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Nov 23, 2012 01:45 AM

tried to season a wok... how bad is it?


I bought my first non-non-stick (lol) wok, it's light cast iron, flat-bottomed, seems like a nice piece, the carton wrap it came in had plenty of info, certificate of quality, care instructions etc. It's my first time trying to season a wok, so I spent a good chunk of time online researching, reading discussions, watching vids etc. Finally gained the courage to do it and yep i screwed up, how badly - no idea, you tell me, please (see pictures). Should I start all over or is this acceptable?
Any input would be much appreciated.

This is what I did:
1) scrubbed it in hot soapy water with scouring pad; dried well;
2) heated oven to 450F, rubbed the whole thing inside-out with sunflower oil and baked 20 min;
3) took out, nearly choked with smoke, let cool down (and air out) a bit and took the picture #1;
4) heated on stovetop (electric;glass) on med heat, added about 2tbsp sunfl. oil and stirfried a bundle of chopped scallions (dry, unwashed) moving quickly around and all over sides till they wilted and browned; threw it all out. The bottom turned nice blackish color, but looked kinda yucky burnt bumpy and a bit sticky. i figured this can't be good, so
5) rolled up my sleeves, took some salt+a drop of oil and scrubbed the crap out of it (literally) down to bare metal. first half way into it i was quite gentle, trying to salvage the oven-baked layer, but nope, impossible. rinsed in hot water and dried;
6) went on to re-season just the bottom on stovetop - added 1tbsp oil, smeared around, heated on high till it smoked and smoked and smoked, and turned yellowish, then brownish again;
7) removed and let cool a bit, wiped out the burnt oil;
8) turned heat down to med , kept heating wok, added 1tbsp oil and stirfried another round of scallions, charred, tossed, rinsed with hot water, wiped dry,
9) repeated step8 one more time, took pic #2 and had enough for the day.
Coated it lightly with oil and put away. Very unhappy, but hey, at least nothing is burnt on and it feels smooth ;p

so I'm wondering: is the unevenness of the seasoning at the bottom a total disaster or not a biggie? should I soap-scrub it all off and do everything all over again (oven-bake, stir-fry several times), or is it ok for now, and it will eventually even out and build up with further use?

and btw, what did i do wrong first time (step4)? too much oil? temp too low? not stirring fast enough? lol
Thanks in advance!!!

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  1. I think you did OK so far.
    I think that woks take a while to get right.
    I use this method to season my woks, my cast iron and my carbon steel...

    I think that woks just take a bit. My suggestion is to put a couple of coats of oil on it, and then use the sucker...

    The forums and the internet are full of all kinds of suggestions and dogma about how to season things. I am not convinced there is a RIGHT way to do it. The key is to use it, and to get a good coating of carbonized oil and food on it. A well used wok/cast iron/carbon steel pan will end up basicly non stick and ugly as hell, and wont rub off black schmutz when you clean it.

    It can only get better.

    Use it like you stole it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: wabi

      ohhh! Thank you so much for the reply, and the encouragement! I am very much relieved :-)
      I was considering scrubbing it all off and starting over, but i guess it isn't as bad as i thought it was..

      I've read your article - very informative, thank you! and thank you for the advice - I will work a little more on it. Not sure if i'll have a chance to find and get flaxseed oil, but i do have some grapeseed oil -- would that work better than sunflower?
      Also, do you think doing it again in the oven is a must, or can i do maybe 4-5 shorter sessions on the stovetop instead? (found another interesting technique described here

      Again, thank you so much!

      1. re: nanoo

        I don't think you need to worry about it. I used Kasma's method outside on a jet burner. It worked well. Only tip I'd add is to just keep the oil to a minimum - a very light coating is all you need. I probably did about four cycles of oil-heat-cool. I think if you want to get it all black, follow her steps on the stovetop (or outside if you can). It's hard to tilt the wok to get oil burned in all the way around when you have food in it.

        1. re: ARenko

          I was thinking of a way of doing it outside but I don't own any type of gas burner and the only way would be above an open fire. Not sure how that would work :-) I'll probably then just stick with the stovetop method and yes definitely i will use just a tiny bit of oil. At this point I'm not so worried about getting the sides as much, and not looking for an overall perfect black finish, but would love to get that bottom layer evened out and relatively non-stick. (Achieving what looks like a nice seasoning and then ruining it with cooking first meal scares me more, actually!). Thanks so much for your input!

    2. <heated oven to 450F, rubbed the whole thing inside-out with sunflower oil and baked 20 min; >

      That is really short. If you want to use the oven method, I would at least use 1 hour at 450 oF.

      <so I'm wondering: is the unevenness of the seasoning at the bottom a total disaster or not a biggie?>

      Do you mean the color or do you mean the texture? If the color alone is uneven, then it is ok. In time, it will be uniform. If the bottom feels uneven to your finger, then it may not be so great. You do not want build food building on the wok, not so early on anyway.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        1- i realize than now. i was very hopeful, seeing all that smoke, but yeah.. the color says it all.
        2- the color. it is smooth to touch (no unevenness of texture, e.g. little bumps or pits - not even between old and new layer), i made sure nothing gets burnt on this time. but since it did happen the first time and i had to scrub that whole first layer off, i exposed bare iron again. then doing it again on the crappy electric stovetop the heat was obviously uneven, burning the bottom much more at its center (showing black) and leaving the outer circle of it metal-grey, kinda almost still bare.
        I do hope a few more seasoning sessions will take care of that..
        thanks for your reply!!

      2. Going by the pics (and I am not an expert), it looks about like I would expect. I have a wok from the Wok Shop, I cook in it about once every 2 or 3 weeks, I seasoned it according to one set of instructions you referenced above. I have also read a lot of Grace Young's stuff, and she seems to indicate that, especially if you are only an occasionaly user of the Wok, it just takes time. Mine looks a lot like your photos, after about a year and a half of use. I don't think the seasoning on woks has the uniform appearance that you have on a seasoned cast iron skillet, for example. I make sure to remove any stuck-on food remains after I have used mine (plastic scrubby or little plastic scraper), I "wash" it only with hot water, not detergent, make sure it is dry, and hang it back up. Good luck with yours.

        1 Reply
        1. re: eliz553

          that's encouraging to hear :-) thank you very much!
          i know it can never look like cast iron skillet and i'm not trying to achieve that, i just want a relatively non-stick layer. i know actually cooking in it will get it looking and performing better (I usually stir-fry once or twice a week), but i'm scared if i go ahead and cook in it and it's still underseasoned i will ruin anything i've done right so far and have to start over xD.

          btw i read many people mention metallic taste to first few meals, is taht normal? or would it indicate the wok is not properly seasoned yet?

          Also, is it risky to use soya sauce or fish sauce in the beginning, will that mess it up? (i know tomatoes are a no-no but i never stirfry them anyway)..

          thanks everyone, i really appreciate it!!!

        2. First mistake was using oil. That is why the pan looks yellow and probably has a slightly sticky texture. when seasoning woks or other steel pans you should use a solid fat like Crisco or pure lard. I would suggest cleaning it and starting over. Rub it lightly with the fat and heat it and wipe it off then repeat, 2 -3 more times

          2 Replies
          1. re: Candy

            I respectfully disagree.
            The Flax seed oil method of Sheryl Canter works quite well. I have used it on several woks, several Cast Iron skillets, and several Carbon Steel DeBuyer fry pans.
            For me, seasoning several hand hammered steel woks from China..


            And then several woks from The Wok Shop....


            I have used the method described by Ms Canter using Flax Seed oil that I obtained from my local organic grocery store. I do several coats of flax seed oil, and have done it both in my oven and on my gas grill with woks that were too big for my modest oven, as well as a DeBuyer saute pan that was too big for my modest oven. The Flax Seed oil method has shown repeatedly to be consistent, and has produced a lovely seasoned, non stick surface for the pans I have used.

            Solid fat is NOT absolutely required.

            1. re: Candy

              I've used the flax seed oil method on a CI griddle/grill pan with reasonable success after having stripped it down to bare metal using the oven clean cycle. I'm okay with it. I've had my woks since the 1970s, and remember going through the phase in your photos. They're black now about 3/4 of the way up. What I do is periodically buy a 3 lb. box of bacon trimmings (available at your local supermarket, I think I get Farmer John's), chop it all up into 1/2" pieces and render the entire mess in the wok. I don't worry about the temperature, I think I use medium to low on my gas cooktop. This gives me a decent seasoning, and I get a jar of bacon pieces as a bonus. You can strain and save the drippings or pour into a couple of cans to throw out. A girl friend fries tortilla chips in hers when she needs to re-season. I like the bacon method, yum.

              By the way, I've used my woks on gas and electric, and I think I prefer electric, at least the two I had in the past. My gas range won't stay lit if I use my wok ring--not enough oxygen to the burner, I think--and if you flip the ring so the wok is nearly touching the electric coils you can get it pretty darned hot. Just be patient, carbon steel and CI just take a little time to heat up.