It produces the best results. I prefer stovetop seasoning over oven seasoning. The seasoning from stovetop is much more stable.

        Rotate the wok and see what happen. We can work from there.

        1. Coconut oil????? I've been using my carbon-steel wok since I was gifted with it back in 1974, & this is the very first time I've EVER heard of using coconut oil to season it. And "rotating the wok"??? Good grief - why can't folks leave well enough alone instead of trying to get all exotic over something that is a very basic & simple process?

          You scrub your new wok - interior & exterior - well with steel wool & soap to get the protective coating off. No need to boil water in it first. (Again - good grief!)

          Then you simply dry it & coat the interior in vegetable oil - ANY common vegetable oil (Again - good grief). Then heat the wok up on your stovetop until smoking, then turn the heat off & let it cool down naturally. Take a paper towel & wipe the interior out. Repeat a few more times. Then just start COOKING IN IT! That's it.

          After each cooking session, simply put your wok in the sink, fill it with plain hot water & let it sit a bit, then use a plain plastic scrubby or something similar to remove any stuck food (some food WILL stick until the wok has been in use for awhile), rinse & dry. Before storing, take a paper towel & moisten it with a LITTLE vegetable oil & rub it over the interior to prevent rusting. And that's IT. If it does rust a little - & sometimes they do at first - simply scrub it off before use. Eventually this will stop as your wok gets more use & seasons itself.

          It never ceases to amaze me how many people/websites/supposed "professionals" can make something so SIMPLE so very complicated. People all over the world have been using carbon-steel woks successfully for decades & decades & decades without any high-falutin instructions. Again - good grief.

          9 Replies
          1. re: Bacardi1

            Thank you for taking the time to reply. I am sorry if I offended you in some way, although I'm not sure how, but I apologise. Based on your advice, I'm abandoning my attempt to season a carbon steel wok, because it's clearly not for me. Sorry to have bothered you and Chowhound.

            1. re: sponeta

              I wasn't insulted or offended at all. And frankly don't understand your statement "I'm abandoning my attempt to season a carbon steel wok, because it's clearly not for me". That doesn't make any sense, particularly since I clearly outlined how extremely easy & simple it is.

              That was my whole point. You don't need "coconut oil". You don't need "chives". You don't need complicated procedures. All you need is plain old vegetable oil, a roll of paper towels, & a hot stovetop or oven. How is that "clearly not" for you?

              1. re: sponeta


                I hope you have find most of the advises more helpful. We are all here to help and to share really. I understand your confusion of your strange pattern on your wok. Obviously, there are two likely explanations. One is that your wok is asymmetric in some ways. The other is that your stove is asymmetric in some ways. By rotating your wok with respect the stove, you can distinguish one from the other. If the wok is the issue, then rotation will not change the pattern on the wok. If the stove is the cause, then the rotation will change the pattern.

                I have used coconut oil once. I didn't find it to be better, although I didn't find it to be much worse either. Let us know if you have any questions.

              2. re: Bacardi1

                Seasoning with oil and rubbing it in with chives is a time-honored method utilized by chinese grandmothers and restaurant chefs for years. Don't knock it 'til you try it. And even then, there's no reason to knock it or anyone else's method.

                1. re: soypower

                  I'm not knocking it. I'm just trying to point out that it's NOT NECESSARY. That all you really need to season a wok is vegetable oil, a hot stove or oven, & a some paper towels. Perhaps it's not "time-honored" authentic, but it's simple, & - most important - IT WORKS. So if one is not into buying coconut oil, or bunches of chives, or whatever, one can quite effectively season one's wok with just the 3 ingredients I mentioned. That is, & continues to be, my only point here. Newcomers to wok cookery shouldn't be frightened away by a list of ingredients &/or procedures that frankly aren't necessary.

                  1. re: Bacardi1

                    But they may be frightened away by your incredulous and dogmatic tone...Just sayin'.

                2. re: Bacardi1

                  >Coconut oil????? I've been using my carbon-steel wok since I was gifted with it back in 1974, & this is the very first time I've EVER heard of using coconut oil to season it.<

                  I tried using coconut oil to season my cast iron, and it did not do well at all.
                  Years ago when I first got my carbon steel wok, I just scrubbed it and smeared peanut oil all over it, then started stir fry cooking in it. Seemed to work fine. The only part that ever turned black though, was the bottom part nearest the heat. I eventually stopped using the wok because I have an electric stove and only a little portion of the bottom of the wok ever got hot enough to cook anything. And that was with the burner turned up as hot as it would go.
                  I think a gas burner would work much better. Anyway, peanut oil is great for seasoning not only the wok but the cast iron too.

                  1. re: Bacardi1

                    Hi Bacardi1, just a question

                    "Then you simply dry it & coat the interior in vegetable oil - ANY common vegetable oil (Again - good grief). Then heat the wok up on your stovetop until smoking, then turn the heat off & let it cool down naturally. Take a paper towel & wipe the interior out."

                    -> referring to the above description: are you absolutely certain you must coat the wok with oil before heating it till smoking? i thought we're supposed to heat the wok up to high heat first, then let it cool, then coat with oil. this is because heating it up to high heat is the "opening of the wok" (kai hu) or something about opening the pores of the cast iron wok or carbon steel wok (i suppose it is the same thing). if you coat first, then turn on to high heat, won't the wok smoke unnecessarily or the oil kind of start burning and spitting.

                    1. re: timpani_mimi

                      Absolutely certain. Definitely coat first, then heat. You're just coating the wok with a thin film of oil. There shouldn't be any oil collected in the bottom at all, so there won't be any sputtering. A little smoking, but no spitting or sputtering. Heating the wok, then cooling it, then oiling it won't do anything at all as far as seasoning it towards a non-stick finish.

                      Repeat the process 2 or 3 (or more) times, & then simply start using your wok for cooking. You will have some sticking of certain foods at first, but simply clean with hot water & a plastic scrubber, & lightly oil before storing. With regular use, you'll soon find that nothing sticks at all.

                  2. Don't use coconut oil because of the high smoke point. Try crisco shortening.

                    I have much better success on a gas burner vs electric. I gave up trying to cook on an electric stove.

                    I don't like to scour with steel, find a bristle brush, local ethnic grocery sells them.