How to Buy, Season and Use a Wok
Learn how to choose a good wok, how to season a wok properly and how to clean a wok so you'll be whipping up stir-fries and more in no time.
Pictured Recipe: Shrimp Cauliflower Fried Rice
A carbon-steel wok is one of my all-time favorite kitchen tools. It's inexpensive—you can find it at houseware stores or Asian grocery stores for about $20—and it definitely comes in handy for quick stir-fry dinners. The beauty of the bowl-shaped frying pan? Once seasoned, it has a natural nonstick surface, like a cast-iron skillet (note: we never recommend nonstick woks).
Choosing a Wok
A 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok with a long wooden handle is the best all-purpose wok. The carbon steel heats quickly and conducts heat efficiently, meaning it can cook food fast to give it classic Chinese-style seared flavor. Wood is ideal for the handles as it doesn't get hot or melt. I also prefer a wok with two handles as it makes it easier to move the large pan around the kitchen. And the flat bottom gives the wok more contact with the burner—especially important if you have an electric or under powered gas range. You can find a wok for $20-$40 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 below.
Pictured: Spicy Orange Beef & Broccoli Stir-Fry
How to Season a Wok
The best seasoning method I've used comes from Chinese-cuisine guru Grace Young, known as the "Poet Laureate of the Wok". Here's her how to:
1. Scrub a carbon-steel wok with soap, hot water and a steel-wool pad. Rinse and dry thoroughly.
2. Heat the wok over high heat until a bead of water dropped on the surface vaporizes instantly.
3. Swirl 2 tablespoons of peanut oil or vegetable oil into the pan.
4. Add 1/2 cup sliced unpeeled ginger and 1 bunch scallions cut into 2-inch pieces.
5. Reduce the heat to medium and stir-fry the mixture, pressing it into the sides of the wok as you go.
6. Keep stir-frying and pressing the seasoning all over the wok for about 15 minutes.
7. Remove from heat and let cool. Discard the scallions and ginger. Rinse with hot water. Your wok is now ready to use! And it will get better and better over time.
Cleaning Your Wok
Never use soap and don't wash a seasoned wok in the dishwasher, as 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.
A 12-inch stainless-steel skillet will work for most stir-fry recipes (we like this one from All-Clad). 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.
A well-seasoned, well-loved wok will last you many delicious years. Use these steps to season your wok and keep it in tip-top shape for every use. For additional inspiration, check out our Healthy Stir-Fry Recipes.