Seasoning can make or break your experience with your new carbon steel wok.
When done properly, it provides a nice, non-stick surface, and it protects the wok from rust.
A sturdy non-stick surface provides a better cooking experience. While it will not be as good as Teflon’s, it can still perform excellently. It can even withstand more heat without releasing toxins.
Non-stick surfaces also allow for healthier meals because it eliminates the need to cook with a lot of oil.
Quality carbon steel woks are built to last for generations. Unfortunately, many are disposed of prematurely because of rust. This makes its protection from metal oxidation crucial to maximize its full benefits.
Seasoning only applies to carbon steel woks or cast iron woks. Aluminum, Teflon, copper, or any other material, must not be seasoned.
In this article, we will be going through everything you need to know about how to season a carbon steel wok.
Oils and Heating Sources
Seasoning is done by smearing oil on the surface of a wok and heating it above its smoke point.
This will break the oil up into fatty acid chains that will recombine to form a smooth, non-stick, anti-rust polymer surface, commonly known as a patina. This process is called fat polymerization.
All oils can be used to season a wok, but not all can provide a sturdy protective layer that will not easily wear off upon extended use. Most recommended are flaxseed, sunflower, and canola.
Sunflower oils have a smoking point of 232 °C. Not all ovens can reach that. When choosing which oil to use, take this into consideration.
Here is a quick guide on their smoke points and the recommended heat sources to use with it:
Oven or Stove
How To Season A Carbon Steel Wok
Seasoning can be done using a variety of heat sources:
Electric or Induction stovetops
Now, let’s quickly look at how to do this using what piece of equipment is available to you.
Using A Gas Stovetop
Approximate duration: 30 minutes
Step 1: Remove the protective factory oil
New carbon steel woks arrive coated with factory oil that serves as protection from rust. It’s important to remove this first so it will not get in between the metal and the layer of oil seasoning that you want to create from your pan.
The usual way of doing this is by washing the wok and scrubbing it hard with a metal scrub for 5 minutes. For some woks, this is done by boiling water in the wok for 5 minutes, washing it out, and then rinsing and cleaning it with warm, soapy water.
This varies per wok, however, it is best to check the manual that comes with your product.
Step 2: Dry the wok
Make sure that the wok is bone dry. This can be done either by allowing water to evaporate as it is heating on top of the fire or by wiping it thoroughly with a paper towel. Make sure that there is no water left on the wok so that oil can be applied properly in the next step.
Step 3: Apply a thin layer of oil on the inside and the outside of the wok
It’s important to season the inside and the outside of the wok. Although you don’t need the outside to be non-stick, you still want it to be protected from rust.
This can be done with the use of a paper towel or an old kitchen towel. Be sure that there are no excessive oil blots. This will make it difficult for the oil to polymerize. It should not be greasy, but dry.
Step 4: Heat the wok until it turns dark brown. Turn over when necessary to make sure every part of it is seasoned
Once you start heating the wok, you will notice that it will slowly turn brown. Be careful with wood or plastic parts. Make sure they are not too close to flames to avoid burning or melting them.
Warning: There will be a lot of smoke. This is part of the process. Be sure to turn off your smoke detectors and open your windows if you are doing this indoors.
Step 5: Go over steps 3 and 4 again for two more times
Once the smoking stops, re-coat the wok with another layer of oil. Be careful, as the wok will be searing hot.
There are some who do five layers of seasoning but three should be enough.
When you are finished, you should have a brown and beautiful wok ready for use.
Using An Oven
Approximate duration: 4 hours
Step 1: Remove the protective factory oil
As with using a gas stove, first, remove the protective factory oil. Do as the manufacturer indicates in its manual, or scrub with soap and a metal pad for five minutes.
Step 2: Remove plastic and/or wooden handles
Some woks have detachable handles especially when they are made of plastic or wood. If the handles are not detachable and your wok has these parts, it is not recommended to season it using an oven.
Step 3: Dry the wok
Remove all moisture from the wok and make sure that it is dry before coating it with oil.
Step 4: Pre-heat the oven
To prepare the oven for seasoning, pre-heat it to 205 °C.
Step 5: Apply a thin layer of oil on the inside and the outside of the wok
Coat the wok evenly with oil using a paper or kitchen towel.
Step 6: Bake the wok
Once hot, put the carbon steel wok inside the oven and bake it for 1 hour.
Step 7: Cool and repeat steps 5-7 until you season your wok with 3 layers of coating
As with seasoning with a gas stove, three layers should be enough, but feel free to add more if it fits your liking.
Step 8: Wash and use
Once finished, let it cool for around 20-30 minutes and wash it with warm water without soap. Wipe it with a paper towel, and enjoy using it.
Using An Electric or Induction Stovetop
Approximate duration: 1-1.5 hours
Seasoning on electric or induction stovetops is the least recommended, as most of them turn off when they reach a certain temperature. This makes it 3x slower than seasoning it on gas tops.
Should you have no other choice, however, instructions for seasoning using a gas stovetop can be followed. It is just important to be very patient.
Seasoning is an important part of owning a wok. It is recommended to be done several times throughout a wok’s lifetime whenever the patina starts to grow thin.
There are several ways on how to season a carbon steel wok. The most preferred are the use of ovens or gas stoves.
Although using the oven takes more time than electric or induction stoves, it requires less effort as the wok can be left alone as it heats up.
Nevertheless, any method of choice can be just as effective as the other. Choose the one that best fits your preference.