Choosing a wok can be an overwhelming task. They come in a multitude of different materials, sizes, and makes. Rather than reviewing each type, I’m just going to cut to the chase. The best woks for the average household are 14″ in size (not too big or small), made of carbon steel, and hand hammered. Check that the sides are thick and strong enough that they don’t bend when you push on them. Luckily, that combination of wok is actually quite inexpensive (I got mine for $13 CAD), despite being hammered out by hand. Depending on the kind of stove you have, you may also need to get one with a slightly flattened bottom so it sits on your stove range. That said, you can get circular wok burner rings for the traditional round bottom woks. It’s also best to avoid the non-stick woks. Not only are you usually paying a lot for these pans, the non-stick surface doesn’t do well under high heat, which is one of the biggest benefits of cooking with a wok.
For a more comprehensive break down of the different types of woks, I really like the overview written on Serious Eats.
Once you have your wok, it needs to be seasoned. There are different ways to achieve the same result. This is the method I like best.
What you need:
- scouring pad or steel scrubber
- lard or a high smoking point oil
- 1/3 cup of ginger, sliced
- 2 sprigs of green onion, chopped into 2 inch
- Wash and scrub your wok in soap and hot water to get the factory machine oil off it. The machine oil is there to keep the wok from rusting as it sits on factory and store shelves for an extended period of time, but once you get home, you’ll need to remove it. Many recommend you scrub the wok down with a steel scrubber. I found that I could feel the slippery texture of the film on my wok and I preferred to work it off with first my hands until my wok had a uniform smooth but not slick feeling when I rubbed my fingers over it. I then used a scouring pad to be thorough. It’s up to you how you get the factory oil film off. Note also that this soapy wash is a one time thing. You’ll never need to wash your wok like this ever again. In fact if you do, you’ll need to season it again.
- Dry your wok thoroughly with a dish towel then place it on your stove on high heat. The extra heat will burn off any residue water you may have missed, which prevents rusting. Move your wok around so it gets heated evenly across its surface. You may find that your wok starts browning into a bluish black colour in parts. This is normal.
- Drip a single drop of water into the wok. If it evaporates within a second, your wok is ready for oil. The heat opens up the pores of the steel for the oil or fat to seal. You’ll probably want to open a window or door at this point.
- Add the lard or 2 teaspoons of oil into the centre of the wok directly and swirl it around the wok from the centre out towards the edges so it evenly coats the entire wok. You can also use a heat resistant barbecue brush to brush on the oil evenly all over the inside of the wok, although I prefer first method of tilting and swirling the oil around.
- Note: if you’re using oil, use an oil with a high smoking point like peanut, canola, grapeseed, or palm oil. The high smoking point minimize the fumes. Avoid using polyunsaturated oils like unrefined sesame oil, soybean oil, and fish oil as they’ll leave your wok gunky.
- Move the wok around on the burner so different parts of it get exposed to the heat. Keep heating up wok until the oil smokes. Turn off the heat and let the wok and oil cool.
- Wipe up the excess grease with a paper towel. It will likely be orange or even black.
- Repeat steps 3 to 6 another 3 times.
- (Optional) Slice up a piece of ginger and a couple sprigs of green onion into fat chunks of about 2 inches in length. Bring your wok up to high heat again. Put in 1 tablespoon of oil, swirl it around in the wok and add the ginger and green onion. Bring your heat down to medium heat. Push the ginger and green onions around on the wok so the oil spreads evenly around the wok under it. Do this for about 10-15 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the ginger and green onion, and soak up the excess oil with a paper towel.
- Once the wok has come down to room temperature, rub in one last coat of oil into the wok with a paper towel.
Your wok is now ready to use. As you use it, always heat it up first before putting the oil in to continue seasoning it. Avoid cooking acidic things in the wok initially, such as vinegar or tomatoes, until a stronger patina has formed. When washing, just use hot water and dry it over high heat again.
Happy wok cooking!