How do I use my wok?

We were recently asked by a first time home owner: I received a wok from the Asian market as a gift, what do I do with my wok?


Woks are most commonly known as the preferred cooking vessel in creating stir-fry. Those of us who dwell in the Western hemisphere equate the wok with Chinese cookery, yet similarly shaped cookware crafted of copper or thin metal, are found in the kitchens of India, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Food historians tell us that the use of the rounded metal cookware dates back thousands of years, somewhere between the 10th and 13th centuries. (Sorry, for more precision, we have to wait till they stop digging!)

There are stainless steel and non-stick versions in the marketplace, our preference: a 12" to 14" carbon steel wok . The steel has to be properly seasoned, just like cast iron cookware. The seasoning creates a natural non-stick surface and prevents the carbon steel from rusting. The traditional rounded bottom is perfect if you have a gas cook-top, for electric some prefer a flat bottom wok for more contact with the heat source.

(Learn how to season your wok after the jump.)

Woks are great workhorses on the stove. The high-sided design allows for a large cooking surface, the heat spreads evenly, and spilling is minimized. Carbon steel will take temperatures up to 700 F, rarely reached on a residential range. High heat creates a quick sear, fast cooking time, and is perfect for reducing liquids.

In addition to creating a stir-fry, the wok is great for steaming, simmering and braising. Health conscious cooks value woks as fast cooking helps retain nutrients and little oil is required once a wok is well seasoned. Insert a small wire rack or bamboo basket to steam fish. Woks are my favorite for deep-frying everything from apple fritters to chicken, because of the shallow but wide shape.

Seasoning your new wok:

1. Remove the protective coating from the manufacturer by cleaning your wok in soap and water with a nylon-scouring pad. Never use soap on your wok again!

2. Heat burner, place the wet wok on the burner and let the heat do the drying.

3. Remove wok from burner, use a brush (pastry or barbeque) and lightly coat the wok's interior with 1-2 teaspoons of shortening (lards the best) or peanut oil.

4. Ventilate the kitchen with a fan or open window.

5. Place the wok back on the burner, heat for 15 minutes

6. Remove the wok from the heat, cool, wipe out excess oil and rinse with water.

7. Place the wok back on the burner and heat until dry.

(Type A's: repeat the process steps 3-7, two or three times.)

Easy seasoning method (sans wood on handles):
Follow steps 1-3 above.
Place wok in 250 F, pre-heated oven for one hour to season.

Resist ever using steel wool pads or soap on your wok once its seasoned.
The wok will begin to change color. Over time it will develop a nice dark patina.

No more take out! Tomorrow: Basic Chinese Marinade and a Schezwan stir-fry recipe.

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Carol Blonder