Wok this Way! (Part 4 of 5) Cleaning and Caring for Your Wok

Non-stick woks do not require seasoning, and come with simple cleaning instructions from the manufacturers, while steel carbon and iron woks require seasoning. Cleaning a seasoned wok is a lot different than a non-stick wok, and this is what we will cover here.

We will start with an important reminder: Do NOT use a steel wool scouring pad (or any abrasive product) on a seasoned wok, EVER! It will waste all the effort you put forth in seasoning your wok, and will require you to re-season it again.

A freshly seasoned wok will need some extra tender-loving-care. Immediately after cooking each dish, rinse the wok with plain hot water only. It is important to not use any other cleaning product to avoid damaging the seasoning. Often, there will be some bits and pieces of food particles stuck on the surface of a freshly seasoned wok. To remove them, gently lift them off with a bamboo brush (highly recommended), or a non-metallic scrubber. Then rinse the wok once more with plain hot water. To dry the wok, instead of wiping it dry, put the wet wok on the stove and set it on high heat. Heat the wok until a faint smoke arises from the bottom, then either let it cool and store it away, or continue to cook another dish. It is a common practice for chefs in Chinese restaurants to immediately put the wok back on the stove, pour hot water into the wok, scrub it quickly with a bamboo brush, dump out the water, and then place the wok back on the hot stove while he/she prepares another dish. By the time he/she is ready to cook the next dish, the wok is already hot, dry, and primed to go. It takes literally seconds to go through the drill once you get some practice. This process allows the traces of grease from the last dish to settle into the carbon steel’s pores, further seasoning the wok.

After you are finished cooking a meal, cleaning the wok, and ready to put the wok away, it is always a good practice to apply another thin coat of cooking oil. Store it in a dry, airy spot until you use it again (hopefully, very soon). Once the wok is well-seasoned, it becomes self-sufficient, and will not require re-coating again. As mentioned before, It takes time, care, and regular use before a wok develops a patina, where the wok becomes virtually non-stick, and the dishes impart that elusive “wok hay”. In addition, clean-up and care will be easy, requiring little time and effort, often only involves rinsing it with plain hot water and little scrubbing, as none of the food should stick to the wok.

As the black patina develops from frequent repeated use, it will also appear on the bottom exterior. It is also a layer of carbon from cooking at a high heat. In a household kitchen, where the stove does not reach as high a temperature as it does in a restaurant, this is actually a good thing. It helps conduct the heat faster, concentrates the heat to the bottom of the wok, and brings the wok to an even higher temperature. A nice bonus is that it also enhances the flavor of the dish. So, there is no need to scrub the exterior of the wok, either. Just a simple hot water rinse after cooking should be enough.

In Part 5, we’ll talk about all the nice little friends that you can get along with your wok, the accessories.