Seasoning A Wok

Preface: We replaced all our non-stick pans with stainless steel, steel and cast iron products about 4 years ago after being concerned with dangerous non-stick chemicals and fumes seeping into foods cooked at high temperatures.  Yuck.

Hands down, my wok is the most favorite item in the kitchen.  Maybe even in the whole house.  It's used nearly everyday for stir-fry's to pancakes, eggs any way (yup, without sticking), and deep frying.  The wok is so versitle because the seasoning has been very well applied after 4 years of constant use.  Consistant, constant use is the key to making sure your wok becomes fully seasoned and takes on a deep, black hue.  Have a cast-iron pan?  Treat the wok exactly the same.  Although their shape differs and are made of different materials, they are used for the same purpose and must be cared for the same way!

I have to admit, Wok was not properly seasoned before the first use.  I purchased it at a Chinese "culinary" warehouse with random cooking instruments strewn on shelves - he came with no box, no wrapping, no instructions.  I should have consulted with Dad prior to use but was too lazy.  Why Dad?  His parents opened up a Chinese restaurant in the 70's which has been passed on to him and his siblings and now, he's the main chef.  The 3 woks they use are gimongous, smooth and beautifully black, each about 4 times the size of mine.  Dad's usually the only one in the back spinnin' and bangin' his spatulas, standing in front of those larger than life woks.  Quite intimidated, I dared not venture back there when I was a kid!

Anyway, I never got to season Wok properly, but luckily through years of use, he's done so beautifully on his own.  Not knowing he would get better before getting worse, I nearly flung him out the window after a month of use.  He rusted, he got strangely sticky around the sides, he became mad and I got fed up.  I thought I bought a horrible, cheapy wok!  Not only did I not season him initially, I didn't clean and care for him properly after each use, wiping his interior dry after washing (don't worry, it's truly not much to care for your wok, just seems a lot written down).  One day, I decided to have a massive deep frying session using the wok with 3 inches of oil; fried shrimp, fried corn tortilla, fried calamari and beer battered onion rings.  No, not crazy, drives me nuts to waste all that oil, so I ended up frying a whole bunch of things.  Well, wouldn't you know.  After the deep frying session, Wok never rusted again (unless I occassionaly scratch him too deep with a stainless steel spatula and take off his seasoning... in which case, Wok will make sure to show me what I've done after he's dried with a line of rust.  It's no problem, just wipe the rust up with a wet, soapy paper towel before use, and after one hot stirfry, Wok will have repaired himself).  He became my best buddy, thereafter.  Honestly, I use none of my other stainless steel pans unless I'm making soup or boiling stuff in a stockpot.

(Wrote so much and still haven't begun to explain how to season.)  So last week (yet, it continues), my BIL (brother-in-law) and his girlfriend moved in together and are starting up fresh in the kitchen.  Hello, how exciting is that.  we got them a wok and gave it to him along with hand written seasoning instructions including proper care.  I was so worried about them using the wok after my initial experience with it, I tried to make sure the BIL had all the proper info.  BIL handed it right back to me and said "Season it for me, thanks."  I am E-L-A-T-E-D.  Never having done it to Wok, I now get a second chance!  This is great, too, so now you can see how Wok looks in comparison to a virgin wok.

Seasoning Wok (finally.)

If you have a stainless steel wok, it does not need to be seasoned.  This is only for carbon steel, steel or iron woks.  Also, I'm strictly using a gas range with fire, not electric.  This is another reason I was worried about BIL seasoning his wok - electric ranges dont get hot enough around the edges as a good fire would.  That being said, there are plenty of sites around that have seasoned woks on an electric stove using the same method as a gas range.  If you don't feel good about your electric stove, take it to someone's house with a gas range to give it a good season.  P.S. OPEN ALL WINDOWS AND COOKING VENTS - this will be a smoky job.

1.  Fill wok  full with water, heat on high until water comes to a full rolling boil.  Often times, wok's have a factory protective film coating baked onto the interior (for shipping purposes), so that should be removed before seasoning.  Took me about 15 minutes, but times will vary because everyone's "high" heats differently.

2.  Carefully discard water in sink.  While hot, quickly use a metal scouring pad with soap to scrub all over interior of wok, scrubbing every square inch even up the sides.  Rinse soap off.

3.  Set wok back onto the stove and turn heat to high.  The wok will start to turn colors from grey, light blue, yellowish brown, golden, brown, dark brown blue.  While this is happening the wok will smoke a bit.  That's good.  This took me about 8 minutes - it was quite intriguing watching the colors change.   Be aware, only the bottom half of your wok will change colors, so you'll need to hold the sides of your wok over the fire for a few minutes until the sides start turning colors too, rotating wok every so often to get every side.  Don't burn your bamboo or wooden handles while doing this!

4.  Into the hot 'colored' wok, pour in 1 tablespoon of light cooking oil such as Canola, vegetable, peanut, or corn (do NOT use butter or shortening - I also wouldn't use olive oil or grapeseed oil because it's a concentrated fruity oil, stick to safe and use what I've mentioned).  Best to use?  Lard.  If you don't have any, just use the above.  (*Tip: cooking bacon in the wok in the future will season him up very nicely.)  Your oil will start to shimmer from the heat, immediately use half a paper towel, bunched up, clamped at the end of tongs, and rub the oiled paper towel all over the interior of the wok.  Coat a thin layer of oil everywhere inside and up the sides.  

5.  Turn heat down to low.  With a large paper towel, wipe away excess oils that look thick in areas or are dripping down the sides and at the bottom.  If not, the excess oil will turn sticky!  All the wok needs is a super thin coat.  Let it sit over low heat for 15 minutes and allow the oils to absorb.

6.  Turn off heat and let wok cool.

7.  Repeat steps one more time:  Heat wok on high until smoking about 5 to 8 minutes, pour in 1 tablespoon of oil and coat interior of wok wiping off any excess, turn heat to low and let sit for 15 minutes.

8.  Store until ready to use!

With constant use, your wok will eventually turn black and fully seasoned.  You'll be able to fry an egg with no problem.  I didn't start frying eggs on my wok until half a year in, scared it would stick into a horrid mess!  It didn't.

Cooking with Wok 
1.  Heat wok on high heat for a few minutes or until smoking.  Add one to three tablespoons of any cooking oil you wish.  If wok was heated properly, oil will immediately start to "shimmer".  Swirl oil up at least halfway up the sides (I usually swirl oil up about 's, since stir-frying will push foods up that high).

2.  For a stir-fry, place onions or garlic first into the hot, oiled wok, if any, if not disregard and carefully put in whatever you are cooking (if they are vegetables, make sure they are almost dry, if not the oil will react to the water and splatter big time, so stand back.  I'm okay with it, but I hate cooking with wet vegetables because it ends up 'steaming' in the wok).  If there are no onions and only using garlic, throw in garlic for only 5 to 10 seconds, give the wok a good swirl around, and put in your vegetables or meat.


Caring for Wok
1.  The wok will be most vulnerable the first few months of use, even with initial seasoning.  Use it constantly and a protective season sealant will build.  But until then, your wok may rust.  So after every wash, wipe interior dry.  Nowadays, I dont need to wipe him dry anymore, I wash Wok immediately after use (literally, when still sizzling hot) and place him back on the warm range I used to cook with.  Residual heat will dry the wok nicely, plus the oily sheen on Wok makes him nearly "waterproof" while waiting to dry, so rusting does not occur.

2.  When washing, use warm water with a non-scratch sponge (don't use those green tops, yellow bottoms!) and only a tad of soap, if desired.  Cast iron pans and woks are instructed not to use soap because they don't want you rubbing away all the oils off the surface.  Now, if I'm making something like bacon, its not going to be a pretty sight removing that massive amount of oil without using soap.  So, I personally use a lightly suds-y sponge and give a gentle rub to get the soilds off Wok, but at the same time, leaving a film of oil on the interior so that it has a slight sheen.  Rubbing very gently will allow a thin layer of oil to stick on your wok, even with a soapy sponge.  In the earlier life of your wok, foods may stick, so you'll have to work a little harder at cleaning food off, which is fine.  This will remove some oily sheen off your wok due to extra scrubbing, so wipe a little oil on your wok after you dry it, if desired.  If not, its fine, just make sure wok is bone dry or it will may rust in that spot!  


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