Iron and steel woks need to be seasoned. Seasoning a steel wok protects it, prevents it from rusting, and allows foods to glide smoothly over the cooking surface of the wok. In a properly seasoned wok one should be able to make perfect omelets. If an omelet sticks at all, the wok is not properly seasoned and should be re-seasoned.

There are two methods for seasoning an iron or steel wok:

  • To season a new or to re-season an old rusty wok, thoroughly scrub it inside and out with soap and a steel wool scouring pad to remove the manufacturer's protective coating on a new wok, or the rust on an old one. Rinse very thoroughly with hot water. Some manufacturers apply a coating that is hard to remove. If this is the case, set the wok on the stove, fill it with water and boil it for several minutes until the coating dissolves. Pour out the water and scrub the surface clean with steel wool and soap.

    Set the clean wok over high heat. Heat until a few drops of water sprinkled into the wok immediately turn into dancing beads. While the wok is heating, it will change from shiny steel grey to blue, purple, red and, finally, black.

    Then dab a couple of sheets of wadded-up paper towel with peanut or corn oil and wipe the oil over the entire inside surface of the wok (you may want to use long-handled tongs to hold the towels). Reduce the heat to low and let the wok sit over the heat for 15 minutes to absorb the oil - the colour changes will continue and, hopefully, the bottom of the wok will darken. In time and with frequent use the entire wok will turn black. If the surface looks dry, wipe with another thin film of oil. Remove the wok from the burner and let it cool. Reheat the wok and repeat the oiling and heating process once more before using it for stir-frying.

  • Another, more thorough, method of seasoning a wok is to brush polyunsaturated cooking oil on the cooking surface of the wok and then place the wok in an oven heated to 150 degrees centigrade for four hours. The oil will pool in the bottom of the wok while heating in the oven, so every hour or so, brush the oil up around the sides of the wok and continue heating. New woks may add a slight metallic taste to the first two or three dishes that are cooked in them, but after use, the metallic taste disappears.

A wok's worst enemies are soap and scouring pads - they'll remove the patina (seasoned layer) the wok has acquired. After cooking foods in a wok, it is best to run very hot water into it and clean the surface with a bamboo brush or a plastic scour. Or you can heat water in it on the stove and use a bamboo brush to clean it.

After you have washed your wok, dry it thoroughly with a paper towel or heat it on the stove to dry it (but don’t forget to take it off as soon as it has dried or you’ll burn the patina.) Some people coat the inside of the cleaned wok with a little oil dabbed on a sheet of paper towel to keep them in top cooking condition.

Eventually through repeated usage, a dark brown film will develop in the wok. The wok is now truly seasoned. This film is essentially carbon and is not harmful to one's health. The bottom of the wok, the part that touches the cooking flame of the stove should definitely be scoured over occasionally to free it of collected residue.

If one has the misfortune to accidentally burn food in a wok, it will be necessary to take steel wool and scour out the burnt material and then re-season the wok once again. Each time that one has to scour out the wok with abrasive material, one should re-season the wok.

Stainless steel woks sometimes stick when used to cook omelettes or for stir-frying meats. To overcome this problem, one can spend five minutes to "season" the wok before use or spray a coating of lecithin on the surface of the wok to allow for easy gliding of the foods. Lecithin is sold commercially under several brand names as "non-stick" cooking aids.

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