What Happens If You Don’t Season A Wok?

So you’ve bought yourself a fabulous new carbon steel or cast iron wok and just want to try it out as soon as possible. However, you have probably heard that these types of pans will need seasoning before you use them so may be wondering what happens if you don’t season a wok.

Seasoning a wok is important because it prevents rusting and makes it more non-stick. This is achieved by building up a carbon deposit on the cooking surface of the pan. Note that woks manufactured with a non-stick coating do not need to be seasoned.

This all sounds a bit complicated but it’s actually quite simple to season a wok and is one of the most important first steps in stir-fry cooking with a newly purchased traditional wok-type pan. 

In this post, I’m going to show you how to do it and what happens if you skip this vital process. Let’s get started.

Is It Ok To Not Season A Wok?

The short answer to this is no. It’s not ok to avoid seasoning a wok, and there are a few reasons why you need to do it straight away.

Firstly, if you don’t season a carbon steel or cast iron wok then it is more likely to rust. This is because these materials are prone to oxidization, which means they will rust when exposed to oxygen and moisture.

Seasoning a wok creates a barrier between the pan and oxygen in the air, which prevents rusting. It also helps to build up a patina (a thin layer of carbon) on the cooking surface of the wok. This patina not only looks good but also makes the wok more non-stick.

If you don’t season a wok then it will still work fine, but it won’t become non-stick and it is more likely to rust. Seasoning a wok is therefore an important step in caring for your pan and ensuring that it lasts for many years.

Which Woks Don’t Need Seasoning?

Woks manufactured with a non-stick coating do not need to be seasoned. This is because the non-stick coating provides a barrier between the pan and oxygen in the air, which prevents rusting.

The downside of this is that non-stick coatings can eventually start to wear away, especially if you use metal utensils on the cooking surface of the pan. This means that a non-stick wok will eventually need to be replaced, whereas a carbon steel or cast iron wok will last many years with proper care.

You can also buy woks which are ‘pre-seasoned’ so that you can use them straight away. The effectiveness of this technique varies between manufacturers but often you will soon need to season the pan again anyway.

How To Season A Wok

Typically a new wok will come with the manufacturer’s own instructions on how to season your shiny new pan, but as a guide, the usual process goes like this:

1. Wash the wok in hot, soapy water to remove any protective oils applied by the manufacturer for shipment. Make sure you dry it thoroughly afterward.

2. Place the wok over high heat on your stove and heat until it starts to smoke. Make sure to tilt and turn the wok as it heats so that the entire pan gets smoking hot. Turn down the heat to medium-low once the metal has turned a blueish-yellow color.

3. Add a tablespoon of cooking oil with a high smoke point to the pan (vegetable, canola or peanut oil is usually best, but not olive oil) and swirl it around so that it coats the entire cooking surface. You can also use a paper towel held in some tongs or a heat-proof brush to spread the oil evenly.

4. Heat the wok over medium-low heat until the oil starts to smoke. Again, make sure to move the pan around to heat up all parts of the wok.

5. Remove the pan from the heat and wipe it around with a clean paper towel. You will find some black residue comes off the first time you do this.

6. Repeat steps 3 through 5 until you no longer get any black residue on the paper towel, usually 3 or 4 times. Your wok is now ready for use!

The process is the same for both carbon steel, light cast iron, and heavy cast iron woks.

How Long Does It Take To Season A Wok?

It usually takes around 30 minutes to season a wok, although this will depend on how hot you get the pan, how much oil you use, and how many times you have to repeat the process. 

The most important thing is to make sure that you heat up the entire wok so that all parts are evenly seasoned.

The time taken will help to prolong the life of your pan and keep it performing at its best, so it’s well worth it in my opinion.

Do You Have To Season A Wok Every Time You Use It?

You don’t have to season your wok every time you use it as repeated use builds up more seasoning. But you need to dry it well and rub it with oil, especially if not using it regularly.

However, if you find that the pan is starting to stick or you see bare metal, then it’s a good idea to season it again before cooking. This will help to maintain the non-stick surface and keep your food from burning.

It’s also a good idea to season your wok after cooking with acidic ingredients such as tomatoes or vinegar, as these can break down the seasoning on the pan and make it more likely to stick the next time you use it.

Even though you don’t need to re-season a wok whenever you make a stir-fry, it’s still important to look after it so it doesn’t rust and season it when needed. Seasoning a wok is an important part of caring for your pan, and now you know how to do it quickly and easily it will not be too much of a chore.

Can A Rusty Wok Be Saved?

If your wok has started to rust then it’s not the end of the world, and there are a few things you can do to try and salvage it. The most important thing is to remove the rust as soon as possible, as this will help to prevent it from spreading and causing further damage.

As long as rust has not eaten through the wok then it can definitely be saved.

The process involves completely scrubbing the wok of any previous patina, grease, and rust both inside and underneath. The wok will then need to be seasoned properly again using the method I described above and it will soon be ready to use once again.

For full details on how to restore a wok that has been neglected, follow this useful video below that takes you through the whole procedure.

Conclusion

Seasoning a wok is an important step in caring for your new pan, and it’s something that you should do when you first buy it and regularly throughout its life. Not only will this help to stop it from going rusty, but will also keep it performing at its best so that your food doesn’t stick.

I really hope my guide has helped to show you how easy it is to season a wok, and what happens if you don’t season it. Now you have the confidence to do it yourself.

Tom Hambly

Hey, I'm Tom. I set up Boss The Kitchen to start answering the thousands of questions people have while cooking. For me, the kitchen is my happy place and I hope to help other people with the knowledge I've gained along the way. More about me.

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