How to Use and Maintain a Carbon Steel Wok

What is a Wok?

A wok is a deep round-bottomed cooking pan with high walls that keep the food in the pan when you are tossing the ingredients. A round bottom allows for continuous circulation of heat. For easier maneuvering, woks have one or two side handles.

When used on an electric stove a wok heats up slower as the rounded bottom is not in contact with the flat heated surface and not enough heat can be distributed up the sides. Due to their concave bottom, traditional wok pans are suitable for use on gas stoves and an open fire.

To adopt traditional round-bottom wok to flat ranges, you will need a wok ring. If you prefer cooking on an electric stove, make sure to purchase a wok with a flat bottom.

Carbon Steel Wok

This versatile cookware piece can be used to prepare many meals with a variety of cooking techniques.  A wok is convenient for stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming, braising, and boiling. This is an essential cooking vessel if you want to make great-tasting Asian-style dishes.

What is Special about Carbon Steel Wok?

The right weight: Carbon steel wok is pretty sturdy, but it is not as heavy as cast iron and this makes it more suitable for rapid movement when you are tossing the ingredients.

Suitable for high-temperature cooking: Non-stick woks can’t withstand very high cooking temperatures. Carbon steel can take the extremely high heat needed for stir-frying. A carbon steel wok heats up in no time, especially when used on a gas flame.

Disperses heat evenly: While there are many other types of wok pans on the market, nothing can be compared to a good carbon steel wok. Heavy-walled carbon steel wok heats up quickly, evenly spreads heat across the surface, and holds the heat well when food is added to it. Those features make this cooking vessel perfect for stir-frying.

Sturdy and durable: Carbon steel woks are constructed of heavy-duty carbon steel that is resistant to warping. When properly maintained, carbon steel wok will last for decades.

Easily builds up a nonstick surface: Well-seasoned carbon steel wok is virtually non-stick, and its non-stick coating is getting better with each use.

Asian dishes taste better: A carbon steel wok produces smokier, tastier dishes. This wok is a way to go if you want to get more genuine flavors and authentic tastes of Asian foods.

Carbon steel wok will last a long time if you take good care of it. However, if you are not willing to put enough time and effort into seasoning it properly to get it ready for use, a carbon steel wok would not be the right choice for you.

Getting it Ready for Use

To properly season it, follow the manufacturer’s instructions or watch video tutorials to find the best method.

  • Initial washing: After purchasing, wash it well by hand and make sure to thoroughly scrub the factory polymer coating that has been applied to protect the metal from rusting. Pour it with water, add dish soap, and boil the water for 20 minutes. Then scrub the coating using an abrasive pad or steel wool to get to the naked steel. Rinse with hot water.
  • Tempering: This step requires a hot gas flame. To temper it, place the empty pan on the stove and heat at a high temperature, rotating periodically until all the surface oxidizes and gets a black-blue patina. Let it cool down.
  • Seasoning: Appropriate seasoning requires time and high heat. Seasoning helps prevent rusting and provides non-stick properties. Use a paper towel, tongs, and a high smoke point cooking oil (flaxseed, peanut, canola, and sunflower oils work well) to coat evenly on both sides. Then place the wok upside down in an oven and bake it at 450F for 20-25min. Make sure to remove the heat-sensitive handle before putting the wok in an oven. If the handle is not removable use a gas stove for seasoning. Do the whole cycle of seasoning at least three times. This will produce a lot of smoke. Finally, stir-fry some scallions and ginger on high heat until brown and crispy. This will prevent the metallic taste of food. Your wok pan is ready for cooking now. This whole washing and seasoning process can take 2-4 hours.

The seasoning process can be completed efficiently using a gas grill.

Regular Cleaning

Carbon steel wok requires prompt cleaning and drying after each use. Once the wok is cooled down, scrape off food bits with a paper towel or wok brush and wash with hot water and a soft sponge. If it requires a bit of scrubbing, use coarse kosher salt and a dry paper towel to scour. Don’t use soap as it will remove the seasoning. To dry up any remaining moisture, put the wok on low heat on the stove. Use a paper towel and lightly re-oil the surface before storing it. Store in a dry place.

The patina will develop turning the wok darker with each use, which is perfectly normal. With regular use and re-oiling, your wok will create a solid non-stick layer.

For pans with wooden handles, make sure to periodically rub the handle with flaxseed oil or walnut oil to minimize the chances of cracking and increase the longevity of the wood.

If you notice rust, use a stainless steel scouring pad to scrub the rust away, dry the pan, and re-season it immediately.

Tips for Using a Carbon Steel Wok

  • Make it stable: A wok needs a hand to hold it most of the time because it has a round bottom and will not securely sit on the stove when you toss food around. Woks with rounded bottoms need a wok ring to securely sit on the stove.
  • Maintain it properly: You need to thoroughly clean it before the first use to remove the factory coating. Then you need to season it per instruction. Those two steps take a lot of time and effort. You also must clean it regularly by hand, keep it away from moisture, and re-apply oil coating after each use to avoid rusting.
  • Avoid using it for preparing highly acidic foods: Carbon steel is a reactive material and it is not suitable for cooking acidic foods such as tomato, vinegar, or foods that contain lemon juice. Although a well-seasoned carbon steel wok can handle the quick cooking of acidic foods, it is advisable to prepare and keep sour sauces in non-reactive cookware.
  • Use non-metal utensils: Metal utensils can scratch the seasoning, but you can easily re-season the same way as you would do with cast-iron pans.
  • Protect your hands: If your wok is not equipped with an insulated handle, make sure to use a silicone handle cover or oven gloves to protect your handles from high heat.

Recommended Brands:

This post contains links to Amazon. The publisher may get paid if You purchase something through the links without additional costs to You.

1. J22-0060 Flat Bottom Wok by Joyce Chen

This14 14-inch Carbon Steel Flat Wok has a 6″ bottom diameter, 2.0mm carbon steel body, and stay-cool Phenolic handles. It is heavy and capable of taking a large amount of food. The flat bottom design allows it to sit stably on the stove without requiring a wok ring.

This wok pan requires a lot of care. The initial cleaning is a lengthy and labor-intensive process. Removing stubborn factory coating requires boiling soapy water in the pan for 20 min and then a good amount of scrubbing with steel wool.

It also can be a pain to season it. Make sure to unscrew the plastic handles if you are going to season it in an oven.

2. Traditional Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Pow Wok by Craft Wok

This traditional Chinese wok pan is well-built, sturdy, and relatively heavy. Due to its round bottom, it is not suitable for flat electric stoves.

You must take the time to season it correctly the first time. If possible do it on an open gas flame.

The wooden handle can be removed if you use the oven method for seasoning it.

The wooden handle can become loose as wood tends to shrink over time.  

Be careful to only touch the wooden portion of the handle as the metal part gets burning hot. To avoid burning your hands, wear heat-protective gloves.

3. Blue Carbon Steel Wok by Made In

This 2-millimeter-thick blue carbon steel wok is made in France. It is well-built and has an elegant stylish design. Its comfortable handle does not get hot during cooking. The base is flat and suitable for flat stovetops. It is induction-compatible and can be used with glass stovetops.

The pan comes pre-treated by high heat to resist rust and corrosion, but it still needs to be seasoned. The seasoning process will take away the beautiful blue color, but it will provide the wok with a non-stick surface and keep it from rusting.

To ease the seasoning, the company offers Carbon Steel Seasoning Wax. This is a blend of two high-smoke point oils and beeswax made in North Carolina. In addition to initial seasoning, it can also be used for regular wok maintenance.

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