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Are you considering investing in a carbon steel wok for your kitchen? Look no further, and congratulations! You are about to embark on a rewarding and delicious journey. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about choosing and caring for a carbon steel wok, the ultimate tool for stir-frying and more.
First, let’s discuss how to choose the perfect carbon steel wok for your needs. We’ll explore the benefits of carbon steel, such as its durability, heat retention, and versatility. We’ll also discuss the various sizes and styles available, including round-bottom and flat-bottom woks.
Next, we’ll delve into how to care for your carbon steel wok to ensure its longevity. We’ll provide step-by-step instructions on seasoning your wok to create a natural non-stick surface and prevent rust. We’ll also explain how to clean your wok properly, including tips on removing stubborn food residues and maintaining the seasoning. You’ll learn about the best practices for drying and storing your wok to prevent rust and extend its lifespan.
Why A Carbon Steel Wok?
Woks are made of several materials. You can find carbon steel, stainless steel, cast iron, and nonstick woks. I have been using J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and his book “The Wok” as my guide, and he recommends carbon steel. Kenji explains:
“Carbon steel is your best bet. It heats quickly and evenly; it’s highly responsive to burner input; it’s durable and inexpensive; and, when properly cared for, it will end up with a practically nonstick surface. (Read more about why carbon steel is a great cookware material.) Look for carbon steel woks that are at least 14-gauge—about two millimeters thick—which won’t bend when you press on the sides.”Serious Eats
Stainless steel doesn’t make sense because you will inevitably end up with a sticky mess. Cast iron steel is not responsive enough, and avoid nonstick woks no matter what. Nonstick coatings release fumes at high heat which are bad for your health. Do not do it. Carbon steel takes a little bit of maintenance, but it is well worth it. You will be rewarded with a naturally nonstick surface and a very heat responsive piece of cookware.
This is the wok that I have, and I am very happy with it. I have been using it for 9 months now. The seasoning gets better with every cook. I did the initial seasoning on my flat top electric stove, which was not perfect, but it did the job.
What Size Should I Get?
I have a 14 inch wok, and I think it is the perfect size. It’s large enough to stir-fry, braise, blanch, steam, or fry anything you’d like, without being too bulky to handle.
Should I Get A Round Bottomed Or Flat Bottomed Wok?
Do you have a wok burner, or do you have a traditional Western stove? Wok-specific burners have a ring around the top of them where rounded wok sits nicely. If you have a round-bottomed wok and a flat, Western stove, you can use a wok ring to adapt your burner to your pan if you’d like. This works well if you have a gas stove. However, if you, like me, have an electric stove, there will be a gap between the heat source and the bottom of the wok, and the results will suffer.
I would personally recommend a flat bottomed wok to anyone with a Western stove, electric or gas. However, this is especially important with an electric stove.
Can I Cook With A Wok On An Electric Stove?
Definitely. I recently was able to purchase an induction stove top (for 50% off!!), and I’ve been cooking on it with my wok with no problems. Before I had my induction stove top, I had a regular smooth top electric stove, and it also worked perfectly fine for wok cooking. Coils may be a problem if they’re uneven, but if they are flat it should be fine.
To use a wok on an electric stove:
- Use a wok with a flat bottom, so you get as much contact as possible with the heat source.
- Don’t be afraid of the high heat setting.
- Use a carbon steel wok for speedy heat transfer.
- Don’t listen to people who say you have to have a gas stove to cook with a wok. It’s just not true.
What Other Equipment Do I Need?
You really only need a carbon steel wok, a wok utensil, and several bowls. I also recommend a spider for fishing out foods that have been boiled or fried.
I bought this wok spatula that Kenji recommends, and I’m very happy with it. It has a long handle, and the spatula end is think so it really gets under the food. It is also made of carbon steel, so go easy on the soap, and be sure to dry it thoroughly after use. I also rub a tiny amount of a neutral oil, such as vegetable, canola, avocado, or grapeseed oil, on the end of mine after it is dry.
As for bowls, I just use a large serving bowl and cereal bowls from my kitchen, but you could use prep bowls like these. You will need some sort of prep bowls because you must have all of your ingredients and sauces ready to go before you start cooking. Once you crank that heat up, there’s no time to stop and chop anything.
If you are using a round bottomed wok, you will need a wok ring if you do not have a dedicated wok burner.
I also really recommend picking up a copy of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s “The Wok.” I have learned so much from this book. It’s well researched and just a treasure trove of actionable information about ingredients and techniques. His recipes are clear and easy to follow.
How to Season A Carbon Steel Wok
So, you are the proud owner of a brand new carbon steel wok. Congratulations! Now what? You have to season your new friend before its first use. Wikipedia has a good explanation of what “seasoning” a piece of cookware means:
“Seasoning or curing is the process of coating the surface of cookware with a bioplastic formed from heated fat or oil in order to produce a heat, corrosion, and stick resistant hard coating. It is required for cast-iron cookware and carbon steel, which otherwise rust rapidly in use, but is also used for many other types of cookware, as it helps prevent food sticking.
Some cast-iron and carbon steel cookware is pre-seasoned by manufacturers, but most need to be seasoned by the users. To form seasoning, the item is thoroughly cleaned, coated in a very thin layer of fat or oil, and then heated beyond the smoke point until the bioplastic layer forms. The surface may then be lightly polished, and further layers are commonly applied.”Wikipedia Article on Seasoning
So, now that we know what seasoning is, how do we do it? I have only seasoned one wok, so I am definitely not an expert. I followed Kenji’s stovetop method, which he demonstrates in this video:
How Do I Clean A Carbon Steel Wok?
Cleaning a carbon steel pan is just like cleaning a cast iron one. Immediately after use, I transfer the finished dish from the wok to a serving dish. Then I immediately, and carefully, rinse the wok off in the sink. I then grab a little scrubby brush and lightly scrub any remaining food off. Rinse. Be careful, as the pan will still be very hot.
Dry off the wok and put it back on the stove. Put a tiny bit of neutral oil in the pan, and spread it all over the interior with a paper towel. Turn the burner on high. Wait for the pan to have little tendrils of smoke rising from the interior, then turn off the burner. Let cool. This process evaporates any remaining water, preventing rust, and lays down an additional layer of seasoning, adding to the awesomeness of your wok.
Store your wok in a cool, dry place to prevent rust.
If you do get a small amount of rust on your wok, I find that rubbing the area with a paper towel and a little bit of neutral oil usually takes it right off. If you have an extremely rusty wok, I recommend scouring it with Bar Keeper’s Friend and starting the seasoning process over again.
If you lose some of your seasoning for any reason, say you had to scrub your wok with soap because you left it out with food residue too long, never fear. Just clean the wok, add a little oil, and heat over high heat until you see some smoke. Let cool and repeat if you like. It may take a couple of cooks before the seasoning totally recovers, but it will eventually. It’s fine.
Next Up: How To Cook With A Wok For Beginners
Next week, we’ll look at how to begin cooking with your new wok! We’ll cover cooking at high heat, order of operations, and what to do if food sticks to the wok. In the meantime, comment below with your questions! How can I help you along the path to wok enlightenment? I’m walking it alongside you.
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