If you read our post about how to choose a wok, you know that at The Woks of Life, we like to use a classic carbon steel wok. You might even have gone out and bought one. But you should also know how to season a wok. Most need to be seasoned before they can be used for the first time, and they need to be cared for so that the nonstick patina keeps building.
A Brief Overview
Basic woks made of carbon steel usually have a diameter of 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm) and are made of 14- to 16-gauge steel. (14-gauge is about 2mm thick, while 16-gauge is about 1.6mm thick.)
Most basic carbon steel woks for household usage include a long handle on one end and an assist handle on the other, allowing you to lift it with two hands. There are many Chinese grocery stores that sell these basic woks, so look around and look online before making your final decision.
Building a Patina
After the first step of seasoning your wok, all you need to do to take care of it is cook with it often and follow our simple instructions.
When you use your carbon steel wok to cook often, the metal will be exposed to a lot of oil at high temperatures. Over time, the metal will continue to naturally season itself.
I once cooked dinner at a friend’s house, and his wok scared me. It was so greasy and crusty with old food that it was disgusting. His “way” of seasoning wasn’t to clean the wok after he used it.
Simply follow these methods and tips, and your carbon steel wok will age beautifully and develop a lovely patina that any Chinese chef would be proud of.
When You Season a Wok for the First Time?
From the factory, your carbon steel wok will have some industrial oils and dust on it, so it’s best to give it a quick wash with some mild soapy water. All you need is a scrub sponge with a green pad on one side.
After you’ve cleaned your wok, dry it with a towel and put it on your stove. Heavy-duty aluminium foil can be used to protect the helper handle and even the lower part of the long handle from getting burned. (The pictures don’t show this because I forgot to do it, but halfway through the process, I added some foil.)
Put your wok over a very hot flame. Make sure to clear the area around the stove because it will get very hot. Keep a dry towel or a kitchen mitt that can handle heat close by.
Once the wok gets hot, it will start to smoke and turn a dark brown colour. This means that any leftover oils are being burned off. We have our trusted kitchen hood on full blast, so there isn’t much smoke in the photos.
The wok will then start to get very hot, and the impurities in the industrial oils will burn off. If you tilt the wok to superheat one area at a time, you’ll see the carbon steel turn black and blue as it heats up.
Keep tilting the wok while you heat each part of it one at a time. Be careful at this step to make sure that the seasoning is even.
What Does It Mean to “Season” a Wok?
To “season” a wok doesn’t mean to put salt and pepper on it. Instead, it means to make a protective layer, or “patina,” on the inside of the wok. This oily protective film makes a great non-stick surface, gives your food a deep smoky flavour, and keeps your wok from rusting and corroding (cool, huh?).
So, you should season your wok before you use it for the first time. However, you don’t need to do this with non-stick woks (the protective coating is already layered on for you).
How is a Wok Seasoned?
This is one of the most common questions we get on YouTube, social media, and in our cooking school, especially when someone is getting their first School of Wok wok. However, seasoning a wok is surprisingly easy. Just read the 4 steps below, and you’ll have a real, non-stick, smokey wok in no time.
Most store-bought woks have an anti-rust film on them to keep them from rusting while they are on the shelf. The first step is to scrub off this film. Use a metal scourer, a small amount of detergent, and a lot of elbow grease to scrub hard at every edge of your wok, and then wash the soap bubbles away. If your water runs clear, you know that all of the films are gone.
Baby, you should burn! Put your wok on top of the hottest part of your stove, no matter what kind it is. Watch as the first burn turns your wok into a matte grey after going through a rainbow of colours. Make sure to tilt and turn your wok as needed to make sure every side is heated evenly and gets good colour.
Once your wok is burned, let it cool and then coat the inside with a thin layer of high-heating oil, like sunflower or vegetable oil.
On with the fire! In this last step, put your now-oiled wok back on high heat and let the oil get to the point where it starts to smoke. When the oil stops smoking, that part of the wok is ready to use. Tilt and turn the wok again until all of the oil has burned off and the wok has a matte finish. (Hint: Are you short on time? Use a blowtorch to get things done faster!)
So, remember that the best way to season a wok is to scrub it, burn it, oil it, and smoke it. All done! Happy wokking, folks.
Start your way to wok stardom with a wok made just for you by the School of Wok. We have a wok that’s right for you. They come in different sizes and are made of carbon steel, nonstick, have a flat bottom or are round. We even have a “skinny” wok for people who want to eat healthily. Just click here to look at your options online, or come to our cookery school in Covent Garden to look around in person!