How to Season a Wok

A brand-new carbon steel wok is shiny, silver, and gorgeous, but don't be fooled. You can't use this wok straight out of the box! The first step is to learn how to season a wok.

Anyone who makes stir-fry at home knows it’s one of the easiest, most flavorful ways to put dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes. Sure, you could use a regular 12-inch skillet, but why not do it right with a traditional carbon steel wok? These pans are similar to lightweight cast iron; they heat up quickly and evenly, and can reach hotter temperatures than stainless steel. Perfect for flash-searing meat and veggies!

Unfortunately, you can’t use most woks straight out of the box. The first step to stir-frying like a pro is learning how to season a wok. Then, you’ll want to know the secret technique for stir-frying like a pro.

Why do you have to season a wok?

Some carbon steel pans come preseasoned, but like a cast-iron skillet, most of them require an initial seasoning step. The pan should come with a sticker announcing the seasoning requirement, along with a list of steps for how to do it. This process first removes the wax coating that keeps the pan from rusting during shipping. Then, you use heat to bond cooking oil to the pan’s surface, creating a patina layer that protects the steel.

You’ll end up with a black-seasoned surface on the pan that continues to develop as you use it. It not only creates a nonstick coating, but it also imparts something called wok hei to your food—a smoky, charred aroma that really takes stir-fries to the next level. Want to add even more culinary skills? Here are some brilliant kitchen shortcuts.

How to season a wok

The seasoning process is relatively simple, although it is slightly time-consuming. All in all, it will take 30 to 45 minutes, so we’d recommend setting aside a specific time to season your new pan.

You’ll need:

  • Neutral cooking oil, like canola oil
  • A good set of kitchen tongs
  • Paper towels

Step 1: Wash the pan

When you’re ready, wash the pan with very hot, soapy water and a steel scrubbing pad to remove the manufacturer’s waxy or oily coating. Dry the pan thoroughly and place it on the stovetop.

Step 2: Heat the pan

Even though you scrubbed off most of the initial coating, we’d recommend opening a window and turning on your exhaust fan for this step. Some of the coating chemicals may remain on the pan, and breathing them in won’t make you feel great!

Once the room is nice and ventilated, place the pan on the stovetop and turn the burner on high. After a minute or two, you’ll notice the shiny surface on the wok start to turn a blueish-blackish color.

Step 3: Add the oil

When the wok is hot, add a teaspoon or two of oil. Hold a wadded-up paper towel with your tongs and use it to rub the oil over wok’s cooking surface, including the sloped edges. Discard the paper towel when the pan is evenly coated.

Step 4: Cook over medium-low heat

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the oil for ten minutes. When the timer goes off, wipe off any remaining oil with a new paper towel and let the pan cool. Then bone up with some cooking tricks that are only taught in culinary school.

Step 5: Repeat until the towel is clean

Repeat the oil-and-heating steps until the final paper towel wipes off without any black residue. This should only take about three, maybe four, times total.

Now that your pan is seasoned, treat it like your favorite cast-iron pan. Clean it gently and always dry it thoroughly after using to prevent the finish from rusting. It’s not a bad idea to rub the surface with a thin layer of cooking oil before storing, either, just in case. Now that you know the right way to season a wok, learn how to avoid these cooking mistakes that can ruin your food.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and a food writer. After graduating from Cascade Culinary school, Lindsay became the Executive Chef at Jackson's Corner in Bend, OR, from 2013 to 2016. Her genuine passion for food and sustainable food practices led her to find the farmer in herself. She lives in Durango, CO, where she enjoys the trials and errors of small plot farming. Lindsay is currently working on a cookbook that teaches home cooks how to craft beautiful meals without a recipe, tentatively titled "The Art of Bricolage: Cultivating Confidence and Creativity in the Kitchen."