It is hard to hear about the benefits of a wok and not want to get one for yourself. Aside from being an expert in the art of stir-frying, this versatile two thousand year old invention can do a whole lot more. It can deep-fry, braise, boil, poach, and even smoke food. The beauty of a wok; however, lies in its ability to heat up quickly and evenly. This, in turn, allows for the famous ‘wok hei’ flavor that gives everything from crispy vegetables to seared meat an exceptionally delicious taste.
Getting to enjoy the full benefits of a outdoor wok depends on the all-important task of seasoning this ancient tool. Seasoning will help to enhance the durability of a wok as well as maximize the appliance’s performance to ensure it delivers dishes full of flavor and aroma. This is why seasoning is the very first thing you should do when you take your brand new wok out of its box. Below we discuss the importance of seasoning in detail and offer step-by-step instructions on how to complete the initial seasoning.
Why Seasoning a Wok is Important
Woks come in porous metals like cast iron and carbon steel, which when left unseasoned will absorb water and eventually rust. Seasoning adds a layer of coating (patina) on the inside of the appliance thereby preventing the metal from rusting. The patina also adds enhanced flavor and seasoning to every meal.
As you continue to use your seasoned wok, the oil you use to cook blends in with the patina, causing it to gradually become thicker and heavier until it ultimately creates a non-stick cooking surface. This surface prevents food from sticking even when you cook without oil.
Begin by Washing the Wok
Although there are many ways of seasoning a wok, it all begins with the initial step of cleaning the appliance with soap and an abrasive cleaning material. New woks are covered in factory oil or grease to prevent them from rusting as they are being transported and packaged for sale. Cooking with this oil intact can have some serious side effects, which is why the wok must be thoroughly cleaned before anything else. In fact, this is the only time you are allowed to use soap or abrasive cleaners when washing your wok.
Cleaning simply requires you to give both the inside and outside of the wok a good scrub using a stainless steel scrubber or a scouring pad and hot soapy water. When done, rinse with water and then dry using a clean towel or a low simmering heat on the stovetop.
A Look into the Different Seasoning Methods
While there are many variations to the process of seasoning a wok, they will all involve heating and oiling at some point. For the most part, the outcome is the same, which means you can choose to go with whichever method you prefer. That said, here is a look at the various ways to season a wok.
Method 1: Stovetop Seasoning
- Turn on your stove or propane burner as high as it can go and heat the wok until you can feel heat radiating off when you place your hands a few inches over it. Another sign that the wok is hot enough is if drops of water sprinkled into the pan evaporate within 1 to 2 seconds. The idea here is to create a dark coating, which protects against corrosion and primes the metal to bond with fatty acid polymers. Keep rotating the wok over the fire until the entire interior develops a dark color with a yellowish or blue-ish hue.
- When the wok has sufficiently darkened, reduce heat to medium-low and set the pan aside to cool for about 1 minute. Proceed to add 2 teaspoons of oil with a high smoking point (e.g. flax seed oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, canola oil, bacon fat) into the wok. Use a paper towel held by tongs to rub the oil over the entire surface and be careful not to burn yourself.
- Return wok to fire and heat for 10 to 20 minutes or until the interior becomes evenly dark.
- Remove wok from fire and let it cool before wiping off the oil with a paper towel. It is highly likely that a black residue will remain on the towel. So, repeat steps 2 – 4 until there is no residue on paper towel.
- Finally, rinse the wok with hot water and start frying away.
Many people like to add chopped ginger and/or scallions during step 2 of the seasoning process. These ingredients help to spread oil over the wok’s interior better and more evenly than a paper towel. It is also believed that ginger and scallions will leech out metallic flavors from the wok.
Method 2: Oven Seasoning
- Once your wok has been scrubbed clean and dried, pre-heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (around 232o C).
- Open up the pores of the wok by heating it over the stovetop for about a minute on low heat. Then using a paper towel, coat the inside and outside of the wok with oil or lard (e.g. bacon fat).
- Place wok on top rack of the pre-heated oven and bake for 20 minutes.
- Let the wok cool and then wipe away any excess oil using a paper towel. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the wok develops a nice dark patina.
- Finish by washing wok with hot water.
If your wok has wooden or plastic handles make sure to remove them before tossing the appliance into the oven. And, if the handles cannot come off, cover them completely with a damp cloth to protect them from heat.
Method 3: Salt Seasoning
- Pour in 1 or 2 cups of kosher salt depending on the wok’s size.
- Place salt-filled wok on stovetop with heat turned all the way up.
- Constantly stir the salt for about 20 minutes, making sure you push it all over the bottom and sides of the wok.
- After the wok is blackened, rinse out the salt. Continued use of the wok will see the patina grow darker and thicker.
You can also use chopped ginger and scallions with this method. Just add them before putting the wok on the stovetop and follow through with the rest of the steps. As you begin stirring the mixture, the ginger and scallion will help ensure salt gets to cover the whole interior from rim to bottom.
How to Care for a Wok after Seasoning
For a wok to be able to last long and deliver its beloved aroma and flavors with each use, a bit of TLC (tender loving care) is necessary. And, seasoning is just the first step. Seasoning simply preps the wok to absorb oil, so it is important that you stick to dishes that use oil or fat at first. This will help the wok to develop a deep patina and non-stick coating much faster. Also, avoid cooking with acidic food items like tomatoes, vinegar, and lemon, as this will strip away the thick patina you are working so hard to build.
Proper maintenance is also important in ensuring your wok retains its patina. When cleaning the wok only use hot water and a soft sponge. You can use a soft wok brush to dislodge any food residue that has stuck onto the cooking surface. And, once it is clean, dry the wok over a burner on low heat until there is no longer any visible water on the inside. Pour a bit of oil into the wok and spread evenly over interior surface before putting it away.