If you’ve recently bought a wok and are learning how to cook with it, congratulations!
Woks are fun and unique ways to bring Asian cuisine into your home kitchen.
However, Woks also take a little more care than an average pot or pan.
If you are a new wok owner, how should you clean a wok to last longer?
Cleaning a Wok
Wok cleaning is essential for the longevity and health of your wok.
If you’ve seasoned your wok, you don’t want to undo that hard work by scrubbing with abrasive materials or using too much dish soap.
However, you also want to ensure that your wok is clean for your next recipe. Cleaning your wok is a different procedure, depending on the material of your wok.
The most common type of wok is carbon steel. However, cast iron or non-stick stainless steel woks need slightly different care.
This article will spend the most time on a carbon steel wok, but I’ll also talk about cleaning and caring for other kinds of Woks.
How to Clean a Carbon Steel Wok
Carbon steel woks are the most common kind of Wok. They are lighter and less expensive than cast iron and season very well.
Carbon steel Woks don’t have a non-stick coating, making them ideal for cooking traditional Chinese dishes like egg-fried rice.
However, carbon steel woks need to be seasoned. If they aren’t seasoned well, you won’t be able to cook with them successfully.
Cleaning a carbon steel wok is relatively easy, as long as you’re careful. You don’t want to scrape off the oil or seasoning; that’s what makes the wok fry and smoke foods correctly.
It’s best to clean a carbon steel wok right after using it. You don’t want chunks of food or grease to get stuck to the sides, making the washing process more difficult.
In most cases, you can clean your wok just by rinsing it off in hot water and wiping out the excess food and grease.
If there is stubborn food, you can soak the wok in hot water for anywhere from five minutes to an hour. Soaking it should loosen the stuck-on bits of food.
After it’s soaked, rinse the wok in hot water and wipe it gently with a rag or the soft side of a sponge. Don’t use anything rougher than cloth, or else the wok will lose seasoning.
You shouldn’t use soap unless there is stubborn grease that doesn’t come off.
If you do, use a light sponge and completely clean the wok. For most light foods, however, soapless is better.
Be gentle with your wok, and don’t scrub it too hard. Your only goal is to clean the excess food off the wok, not to scrub it of its oils.
If you end up using soap or scrubbing the wok too hard, put some vegetable oil in it and heat it to re-season it.
Make sure that the oil is completely soaked in before you put it away.
Otherwise, dry the wok by putting it back on the stove on light heat. This way, the water will evaporate naturally, and the wok will remain seasoned.
Once the water’s completely evaporated, you can put your clean wok back in the cupboard. It’s clean and ready for another delicious meal.
How to Clean Rust Spots off a Carbon Steel Wok
Rust spots can happen when you put your carbon steel wok away before it’s completely dried.
Sometimes they happen naturally anyway, but mostly it’s because of incomplete drying.
It’s relatively easy to clean rust spots off a wok. You’ll have to re-season the wok after you’re done, but it’s better for your health and the health of your wok.
To clean rust spots off of your wok, heat the wok with a few tablespoons of oil and some kosher salt. As it’s heating, swirl the oil mixture around in the pan.
Turn the heat off and let the wok cool down a bit. Use a pad of several paper towels to scrub the wok once it’s cool enough.
Scrub the wok until all the rust spots are gone. Then rinse with hot water and re-season it by heating oil in the pan.
Once it’s completely dry, put it away. You should have no more issues with rusty spots on the inside or outside of your wok!
How to Clean a Cast Iron Wok
A cast iron wok is the original Wok and has been used in Asian cooking for centuries. However, cast iron woks are less and less popular since the introduction of carbon steel.
Cast iron woks are heavier and harder to care for than carbon steel woks. They require seasoning and constant care, so they don’t burn the food or get damaged.
To clean your (seasoned) cast iron wok, you’ll need to rinse it with water. Only use soap if there are bits of food stuck to the pan that you can’t gently rub off.
You should mostly rinse or soak a cast iron wok. While you can rub it gently with a washcloth or a pad, you shouldn’t use sponges on cast iron.
If you use soap, you’ll have to heat dry the pan with a bit of oil in it to re-season what was washed away.
Cast iron woks are great for stir-fries and heavier dishes. As long as you care for them well, they will last for decades!
How to Clean a Stainless Steel Wok
A stainless steel wok is an interesting choice. Stainless steel woks are non-stick, so they are easier to clean and care for.
However, non-stick pans don’t work as well for some of the main dishes traditionally made in a wok, including fried rice and stir fry.
Non-stick pans will scorch the dishes and cause smoke alarms to go off.
Stainless steel pans don’t rust, however, and are perfect for steaming foods or making stews.
If you have a stainless steel wok—don’t get rid of it! It can be used for several meals.
To clean a stainless steel wok, wash it with dish soap and a light scrubber every time you use it.
Be careful not to scrub too hard or use metal utensils with the pan—the non-stick could scrape off.
Wipe your wok dry and put it away—there’s no need to dry it overheat because there are no oils in the metal to set in.
How to Properly Season a Wok
We’ve talked a lot about a well-seasoned wok and how when you use a sponge on your cast iron or carbon steel wok, you’ll need to re-season it.
However, we haven’t talked about the process of seasoning.
It works about the same for cast iron and carbon steel woks, although iron woks sometimes need a bit more time because they’re so thick and heavy.
Seasoning is a protective layer of oil that makes it easier to cook authentically with a wok.
Think of it as a natural non-stick layer—every time you cook with oil, it creates a thicker layer of oil protecting the pan.
Natural seasoning is better for woks than buying a non-stick frying pan.
They work better because a non-stick pan will have a lower flash point and a higher risk of scorching food.
Scorching can ruin the food for Asian dishes, particularly fried rice or anything with a wok hei flavoring.
Traditional Asian chefs never use a non-stick pan and have woks that are perfectly seasoned for their dishes.
How to Season a Wok
Seasoning a wok is a lengthy process—don’t expect your brand-new wok to be complete in one day.
It generally takes several months of cooking regularly with a wok to season it.
Once you buy a wok, you’ll need to remove the layer of oils from the factory and packaging.
Scrub your new wok all over with steel wool and dish soap, then rinse it in hot water.
When all the oils are off, dry the wok over low heat. Prepare your oil (generally vegetable oil) and whatever seasonings you decide.
Some people only use oil, but garlic and onions are common additions.
Once the wok is dry, keep the heat on and add your oil and seasonings. It’s common for oil to roll around the wok in little balls. Eventually, however, it will soak into the pan.
Reduce the heat and watch for a color change in the bottom of the pan. This is harder to tell on a cast-iron skillet, but in a carbon steel wok will look dark brown.
Cool the wok and rinse it in water, using a cloth or the soft side of a sponge to get the extra oil. Then dry it overheat again.
Every time you cook with the wok, you will add oil and further the seasoning process.
After a while, the wok will be perfectly suited for any kind of cooking, especially stir fry.
Now that you know how to care for and clean your Wok correctly, you can experiment with traditional Asian cuisine.
Make a classic stir-fry or chicken fried rice and try out your new cooking staple!
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