Carbon steel cookware is becoming more and more popular, but why is that?
Well, much like cast iron pans, carbon steel pans have outstanding heat retention and pretty poor heat conduction. For this reason, cast iron pans are ideal for pan-roasting a variety of meats.
Spun or stamped from sheets of metal rather than cast pre-formed, carbon steel pans usually have sloping sides, and they are both lighter and thinner than cast iron cookware. When you’re tossing foods – from sautéing meat and veggies through to stir-frying – carbon steel woks and pans are highly effective.
One of the other shared characteristics between carbon steel and cast iron cookware is the fact is requires seasoning.
Now, seasoning used in the context of cookware does not refer to flavor building up over time. Seasoning here refers to super-thin layers of oil that the heat in the pan transforms from a liquid grease into a plastic-like and solid polymer.
What’s the point of seasoning your carbon steel wok in the first place, then?
I. Why Should You Season a Carbon Steel Wok?
You need to season carbon steel woks for the same reasons you should season cast iron cookware.
Off the bat, carbon steel is prone to rusting if you expose it to humidity and moisture. The seasoning you apply will act as a barrier against the water, stopping any rusting developing when the weather gets warmer.
Beyond this, you will also find seasoning carbon steel woks improves the performance, specifically when it comes to food release. You can expect non-stick performance on a par with Teflon, but without any of the niggling safety concerns that accompany synthetic treatments.
Properly seasoned, you’ll find a carbon steel wok or pan is the perfect solution for whipping up eggs and crepes without finding them smeared all over the sides of the cookware.
Fortunately, seasoning carbon steel cookware couldn’t be easier. The majority of cast iron woks will arrive pre-seasoned from the foundry. This makes it tough to grasp the concept of seasoning.
If you look at a brand new carbon steel pan, though, you’ll notice that it’s the color of bare metal. As you add layers of seasoning, the pan will become darker and darker until fully blackened.
So, with carbon steel cookware arriving unseasoned, you can watch the coating form over time.
Onto the main event now with our simple guide to seasoning your carbon steel wok.
II. How to Season a Carbon Steel Wok
- Remove the protective coating then wash the wok
- Dry the wok thoroughly
- Heat your wok
- Sparingly apply a thin layer of oil
- Burn the seasoning onto the wok
- Repeat the above process
- Start using the wok then re-season if required
1) Remove the protective coating then wash the wok
If your carbon steel wok arrives and it’s metallic gray rather than black, it is unseasoned.
In the event of the pan being unseasoned, you’ll need to remove the protective coating applied by the manufacturer. Instructions for this will vary from brand to brand, so check the instructions and get rid of this coating before anything else.
Wash your pan thoroughly.
2) Dry the wok thoroughly
It is now vital to dry the wok immediately as the cookware now has no protection against rust forming.
Pat the wok dry with a dish towel then cook off any residual moisture over a low heat on the stovetop. This leads you neatly into the next step: heating your wok.
3) Heat your wok
Heat the wok to 450F before applying the first layer of the seasoning. You can do this in the oven or on the burner. If you’re popping the pan in the oven, make sure the handles are oven-safe.
4) Sparingly apply a thin layer of oil
Lightly soak a paper towel with some neutral oil. The following all work well for seasoning:
- Canola oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Vegetable oil
Avoid using shortening or lard as this often has solids in it. Also, olive oil often has sediment, so this doesn’t make the right choice for seasoning cookware either.
Rub the oil all over the inside and outside of the pan. Wipe away any excess oil as you go. Less is more here.
Keep buffing away until it doesn’t look like there is any oil on your wok at all. The seasoning will remain there to do its work and will improve over time.
5) Burn the seasoning onto the wok
Heat the seasoned pan on the highest burner setting or inside a hot oven.
Carbon steel cookware is not known for conducting heat efficiently. To combat this, you will need to shift the wok around on the burner to make sure the oil forms a consistent polymer across the whole cooking surface area. You will see this happening as the surface of the wok starts turning a pale shade of brown.
Expect the wok to kick off a lot of smoke during this process. Open up all the windows, hit the fans, and send the kids outside!
When you notice the smoking stops, this means the oil has undergone its transformation from liquid to polymer. This will take just a few minutes on the burner, or around 30 minutes in a scorching oven.
6) Repeat the above process
Apply thin layers of oil as above, heating them so they darken, until the pan looks a dark shade of brown. This will give you enough seasoning to start cooking with confidence.
7) Start using the wok then re-season if required
You are now ready to start using your pan. As you sauté and roast your favorite dishes, the seasoning in the pan will build up more and more.
At any stage you feel it’s necessary, refer to the above framework and apply some more seasoning.
Your goal is for the pan to become black. You may find that some of the seasoning flakes off – carbon steel is more prone to this than cast iron – but all you need to do is season the pan several more times and you’re good to go.
All you now need to concern yourself with is maintaining your carbon steel wok properly with some simple handwashing and drying and you’re in safe hands.
If you still feel seasoning a carbon steel wok seems like a waste of time, you should now be clear on the reasons why this is not the case. With no more than an hour or two of work, you’ll protect your investment and you won’t need to put up with a rusted out pan.
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