The wok is cookware widely used in Chinese cookware to prepare authentic Chinese food. More than the wok itself, the seasoning methods are the reason that gives you the extra flavor and also saves the wok from rusting and corrosion. Chinese cuisine is known for its delicacy and versatility, and wok is a crucial part of that food culture.
Grace Young, a Chinese-American writer famous for books on Chinese cuisine, said in her book The Breath of a Wok, “Wok hay makes the difference between a good stir-fry and a great one.” To describe how important the use of wok is to change the taste dynamic of fried food dramatically.
Because of the popularity and the ability to change food taste, woks are now used in restaurants and kitchens in different countries worldwide. However, before using a wok, one must season their wok to get that perfect oily no-stick-like surface and save it for rust and corrosion.
This article discussed 3 of the most common methods on how to season a wok with detailed cleaning, storing, and maintenance instructions.
Cleaning the Wok for the First Time?
- A bowl
- Sponge/ Scrub
- Dishwashing liquid/ Detergent
After you get your hands on the new work, the first thing you should do is to clean it properly. Usually, the manufacturers use an oil coating to prevent any rust buildup during shipping. You can also notice some dust on it from the storage the wok was kept in. Before seasoning, you need to wash these off. If there are no specific instructions in the manual, follow these basic steps to clean the wok for the first time.
- Step 1: Get some hot water inside a bowl and then put some dishwashing liquid or detergent in it, mix it well.
- Step 2: Use a good metal scrub or sponge. Soak them in the soapy mixture prepared above.
- Step 3: Put the wok in the sink and start scrubbing both the inside and the outside of the wok. Make sure you didn’t miss any spots.
- Step 4: After you are done scrubbing, rinse the wok with clean cold water. At this stage, we can say you got rid of all the dust or factory oil.
- Step 5: Before start the seasoning process, dry your wok with a towel.
How to Season a Wok: There are 3 Different Methods
Seasoning is basically a very thin layer of oil that is polymerized. There are oil molecules, and at a high temperature, these molecules link together and go from being liquid to a thin, dry plastic-like coating that saves your wok from rust and adds extra flavor to the food. No matter which seasoning method you follow, using oil is essential for all the methods out there. Pretty much just two types of woks need seasoning, woks made of carbon steel and cast iron woks.
Not every oil is good for seasoning, and choosing the right seasoning oil can be helpful to develop a great patina over time. In that case, a useful rule of thumb is to use an oil with the highest smoking point. For example, instead of regular cooking oil, grapeseed oil, canola oil, peanut oil, or even pork lard can be a great option.
Method 1: Stovetop Seasoning
- Kitchen Towel/ Paper Towel
- High Smoking Point Oil
- Bamboo Wok Brush
- Hot water
This method is considered the most ideal and traditional way to season a wok. Follow the steps below to know how stovetop seasoning is done.
- Step 1: Start by heating the wok at a high temperature. Wait until you get rid of absolutely any water drop or moisture inside or outside of the wok.
- Step 2: Before applying oil at this stage, don’t forget to open all the windows around and turn on the kitchen exhaust, as the wok will generate a lot of smoke afterward
- Step 3: At this point, grab the oil of your choice and rub it all over the wok with a paper towel or kitchen towel. While rubbing the oil, be very careful about any accidental touching as it can cause serious burn injury. If you are using a paper towel, instead of rubbing it with a bare hand, you can use a spatula.
- Step 4: Make sure you rub every portion of the wok surface equally. It’s really important to understand that the layer you are going to apply should be micro-thin. You don’t want to see any oil glistening.
- Step 5: After you are done, leave the wok on the stove, and you will notice the color changing. That’s the oil you applied polymerizing. Again, you’ll see a significant color change after just one coating, and a nonstick-like surface will start to develop at this point.
- Step 6: Now apply oil on the other side of the wok too. Maybe you are wondering why the outside needs seasoning as you aren’t going to cook anything outside the wok. The concern about the other side is the metal being protected from rust. So seasoning both sides is equally important.
- Step 7: Apply oil on both sides 3 or 4 times. That should be enough for your first time. After you are done, rinse the wok with hot water, place it back on the stove, and eliminate any remaining water particles.
Method 2: Salt Seasoning
- 1 Cup of Kosher Salt
- ¼ Cup of Oil
- Potato Peels (Optional)
- Hot Water
In terms of convenience, salt seasoning is excellent for both new and re-seasoning work. Follow the steps below to season your wok with salt.
- Step 1: Put the kosher salt and potato peels in the dried wok after you are done with the initial cleaning. Only kosher salt is enough too.
- Step 2: Set the stove at a higher temperature and cook the salt and peels for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Step 3: While cooking, stir the salt constantly while pressing the mixture against the wall. Move the salt all around the surface of the wok.
- Step 4: When the salt and peels mix gets dark and spent, turn off the heat. Let the ingredients and the wok cool down, and then dump the salt or solid, whatever you use in the sink or waste disposal.
- Step 5: Now wipe the wok with a paper/kitchen towel. Finish by adding a microlayer of oil on both sides of the wok.
Method 3: Oven Seasoning
- Aluminum Foil/ Kitchen Towel
- High Smoking Point Oil
- Hot Water
This is another popular method of seasoning a wok. However, this method is considered a little non-traditional as, unlike the last two methods, it doesn’t require a stove entirely, and old Chinese kitchens lacked ovens back in the day.
- Step 1: After the initial cleaning, preheat your oven at 350-450F. Now figure out what type of handle your wok has. If they have a screw system, try to unscrew them.
- Step 2: For handles without screws, you can wrap them with protection like aluminum foil or a kitchen towel. Remember, this is a crucial step, and if you forget to cover the handles, they can melt or get damaged by the heat inside the oven.
- Step 3: Apply a microlayer of oil on both sides and put the wok on the middle rack of the oven. Bake the wok for 20-30 minutes now.
- Step 4: After baking is complete, let it cool down for around 15 minutes and then repeat the process a few times.
- Step 5: When the seasoning is complete, unwrap the handles and rinse the wok in hot water. Finish by drying out the wok on a stove.
Care and Maintenance of Your Wok
Once you cleaned and seasoned your wok, you should also ensure that it stays rust-free and keeps developing a nice patina. So proper cleaning and frequent use is the key to maintain a seasoned wok. After using your wok every time, clean the surface with a paper towel, soft brush, or sponge, depending on how dirty it is.
Except for heavy use, just a wipe of a paper towel should be enough. If there is food stacked to the surface, you may need to use some hot water then. Soak your wok in hot water or fill it with 4 to 5 cups of hot water. You can also try boiling the water in the wok.
The hot water loosens up the food, which is now easy enough to remove with a brush or sponge. Try to avoid any soap or washing liquid unless necessary, as the acidic materials inside them can easily remove the seasoning. If your brush or sponge gets dirty, use the same hot water with some dish soap, mix it in a bowl and clean the brush in that mixture.
For the first couple of days, only stick to frying foods and non-acidic products. Don’t try steaming, boiling, or any acidic food like tomatoes, lemon, or vinegar. These things can ruin the patina you are working so hard to get.
Tips on Seasoning and Using Wok
- Try to use your wok for frying as frequently as possible to perfect the seasoning.
- Use refined oil for a neutral flavor; using unrefined oil can affect the taste afterward.
- Oil with high smoking points is usually the best option to season your wok to avoid oil burn.
- If you are seasoning your wok with an oven, use a sheet pan with aluminum foil under the wok’s rack.
- When you are rubbing oil with a paper towel inside the wok, don’t forget to use a spatula to avoid any accidental touch.
- For easy maneuvering while season and later cooking, choose a northern style wok. It ensures a single hand use with a single long handle.
- Choose a wok made of carbon steel as it’s the best wok material, durable, and responsive to heat. Avoid nonstick woks as they can’t withstand the high heat needed for steer fry.
- If you have wooden handles, make sure to cover them with aluminum foil while seasoning. As seasoning needs more heat than usual cooking, that extra heat may damage the wooden handles.
- People have a common misconception that leaving the wok after use without cleaning adds more seasoning to their wok, which is entirely wrong. Rather than seasoning, your wok will have grease and crusty layers all over.
(a) What’s wok seasoning, and why should I do it?
Seasoning means using high heat to open the pores of a wok and then let the wok absorb the oil applied afterward. Introducing a new layer of oil creates a protective coating, also known as patina, prevents rusting and corrosion and enhances the flavor without sticking the food when frying something at high heat.
After several uses, and every usage is considered seasoning, that bottom layer becomes thicker like a naturally nonstick surface.
(b) How long does it take to have a properly seasoned surface?
The answer to this question depends on how frequent and extensive your use is. You should season the wok right before you start cooking. If you use your wok frequently, like almost every day, you can have a perfectly seasoned wok in less than one month.
(c) How frequently should I clean my wok?
This question is a bit tricky since there can be different forms of cleaning one may think of. For example, if you are thinking about cleaning using a soap water scrubber, you’ll need to do that only once before buying it for the first time.
Other than soap cleaning, try to clean it with water or a paper towel, depending on the condition after every use. That’ll keep your wok in perfect condition for a long time.
(d) Which seasoning method is the most ideal?
Among the three methods discussed above, stovetop seasoning with a gas stove is the traditional and most ideal way because of the high heat from the flame.
This method is also the traditional way the woks are seasoned in china. As ideal and traditional as the stovetop method is, oven and salt seasoning methods are better in terms of convenience
(e) Do I need aromatics for stovetop seasoning?
Using aromatics for stovetop seasoning is entirely voluntary, and it doesn’t affect the seasoning quality. Using aromatic for stove seasoning is only used in Asia. It needs constant stirring all over the wok to make sure every part of the surface is seasoned.
If you are not familiar with a wok or buying one for the first time, it won’t look like anything you saw your mother or grandmother used. You may be wondering why their wok had that smooth non-stick-like surface and dark brown color with a bit of blue tint. Because before looking like that, a wok needs proper seasoning to give you the optimal result and look.
We tried our best to discuss all the different techniques about how to season wok with easy steps; you can choose one according to your expertise and convenience. All of these techniques are tried and tested by experts to provide great seasoning for your new wok.
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