How to Season a Carbon Steel Wok
What You Need...
1 bunch scallions, chopped into 2-inch pieces
1/2 cup sliced unpeeled ginger
2 tablespoons grapeseed, canola, or peanut oil
1 unseasoned 14-inch carbon-steel wok
Stainless steel scrubber
Liquid dish soap
Wash the New Wok: Unseasoned woks are coated with a factory oil to protect the metal and keep it from rusting until it is sold. This needs to be scrubbed away before the wok can be seasoned. Thoroughly scrub the wok inside and out using a steel scrubbing pad and dish soap. Rinse with hot water.
Dry the Wok: Set the clean wok over low heat and let it dry for 1 to 2 minutes, until no water droplets are visible. (We’ll cover wok cleaning in a separate post, but know that this is always the right way to dry a wok; it should be dried over low heat until no water remains. Otherwise, it can and will rust.)
Prepare Your Wok Space: Open the windows and turn on the exhaust fan. Although the wok is clean, some chemicals from the oil will still remain; make sure your kitchen is thoroughly ventilated before seasoning. Set the bowls with scallions, ginger, and oil near the stove. Also, have a very small bowl of water next to the stove.
Heat the Wok Turn on a stove burner, as high as it will go. Set a 14-inch wok over this high heat burner. To determine when the wok is hot enough, start flicking droplets of water from the small bowl into the pan after 30 seconds. As soon as a bead of water evaporates within 1 to 2 seconds of contact, the wok is heated and ready for stir-frying. (In some new woks, the water may not evaporate immediately. It may just roll around like a mercury ball. This is common with new woks. After heating the wok for about a minute, add the oil.)
Pull Wok off the Heat and Add Oil: Pull the wok off the heat and add 2 tablespoons of oil. Pick up the pan and carefully swirl it to coat the bottom and sides. (If the wok smokes wildly the moment you add the oil you’ve overheated the wok. Remove the wok from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes. When it’s cool enough to handle carefully remove the oil with paper towels, wash the wok, and start again.)
Add the Aromatics to the Wok: Put the wok back on the heat. Add the scallions and ginger.
Reduce Heat and Stir-Fry: Reduce the heat to medium and stir-fry the aromatics for 15 to 20 minutes. Smear the aromatics up the sides of the wok all the way to the edge. If the mixture becomes too dry, add an additional tablespoon of oil as needed.
Watch for Color Change The color of the wok will gradually change from shiny new silver to mottled light yellow-brown. You may possibly see some blue, bright yellow, or even black colors; this is fine. (With some woks there will be no change. Every pan will react differently.) The wok will also start to look smoother.
Cool and Wash the Wok Remove the wok from heat and let it cool. Discard the aromatics. Wash the wok with hot water (no dish soap).
Dry the Wok: Set the wok over low heat and let it dry for 1 to 2 minutes, until no water droplets are visible. The wok is now seasoned and is ready to be used for cooking.
Wok Care After Seasoning:
New Woks are Hungry for Fat... meaning that it will soak up any fat you give it. This also helps develop the seasoning on the new wok. Cook anything that uses fat: stir-fries, deep-fat frying, cooking bacon, etc.
Things to Avoid:
Avoid steaming, boiling, or poaching in your new work. Also avoid cooking with an acid such as tomatoes, vinegar, and lemons. These things are fine once you’ve been using your wok for a while, but can damage the delicate seasoning on the newly-seasoned wok.
The Teenage Wok:
Woks go through an adolescent stage before they develop the deep patina and nonstick coating of a well-used wok. During this stage (and throughout the life of a wok), the seasoning can look splotchy, feel gummy, or develop rust spots (especially if you live somewhere humid or go a few weeks between uses). This is all fine. Just keep cooking and the patina will develop.
How To Give Your Teenage Wok a Facial:
To give a wok a facial and clean up any yellowed, gummy, or rusted spots (this happens especially often with a new teenage wok):
Fold three layers of paper towels into a pad. Heat the wok as described above. Off the heat, swirl in 1 1/2 teaspoons oil and 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Scrub all over with the pad of paper towels until the gumminess and rust spots are gone. Repeat as needed. Throughout your wok’s life, you can rejuvenate it with this wok facial.