How to Season a Carbon Steel Wok

Jan 11, 2015 by     6 Comments    Posted under: Cooking 101

My inlaws gave me an awesome Christmas gift this year…..a hand hammered carbon steel wok.  Do they know me or what?  The hand-hammering provides a slightly uneven surface, which helps food to cling to the sides when cooking.  This is great for getting an even char on meats and vegetables while simultaneously reducing a flavorful thick sauce in the bottom of the wok.  The carbon steel heats quickly, making it easy to get the famed “breath of the wok” when cooking Chinese.  This wok was the perfect addition to my armory of cooking equipment.  If you’d like one of your own, Amazon carries some nice ones:

But before cooking anything in this pristine new kitchen tool, I would need to season it to help develop a patina for a natural non-stick coating.  Like a fool, I missed this step with my first wok, and I’ve had issues with everything sticking in it ever sense.  I was not about to repeat that mistake again.  I wanted my new awesome wok to last me years of frying, steaming, braising, sauteing, and more.  So with wok, heat resistant gloves, oil, and high flame at hand, I began the critical before-use seasoning all wok owners need to do.

Wash Wok Thoroughly Before Seasoning

Wok’s ship with a thin layer of machine oil on them so as to prevent rusting during storage.  This oil is nasty stuff, and will stain your wok when you go to season it.  So take special care to get it all off.  To do so, wash the wok in hot water with a small amount of liquid detergent.  Use a tough scrubber, such as a stainless steel sponge or pad.  I figured I could just use a green plastic scrubber for this, but in so doing, a patch of oil didn’t come off and I was left with a black stain on my wok after seasoning because of it.  Only use detergent on the inside of the wok. Repeat washing until the inside of the wok is thoroughly cleaned.

For the outside of the wok, you can use an abrasive cleanser instead of liquid detergent if you’d like, but only if you feel the need to really shine up the wok.  I don’t really see the point in doing this though because it’s going to turn color once you season it and cook with it.

Once washed, rinse well and dry thoroughly.

Season Wok Over Very High Heat

Season Carbon Steel Wok Over High Heat

Season Carbon Steel Wok Over High Heat

To season your cleaned wok, use the hottest burner that you have, cranking that bad boy up to its full BTU blast.  I have an 18,000 BTU burner on my range, and I found myself wanting more heat regardless.  But whatever your flame capability is, just use the maximum you have available.

For this step, you’ll want to wear some good heat resistant gloves, oven mitts, and/or use some thick pot holders, as well as wear a long sleeve shirt to protect your skin.  Your wok is about to get VERY hot!  You’ll also want to turn your range hood on high and/or open some windows to ventilate the fumes and heat about to come off of your wok.

With “firefighter costume” adorned, place the wok on the high heat.  Move the wok around, going back and forth over the heat, turning it and tilting it up to the rim and back, until the metal turns a bluish-yellowish color.  I noticed the metal turned yellow first, and then with longer heat, it turned blue.  I kept at it until the entire surface of my wok was more blue than yellow.  This took a good 30 minutes for me, but may take longer for you if your BTU output is lower.  Either way, keep at it until your beautiful shiny carbon steel wok is a dark ugly color reminiscent of a healing bruise.  I found that I had to use gloves AND pot holders to resist the heat.  I even had to keep changing the gloves with another pair I had in order to keep the temperature next to my skin at bay.

Season Carbon Steel Wok Over High Heat Until Colored

Season Carbon Steel Wok Over High Heat Until Colored

Like I said, the wok will get VERY hot!  This all may sound a bit daunting, but is well worth the effort in order to have a lifetime of happy wok cooking.

Use Vegetable Oil to Finish Seasoning Wok

Remove your wok from the heat and turn your burner down to medium-low.  Then add a thin film of oil (about 1 1/2 teaspoons) over the entire inside surface of the wok (while off the heat).  There are several ways to do this.  One is to use a paper towel to rub the oil over the surface.  If you do this, I recommend using tongs to hold the paper towels.  Another way is to use a basting brush (like what you use on your barbeque grill) to brush the oil on.  Either way, make sure it is just a thin film over the entire inside surface of the wok.  You don’t want oil pools or gloppy runs.

Season Carbon Steel Wok With Oil

Season Carbon Steel Wok With Oil

Place the oiled wok on the medium-high heat for about 10 minutes.  Then wipe off the oil with a paper towel.  There will be a black residue on the paper towel.  Toss the paper towel and add another thin film of oil.  Heat for about 10 minutes again, then clean again with another paper towel.  Keep oiling, heating, and wiping clean until no more black residue forms on the paper towel.  I had to do this about 4 times before my paper towels no longer got black residue on them.

Wipe Excess Oil From Wok and Repeat Until Clean

Wipe Excess Oil From Wok and Repeat Until Clean

Let Seasoned Wok Cool Then Store

Congratulations!  You now have a perfectly seasoned carbon steel wok.  Take care of it by always drying thoroughly after washing and before storing.  A quick and easy way to do this is to dry it with a towel first, then place it on your range over high heat for a minute or two until all moisture is gone.  Storing the wok with moisture on it can lead to rusting, which could defeat all your hard seasoning work.  You can apply a very light coating of oil to the wok to further prevent rust, but the oil can turn rancid if stored too long between use.  Anyway, enjoy your wok and love the food it can prepare for  you.  It is one of the most diversified tools the kitchen has ever known.

Finished Seasoned Carbon Steel Wok

Finished Seasoned Carbon Steel Wok

The Bald Gourmet seasons a knew carbon steel wok and loves the cooking performance from it.




6 Comments + Add Comment

  • Is this a good method for my carbon steel pans, as well?

    Thanks, Ken

    • Probably but best to follow the manufacturer directions

  • We bought our wok in a hardware store in New York’s Chinatown, many,many years ago.We didn’t know anything about curing steel pans.After many years if use it has that baked on coating that only time can develop. We recently got a new stove with a high output double burner. When you mentioned 18000BTU I looked mine up and it is also 18000. What a difference when you have some decent heat. It is way better than the old stove but of course it still doesn’t match the fire hole in a Chinese restaurant. A nice surprise was the cast iron wok ring that came with the new stove. The old ring was just a sheet metal ring with air holes in it. It was a rusty mess. Cleaning it was a waste of time; it just rusted right up again. While on the subject of Chinese food, there was a Chinese chef, Fu Pei Mei in Taiwan that was the Julia Child of the Far East. She had a TV show, did demos in China,Japan and elsewhere and taught classes and wrote cook books. About the time we got the wok we got the bilingual 3 volume set. Volume 2 and 3 are somewhat redundant but volume 1 is my go to Chinese cook book. The bilingual is nice when you go to the Asian market and nobody knows the English word for the ingredient you need, so you can just point to the Chinese characters.

    • As always, love your comments Jeff. I looked up Fu Pei Mei and watched some of her videos on youtube. No I have to get that Volume 1 Bilingual version of her book set!

  • I actually did the inside and outside of my wok when I got it.

    With my first wok I did get some rust on the outside surface so when I got my second one, I treated the whole thing. Periodically I retreat the whole thing and not a spot of rust to be found.

    • Good point about rust Michael. Thanks for sharing.

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