When it comes to cooking with a wok there are two important things to know: how to buy the best wok and how to season a wok. If you treat your wok well, you will have it for many years and delicious meals. Here, we share advice from cookbook author and wok evangelist Grace Young on how to choose a wok and how to season a wok.
A 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok with a long wood handle is the best all-purpose wok. The carbon steel conducts heat efficiently, the wooden handle stays cool and the flat bottom gives the wok more contact with the burner—especially important if you have an electric or underpowered gas range. You can find them for $25-$35 at kitchenware stores or at amazon.com.
A well-seasoned wok has a naturally “nonstick” surface, which allows you to cook with less oil while preventing foods from sticking to the pan. Seasoned woks have been coated with oil and heated to a high temperature—allowing the oil to deeply penetrate the metal of the pan. Most woks are sold without any seasoning, so you need to season your wok before use, following the manufacturer’s instructions or the traditional method featured on the next slide.
Scrub a new carbon-steel wok with hot water, soap and a scouring pad to remove the factory coating. Rinse and dry thoroughly. Heat the wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds. Swirl 2 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil into the pan. Add 1/2 cup sliced unpeeled fresh ginger and 1 bunch scallions cut into 2-inch pieces. Reduce the heat to medium and stir-fry the mixture, pressing it into the sides of the wok as you go. Keep stir-frying and pressing the seasonings all over the wok for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. (Discard the scallions and ginger.)
Never use soap and don’t wash a seasoned wok in the dishwasher—the detergents will damage the seasoning. Simply clean it with hot water and a soft sponge. If you have any hard-to-release food, fill the wok with an inch or so of water and gently heat on the stove to loosen the food. Rinse the pan thoroughly. Air-drying a wok may cause it to rust. Instead, place over low heat until all the water has evaporated, 1 to 3 minutes. Or wipe completely dry with a towel before storing.
A12-inch stainless-steel skillet will work for most stir-fry recipes. For the best success, use a little more oil and reduce the heat to medium-high to prevent the food from sticking and burning. Don’t use a nonstick wok or traditional nonstick skillet for stir-frying—they should not be used over high heat and won’t give a proper sear to the food.