Everything You Should Know About How To Season A Wok

Wok is versatile cookware in the kitchen. Before cooking with it, you have to learn how to season a wok to maintain its functionality and prevent rusting.

In this article, I’ll show you how to season a wok properly, the reason behind seasoning, and everything you need to know about the care of the wok.

There’re many ways to season a wok. It typically involves three main steps.

  • Cleaning your wok
  • Apply a thin layer of oil to the wok
  • Heat it at high heat

What you need

  • A wok
  • Mild dish soap
  • Steel wool
  • Sponge
  • Your chosen oil
  • A spatula or a tong
  • Several paper towels
  • Aluminum foil

How To Season A Wok

Step 1: Cleaning your wok

In this step, do whatever you can do to expose the bare metal. You can scrub it, sand it, and put it through the cleaning cycle in the oven. The easier way is scrubbing the inside and outside of the wok with steel wool and hot soapy water to thoroughly remove any impurities, old seasoning, rust and factory oil.  It’s the only time you can use abrasive metal wool to clean the wok unless you re-season it again. Wash it. Repeat scrubbing and rinsing several times until you cannot see any black stains on your hands when touching the wok. It means you’ve removed all factory oil and any impurities. Then dry it completely with a paper towel and then heat it a bit on the stovetop or in the oven for a few minutes to remove any moisture.  The reason is an unseasoned wok is extremely easy to rust at room temperature and needs to be dry fully. 

Step 2: Apply a thin layer of oil to the wok

Let the wok cool down a bit. Wipe the entire surface – inside and outside – of the wok with a very thin layer of oil. Next, grab a clean towel to wipe off excess oil.

Step 3: Heat it at high heat

In this step, make sure your kitchen is well ventilated because this process can get stinky, turn on the fume hood or open the window. The wok is heated at high heat over the stovetop or baked in the oven. The surface will become matte black when the wok is properly seasoned.

If the wok is sticky after seasoning, the reasons may be:

  • Too much oil
  • Low cooking temperature
  • Short cooking time

All you can do is remove the excess oil and bake at 400°F for 1hr to get rid of the problem.

How to season a wok on a stovetop

Image by Chris Feldmann via Flickr
  1. Follow and complete the initial cleaning 
  2. Open the window or turn on your fume hood
  3. Dry the wok completely
  4. Oil the wok inside and outside
  5. Heat the wok over high heat until it smokes. Tilt the wok to heat the other part of the wok until it smokes. Repeat heating, tilting and smoking until the whole wok is done
  6. Remove the wok when it is cool enough to touch
  7. Clean and rinse with warm water with a soft sponge
  8. Repeat step 3-7 two more times
  9. Dry the wok completely and your wok is ready to use

How to season a wok in the oven

This method provides constant and even heat. Thus, the coating created is much more even compared with the stovetop method. Before doing that, make sure the handles are oven safe. 

400°F is a general guideline that works for most oils. The best approach is to set the oven temperature above the smoke point of the chosen oil. Please check more details about how to pick an oil for seasoning in this table.

  1. Follow and complete the initial cleaning 
  2. Open the window or turn on your fume hood
  3. Dry the wok completely
  4. Oil the wok inside and outside
  5. Put a sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom rack
  6. Place your oiled wok upside down on the top rack
  7. Bake at 400°F for 1hr
  8. Remove the wok when it is cool enough to touch
  9. Clean and rinse with warm water with a soft sponge
  10. Repeat step 3-9 two more times
  11. Dry the wok completely and your wok is ready to use

Best oil for seasoning

Image by Cottonseed Oil via Flickr

The type of oil you choose will affect the quality of the protective coating. Everybody has different views. Some say bacon is the best. Some say don’t use bacon but flaxseed oil. Some say vegetable oil is fine. 

So, who holds the fact?

Let’s figure out the answer. 

When choosing an oil for seasoning, there are a few factors to consider.

High smoke point

The smoke point is a very important factor to consider when choosing a seasoning oil. It is the temperature at which the oil starts to smoke and release harmful chemicals.  If you generally cook foods at high heat like searing, sauteing and stir-frying, you have to use an oil with a high smoke point that can withstand such high heat. Always keep in mind that choosing an oil with a smoke point that is higher than your cooking temperature.

Cooking methodTemperature range
High heat400°F – 600°F 
Medium heat300°F – 400°F
Low heat
200°F – 300°F

High percentage of unsaturated fat

Due to their chemical structure, unsaturated fats are chemically more reactive than saturated fats. That means unsaturated fats are easier to polymerize and form patina. 

From a health perspective, unsaturated fats are healthier. Polyunsaturated fats are essential to our body. They are required for our body’s function. It can also prevent heart disease and stroke.

So always pick the oils with a high percentage of unsaturated oil.

Monounsaturated Oil vs Polyunsaturated Oil

There are two types of unsaturated oils: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Which one is better?

Polyunsaturated fats are better. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats have similar chemical structures. The main difference between them is that monounsaturated fats have one double bond while polyunsaturated fats have two or more double bonds. The more double bonds the fats have, the more reactive the fats are, so the faster and better the seasoning develops.

Neutral flavor

Choose the oil with a neutral flavor that is more versatile. You don’t want all your foods to have the flavor of the seasoning oil. Also, pick refined oils because they provide neutral flavor with a longer shelf life and a higher smoke point. Avoid unrefined oils with low smoke points.

Generally, choosing the oil for seasoning is a personal preference. It depends on what you cook and which taste you like. Pick one with a high smoke point and high concentration of unsaturated fat. If you cook at high heat, don’t pick flaxseed oil. Check the table and choose the best for you.

Fats / OilsSaturated Fat (%)Monounsaturated Fat (%)Polyunsaturated Fat (%)Neutral FlavorSmoke Point (°F)Recommended For Seasoning?Oven Temp (°F)
Avocado Oil127114No482Yes502
Safflower Oil87513Yes414Yes434
Olive Oil147310Yes380No400
Soybean Oil152258Yes450Yes470
Peanut Oil174632Yes450Yes470
Refined Canola76328Yes400Yes420
Refined Coconut8762No400Yes420
Unrefined Flaxseed91868No225No245
Bacon Grease324111No325No345

Do I need to season my wok?

You do need to season your wok if you meet the below situations.

  • Get a new cast iron or carbon steel wok. Aluminum, stainless steel, copper, non-stick and pre-seasoned woks are not necessary to do the seasoning
  • A rust wok
  • Notice a metallic taste in your dish which means the seasoning is damaged 
  • Foods stick to the wok

Why seasons a wok?

Seasoning is the process of creating a non-stick protective coating called patina on the surface of wok from heated oil. It’s really important to have this coating for cast iron or carbon steel cookware.  

To season a wok, you first clean the wok thoroughly, rub a film of oil into your wok, and heat it beyond the smoke point.  Nothing happens at room temperature as there’s not enough energy to decompose the oil. When the oil is heated beyond the smoke point of the oil, energy is supplied to undergo a series of chemical reactions including decomposition, oxidation, polymerization and cyclization. This finally forms a black hard non-stick patina which is uneven at the beginning.

If you repeat the process of seasoning, another layer of coating will build up on top of the previous coat to provide a thicker and smoother coating. 

Does it mean additional seasoning can thicken the coating? Sure, but don’t overdo it. Three initial layers are fine as the seasoning occurs and more layers build up when you cook foods with oil at high heat.  That’s why a lot of people say that the patina improves after every single use.

This patina is a water hater. It repels water and attracts oils and fats. This property is especially helpful in preventing foods that contain water from sticking to the cookware. It also coats the entire wok so that the moisture in the air cannot reach the cookware and prevent rusting. 

Unseasoned woks are prone to rust and corrosion. If not using enough oil, food tends to stick heavily because the tiny holes and irregular surfaces of the wok let food seep in.

Once you season properly, your wok will:

  • Prevent rust and corrosion
  • Provide a non-stick surface, so you can release your food easily without sticking
  • Reduce oil used for cooking
  • Add special favors “Wok Hei” to dishes

How to clean your well-seasoned wok after cooking

Image by Engelbert Niehaus via Wikiversity

Wash with warm water if your last meal is light.  If your meal is heavy sauces, apply mild soap and gently scrub with a sponge. If there are stubborn food bits, add water to the wok and boil. Then it is much easier to clean. Avoid using metal wool to clean it because seasoning may be damaged. After cleaning, dry it over high heat and rub a thin layer of oil.

Tips for maintaining a seasoned wok

  • Never clean your wok with a dishwasher
  • Never use metal utensils, abrasive soap and abrasive scouring pads
  • In the first few uses after seasoning, cook fatty foods that strengthen seasoning. Avoid steaming, boiling and cooking acidic foods which will stripe the seasoning
  • Always dry your wok and rub a thin layer of oil after cleaning
  • Remove the foods after cooking and don’t store them in the wok
  • Cook regularly in the wok. The patina can be improved after every single-use

How often should you season your carbon steel or cast iron wok?

It depends on your cooking style, how often you use it and how well you care for it. If you cook acidic foods regularly or you clean it in the dishwasher, you expect to re-season frequently. 

How to test the performance after seasoning?

Add a little bit of oil into the wok, spread it around the cooking surface and crack an egg. If the wok is well seasoned, you can release the egg easily without sticking.

Final Thoughts

Seasoning is important to cast iron or carbon steel woks. It provides a naturally non-stick cooking surface and prevents the woks from rusting. Repeated usage of the wok can strengthen the seasoning and develop a beautiful patina. I believe that the article includes everything you need to know about seasoning. Go and do your seasoning.

Leave a Comment