Seasoning a wok is the process of preparing your new wok for use. The process not only cleans the wok to remove any oils or films left on it by the manufacturer, it also prepares your wok for a long life in your kitchen.
A good example of the importance of seasoning a wok comes to mind when I remember the time my mother stopped using her old, extremely well-seasoned cast iron skillet to fry chicken and moved to a “modern” stainless steel pan. As a child, I may not have understood the impact of the seasoning of the pan, but I do remember that the stainless pan fried chicken had no where near the flavor of the chicken from her older, seasoned pan. All those flavors that had accumulated on her old cast iron skillet actually made the chicken taste better. The new pan lost all those flavors. New is not always good.
Should a wok be seasoned?
Before you begin to cook in a wok you need to decide if it needs to be seasoned since not all woks need to be seasoned. Some woks come pre-seasoned and some, like a wok with a non-stick surfaces, require no seasoning.
If you have chosen-like many professionals and amateur enthusiasts-to purchase a wok made from carbon steel or non-coated cast iron, then you will need to season that wok. If your wok needs are best met by one of the other materials, seasoning not only is not necessary, it is most likely not possible.
Seasoning a wok is one of the most important things you can do to cook authentic Chinese or Asian cuisine. It is most likely that your new wok will come with some instructions on its initial seasoning. Those instructions could be one of a couple of different ways to season a wok or may include all options.
THE STEPS FOR SEASONING A WOK
The First Step: Cleaning a wok
The first and probably most important step will be to clean the wok very carefully with dish washing detergent and a scrubber. It is necessary to ensure that all protectants put on the wok by the manufacturer to protect the wok from rust are removed. This should be the only time you clean your wok with a detergent or soap. Also it is the only time you will clean the wok using some type of abrasive material or scrubber. Neither should ever be used again as it will take off the seasoning you have worked years to create.
Seasoning a wok: Oil Method
Some manufacturers and professionals recommend placing your new, carefully scrubbed wok on high heat and heat the entire wok all the way to the top edge. Once heated, saturate a lint-free cloth or a bunch of paper towels with peanut or corn oil and wipe the entire inside of the wok, being sure the oil saturates the metal. The hot wok will begin to smoke and the metal will begin-at the closest point to the heat-to blacken or turn to a deep bronze patina. This blackening or coloring is what you are trying to accomplish and it will work its way up the sides of the wok. Once the entire wok is blackened, take it off the heat and wipe off excess oil. The seasoning process has thus begun and will continue to improve as you use a wok.
Seasoning a wok: Salt Method
Others advise placing your cleaned wok on high heat and adding 2-3 cups of kosher salt. Continue to stir the salt as it heats and the wok begins to blacken at the bottom, then begin stirring the salt up the sides of the wok until it has blackened to the rim.
Seasoning a wok: Oven Method
An additional method is to oil your cleaned wok and place it in a 450° oven for a period of 20 minutes.
Seasoning a wok: Optional Seasons or Spices
Still others recommend any of the above processes with the addition of some traditional Asian seasonings to the salt or oil. The inclusion of fresh ginger, garlic, even perhaps some star anise may enhance your seasoning process. I do not think it totally necessary, as these seasonings will be added anyway in the process of using the wok and its seasoning continues to develop.
The seasoning of a new wok is easily accomplished, but necessary. I am confident that following the instructions that come with your wok will result in proper seasoning. Maintenance of this seasoning or patina is extremely important to your continued enjoyment of your wok. This is best managed by being diligent about cleaning your wok immediately after use, while still hot, and being sure to lightly oil and then wipe the excess from the interior once cleaned. Remember, you will only use hot water and a soft brush to clean. Seasoning a wok is a simple yet important step in starting to cook Chinese food, good luck and good (Chinese) cooking.