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Hard Wok Pays Off

By BadDoggie in Culture
Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 10:31:03 AM EST
Tags: You Know... (all tags)
You Know...

Of all the cookware used throughout the world, few implements are more readily identifiable than the wok. The simple form belies the multitude of uses in preparing food. But a traditional Chinese steel wok can't just be used straight out of the box or hammering room; it must first be prepared. Rather than teach Chinese cooking or list recipes, this article will give some basic background of the wok, the types that exist and the method to prepare one for use.

Why a wok?
Of the four most basic methods of cooking -- immersion in liquid (boiling, stewing), immersion in oil (frying, sautéing), cooking in vapour (steaming) and dry heat (baking, broiling, roasting) -- the wok is used for all but the last. The reason for this, as well as the cooking methods, can be found in the geography and history of the wok's origins.

In China, fuel was, and remains, relatively scarce. As in all regional styles of cooking, food is prepared based on the available ingredients and limited to the available methods of cooking. Fuel is an important consideration.

Europe's trees and peat provided ample fuel to heat food for long periods, something required both in baking and in deep frying. Because the technology needed to make metal cookware was also common there, it is from Europe these cooking methods come. In less developed lands, food was cooked directly in or next to a fire or was cooked on rocks heated in a fire. Some cultures created an earth oven using a dug-out pit and rocks. This, however, still required considerable fuel.

The trick in fuel efficiency, as in aerodynamic, is the shape. The wok's form allows a large surface area to heat quickly and efficiently. As the heat spreads out from the bottom and rises, the sloped sides of the wok catch it, unlike the vertical sides of western pots.

Together with a rounded shovel-like implement, ingredients can be moved around quickly to ensure all are cooked. The gently sloping shape also allows food to be pushed aside and remain hot while the accompanying sauce is made in the middle, where the heat from a dying fire is still strong. Bear in mind that the fire was rarely made with more than a handful of sticks and some dry grass. A PBS documentary on China happened to show peasants cooking an entire sea bass in a wok with a fire built from five or six small sticks.

The form also allows one to lay a couple of sticks across the inside of the wok to support food to be steamed, usually vegetables or fish. Steaming is more efficient than boiling, and heating water to boiling takes a relatively large amount of fuel. Steaming requires only a small amount of water to be heated.

Another factor in Chinese cooking methods was that the idea of bringing a knife to the table, unlike in Europe, was considered unthinkable. This came, in part, from the practical idea that one is never certain of guests' motives. Additionally, some Buddhist concepts of harmony played a part in determining dishes' aesthetics, flavours and form. Therefore, all cutting was done in the kitchen and all food prepared in bite-sized pieces. This remains the hallmark of Oriental food and is the reason it can be eaten with a simple pair of chopsticks and, occasionally, a spoon.

Which wok?
In the West, there are a few basic wok forms which can be found. The traditional, round-bottomed, hammered steel or iron wok is the best. There are two variants: the shallow 36cm (14") in diameter and 9cm (3.5") high used for general cooking, and a deeper version with the same diameter but about 12cm (4.5") deep, used mainly for steaming, frying and soups. While the traditional form has two steel "loop" handles, the former may have a long wooden handle with or without an opposing steel handle.

Similar to this is the flat-bottomed wok, which accommodates flat stovetops better. However, most woks come with fire rings to cradle a curved wok above the burner so the flat base shouldn't be necessary. A flattened bottom causes heat to concentrate on the bottom and creates an area the shovel and scoops can't reach.

Modern production allows easy casting and stamping, but neither the cast aluminium nor stamped stainless steel have the heat retention and distribution properties of the hammered mild steel used for traditional woks.

Also to be found in department stores are stovetop and electric woks with Teflon and other non-stick coatings. Seasoning a steel wok correctly, however, will give a finish which is not only non-stick but is also not susceptible to scratching.

It's not just the Chinese who use woks, though; they're used throughout southeast Asia. The wok made its way to India, too. The traditional Indian iron wok is called a Kadhai, on average about 13" (33cm) wide and 3 inches (8cm) deep and considerably thicker and heavier than the Chinese wok. This article doesn't cover seasoning cast iron, which is ´seasoned differently according to the iron's finish.

What do I do?
First, check to see if you have a gas stove. If not, get one. Gas stoves provide the most heat and are the most controllable heat sources. Next best is an electric stove, either the coil or plate type. With this you will need to use the fire ring. Woks don't work so well on ceramic or induction stovetops. The flat-bottomed version of the traditional wok will function better on these.

Using the fire ring limits the amount of heat received by the upper areas of the wok and are some hindrance. Seasoning a wok requires a lot of heat for a minimum of 20-30 minutes. It's difficult to hold the sides of a flat-bottomed wok over the heat for any length of time. Finally, most gas camping stoves can't provide enough heat. The flame itself is usually smaller than a normal cooktop and propane burns cooler than natural gas. You need around 4,500BTU of heat for this to work well.

You also need very good ventilation; smaller stovetop vents don't pull a sufficient amount of air to clear all the smoke generated, and this process creates creates a lot of heat and smoke.

The first thing you should do with a new wok is use heavy-duty cleaner to remove the machine oil used both in production and as protection against rust. You can use a scouring pad, but fine steel wool pads aren't going to hurt it. After it's clean, use standard dish soap with a sponge or brush to clean up anything left, like saponified oil and steel wool remains. Do this twice.

When you're done, the wok should be shiny and have that smell of raw steel. Do not let water drops sit on this! Wipe it down with dry paper towels immediately, inside and out.

When you're ready to begin (do it within a few hours or the wok will start to rust), put the wok on the stove at the highest possible heat. For smaller stoves, use the dome cover to help keep the heat in. The metal should start to darken within five minutes on a gas stove and eight on electric. It could take twice as long, depending on the heat output of your stove.

Once the steel starts turning, slowly move the wok radially so that the rim approaches the heat. Don't go faster than the the speed in which the area which has just been exposed to the heat turns colour. When the rim is over the heat, shift along the rim and then continue slowly until the center is back over the heat. Do this steadily until the entire wok has turned. This is the point you start with the oil.

Fold some paper toweling or cloth into a tight wad. Pour a quarter teaspoon of peanut oil on the towel and smear it across the surface. While the heat is still on full, rub the towel around the wok, covering the entire surface quickly and smoothly and rubbing the oil into the steel as if polishing a car. You only want the thinnest possible coating of oil, which, if you're doing this correctly, should start smoking immediately. It will not flame, but it will get very smoky.

If the oil starts pooling or beading, use the towel to soak it back up quickly. Don't let any liquid sit in the pan. You will end up with a gummy residue that is extremely difficult to remove from any surface.

When the smoke has stopped, see if the colour is smooth. If you have lines and dots from oil running down the sides or beading, you didn't clean off all the machine oil or the wok wasn't hot enough. You now have a date with some steel wool. Remove the wok from the heat, douse it with cold water and get scrubbing. Start again.

If the wok's colouring is more or less even, you're in good shape. Slowly move the wok through the heat again so that all parts of the wok are exposed to the intense heat. Then it's time for the oil again. If you like, you can grind a couple turns of pepper into the wok as you run the towel through for what some consider extra flavour, quality and hardness. However, it's not necessary and the resulting smoke is something you don't want to inhale.

You don't need to let the wok cool between oil wipes. Just make sure the thinnest possible film of oil is in there and let the wok "burn" for a few minutes before the next application. Repeat three to five times. Afterwards, turn off the heat and let the wok cool.

Once the wok is cool, look at the inside surface. It should be a deep brown or black and have a look somewhere between wet and dry. If the wok looks completely dry (flat, matte), repeat the process with one or two more oil rubbings. If it looks wet, you probably oiled it after it was cooling. This is bad idea because the oil will go rancid. Heat it up again.

As you cook with your wok, you'll build up a carbon layer which is an excellent non-stick coating. When washing the wok, wash immediately after serving -- don't let food or sauces sit and dry in it and never soak it. Use a soft dish brush, water and, if absolutely necessary, a few drops of dish soap. After cleaning, don't air-dry the wok; put it back on the flame until it's completely dry.

Another method is to use the oven to heat the wok. Obviously, this won't work with wooden handled woks. This method is OK if you can't get the heat from your stove. After cleaning and drying the wok, you "polish" it with oil on a towel and put it in the oven at the highest setting for twenty to thirty minutes. You have to be much more careful about the oil when using the oven method. Since you won't be standing over the wok the entire time, you won't be able to see if the oil is pooling, cooking out and becoming that awful gum.

Obviously, you don't want to season a Teflon-coated wok -- you'll damage the Teflon. It's also not recommended for aluminium, since the metal reacts differently, doesn't change colour as steel does and doesn't easily take a carbon layer. Stainless steel, although the colour may change, also doesn't take a carbon layer well. Due to the composition of the metal, attempting to season stainless steel may destroy the finish already there. In any case, the hammered mild steel wok is the best selection, and most Asian shops offer true hammered woks in the U.S. and Europe for less than $50/€50.

Once your wok is seasoned, you have a cooking tool which should last the rest of your life. You should be able to cook any Chinese recipe and even many western ones. Cooking with a wok offers a bonus in that food no longer has to be removed from the pan before deglazing and making the sauce.


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Favourite cookware
o Pot/Pan 18%
o Griddle 10%
o Wok 22%
o Kettle/Cauldron 6%
o Skewer/Spit 2%
o Grill 14%
o Fire and a stick 16%
o Eat it raw! 10%

Votes: 49
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Hard Wok Pays Off | 92 comments (48 topical, 44 editorial, 0 hidden)
Interesting (5.00 / 3) (#3)
by Pihkal on Sun Jun 08, 2003 at 03:23:14 PM EST

I never knew you could (or had to) do this. Does it only apply to steel? What woks should you not treat this way? (I assume the teflon ones you should leave alone.) How nonsticky is the resulting layer, and can I do this to other pots and pans? I'm just wondering if it would be possible to create pseudo-teflon layers on the rest of my kitchenware.

"I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered!"
-- Number 6
Good point (5.00 / 2) (#5)
by BadDoggie on Sun Jun 08, 2003 at 03:38:01 PM EST

I added a paragraph (second to last) to cover this. Thanks.


"You're more screwed up than turmeric and you're not even drunk!" — A Proud
Parent ]

As long as you're there... (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by Cyrius on Sun Jun 08, 2003 at 04:54:12 PM EST

You might as well mention that you must perform the seasoning process on cast-iron as well, and not just steel.

[ Parent ]
Do you think? (4.50 / 2) (#18)
by BadDoggie on Sun Jun 08, 2003 at 05:28:19 PM EST

This is about seasoning Chinese woks; AFAIK only Indian woks are cast iron, and they are seasoned/prepared differently. After all, cast iron isn't going to change color, it's a lot thicker and requires a lot more heat for a lot longer time.


"You're more screwed up than turmeric and you're not even drunk!" — A Proud
Parent ]

Cast iron (5.00 / 1) (#22)
by Cyrius on Sun Jun 08, 2003 at 06:26:53 PM EST

This is about seasoning Chinese woks; AFAIK only Indian woks are cast iron, and they are seasoned/prepared differently.

I suggested it because of the earlier general cookware question, and the fact that the directions are essentially the same as for cast-iron cookware of North American origin.

After all, cast iron isn't going to change color, it's a lot thicker and requires a lot more heat for a lot longer time.

Cast iron does change color, it's just not as dramatic, and much of the cast iron you can buy is pre-seasoned.

[ Parent ]
Pre-seasoned! Ack! (4.00 / 1) (#55)
by duffbeer703 on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 10:18:31 AM EST

The ONLY cast iron cookware that you should buy is unseasoned from Lodge Manufacturing of South Pittsburgh, Tennessee.

Most everything else on the US market today is of Chinese origin and questionable quality.


[ Parent ]

hmm. (none / 0) (#58)
by waxmop on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 12:20:18 PM EST

Lodge has jumped on the pre-seasoned bandwagon themselves. I saw some for sale the last time I was in Sur La Table.
We are a monoculture of horsecock. Liar
[ Parent ]

You might as well mention cast iron woks... (none / 0) (#35)
by rmg on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 12:55:21 AM EST

since you already mention Indian ones. You could just say that cast iron woks require a slightly different process that you aren't going to cover. You could even make a link to somewhere that describes it if you're feeling ambitious.

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks
[ Parent ]

Cast-iron (4.00 / 1) (#24)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Sun Jun 08, 2003 at 06:44:42 PM EST

This is also (kind of) how you do it with cast iron cookware. You would probably know if you owned some cast iron or not. The cast iron process seems easier, you basically wash it clean, cover it in oil and bake it for a while. You can't really do this with cookware that has an artificial non-stick surface.

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
Informative Article (3.66 / 3) (#23)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Sun Jun 08, 2003 at 06:38:11 PM EST

This article interested me, although it didn't have the exact desired effect. I am not heading out to purchase a wok, but rest assured that I am getting some Chinese take-out. Probably General Gao's chicken, although I might opt for some pork lo mein. Can I make General Gao's in a wok? Seems like the sauce is the most important part.

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
General Tso's Chicken (AKA General Gau's Chicken) (5.00 / 7) (#59)
by sjbrodwall on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 12:48:56 PM EST

You most definitely can make this recipe in a wok. I've adapted the recipe for General Tso's Chicken from Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's "The Chinese Kitchen", and it's one of the best renditions of this dish I've ever had. I highly recommend the book if you're into authentic Chinese cookery. Buying that book and my wok were some of the smartest culinary decisions I've made.

General Tso's Chicken


1 egg, beaten
1/4 t salt
1/8 t freshly ground white pepper
2 T cornstarch
1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2" cubes

1 T sesame oil
3 T kecap manis (black sweet soy sauce)
1 t minced garlic
1 T minced ginger
2 T hoisin sauce
1 T Chinese white rice vinegar
1/2 T Shao Hsing or dry sherry

2 L peanut oil, for frying
8 small dried hot chili peppers
1/4 C finely sliced scallion


  1. Add the peanut oil to a wok and cover. Heat on high and cover, allowing the temperature of the oil to rise to 350º Fahrenheit.
  2. While the oil is heating, combine the egg, salt, white pepper, and 2 T cornstarch in a bowl; stir in the cubed chicken and mix to coat. Allow to rest for at least 15 minutes.
  3. Pour 1 T sesame oil into a small bowl, thoroughly coating the bowl of the measuring spoon (this makes measuring the kecap manis and hoisin sauce easier). Combine the kecap manis, garlic, ginger, hoisin sauce, vinegar, and shao hsing in a small bowl and set aside.
  4. Use two forks or tongs to remove the chicken from the batter, placing the pieces on a plate. Use a sieve or flour sifter to dust cornstarch over the chicken cubes. The tops of the cubes should be coated thoroughly with cornstarch.
  5. Again using the two forks or tongs, pick up each cube of chicken individually, dip the underside into the cornstarch on the plate so the chicken is thoroughly coated, then place carefully into the oil. Deep fry the chicken for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, or until it is lightly browned and crisp. Turn off the heat, remove the chicken from the oil and let rest on paper towels or in a large Chinese strainer to drain.
  6. Pour the oil from the wok into a heat-resistant bowl. Use paper towels to remove the cornstarch residue from the wok. Return 1 1/2 T peanut oil to the wok.
  7. Place the wok over high heat. When a wisp of white smoke appears, add the chili peppers to the wok, stirring for 15 seconds (You can fry the chilis longer if you like your food especially spicy. Be warned, however, frying chilis fills the room with pepper gas, so be sure you have the oven fan on high while you do this.). Add the scallion and stir for 30 seconds. Add the chicken and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Stir the sauce mixture, pour into wok, and stir well, coating the chicken with the sauce. Cook, stirring, for about another 2 minutes, or until sauce has thickened slightly and chicken is thoroughly coated. Remove the wok from the heat and serve.

[ Parent ]
thanks! (none / 0) (#85)
by horny smurf on Wed Jun 11, 2003 at 09:04:46 PM EST

Made a tasty supper!

[ Parent ]

Cast iron woks? (5.00 / 2) (#31)
by lakeland on Sun Jun 08, 2003 at 11:26:08 PM EST

Here in NZ you can also get cast iron woks.  Do you know anything about them? All my other cookware is cast iron so they appealed to me, but I am worried about them not providing the quick cooling that steel gives.

Also, I notice you said you can use soap to clean the wok.  I've always treated my wok like the rest of my pans and avoided any soap for fear of mucking up the seasoning.  Then again, my wok has developed a slightly sticky layer rather than the nice carbon one, so maybe I should have used soap ;-)

Cast iron not suited for woks (5.00 / 2) (#79)
by Eric Green on Tue Jun 10, 2003 at 01:54:51 PM EST

The problem is that cast iron doesn't let you regulate the heat. The deal with a spun steel wok is that you can regulate how much heat a piece of veggy gets by moving it up or down the side of the wok (another reason I detest flat-bottomed woks). Furthermore, cast iron holds heat, and doesn't allow you to get as hot as spun steel (it'll crack if you put too much heat to it). A lot of the goodness of wok cooking is that you can sear your veggies at very high heats in order to keep the flavor sealed in.
You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...
[ Parent ]
Excellent article (5.00 / 3) (#37)
by Ta bu shi da yu on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 01:47:15 AM EST

This will have to be one of my favourite food stories on Kuro5hin so far.

My others so far are:

My Perfect Steak by djscottj

Liquor Guide by nosilA

Death  By Cheeseburger by CheeseburgerBrown

And Now For Something Completely Different - Mead! by jd

There was an absolutely brilliant one on brewing coffee, but I can't seem to find that one.

Yours humbly,
Ta bù shì dà yú

AdTIה"the think tank that didn't".

Coffee (5.00 / 2) (#84)
by ntr0py on Wed Jun 11, 2003 at 01:31:44 PM EST

This one?

[ Parent ]
Woohoo! (none / 0) (#92)
by Ta bu shi da yu on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 05:18:34 AM EST

Thank you!

AdTIה"the think tank that didn't".
[ Parent ]
Too much work on the wok for me (nt) (2.00 / 1) (#51)
by mami on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 09:05:21 AM EST

steaming vs. boiling (2.50 / 2) (#53)
by fhotg on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 09:23:59 AM EST

Steaming is more efficient than boiling, and heating water to boiling takes a relatively large amount of fuel.

To get steam, you need to get water boiling and keep it boiling. So how can steaming be more fuel efficient ?

Amounts of water? (5.00 / 3) (#56)
by craigtubby on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 10:58:23 AM EST

But, the amount of water you need to create the steam is a lot less than the amount of water you need to boil something in.

try to make ends meet, you're a slave to money, then you die.

* Webpage *
[ Parent ]

Seasoning a wok is not rocket science (4.60 / 5) (#57)
by waxmop on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 12:13:52 PM EST

First off, I hope a lot of amateur chefs try wok-cooking out. It's easy and fun, and you can make some delicious meals quickly.

That said, an entire article devoted to proper wok maintenance seems to be a little overkill. I'm worried people are going to fret about mastering how to season the wok perfectly, rather than focusing on the much tastier part: cooking with it. Furthermore, obsessing so much over proper seasoning methodology might prompt some consumers to buy a teflon-coated wok just to avoid the hassle, which would be an awful shame, because teflon-coated pans in general are a terribly inferior substitute.

A good wok isn't fragile like a ceramic teacup. It's the eastern equivalent of the dutch oven, or a cast-iron skillet; it's not meant to be beautiful. It's meant to be utilitarian. An ugly blackened wok is a well-used wok. Americans are so germ-phobic and accustomed to teflon-coated cookware that the idea of not using soap on a dish, or even putting it away when it looks "dirty" seems a little repugnant, but the aversion fades after a while.

Seasoning is a very simple idea, really: the wok isn't rust-proof, and so you want to coat it with the minimum amount of oil necessary to block out moisture in the air. When I got my carbon-steel Joyce Chen wok, I scrubbed it down, then heated it up, and spread around oil with a folded-up paper towel. The oil should be evenly spread out. You don't want so much oil that it accumulates in the bottom. If you've ever used a cast-iron skillet, it's the same principle.

If you screw it up, it's no big deal. You'll see powdery orange-red rust form on your wok within a few hours. Scrub it off, then try again. You oughtta get the hang of it after a few tries.

I hope we get another article soon that lists some tasty wok recipes. In the meantime, the Joy of Cooking has some good ones.
We are a monoculture of horsecock. Liar

Au contraire (5.00 / 1) (#61)
by BadDoggie on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 01:14:42 PM EST

You don't get that proper, non-stick black coating without seasoning the wok properly. By seasoning it, you have wok which needs basically no care forever. unlike stainless steel, however, the coating is more susceptible to damage from water and misuse. The article was written to explain how to do this.

It's a one-time thing. If you season a wok properly take a few basic steps to care for it (never soak, wash immediately, dry over flame), you should never have to do it again.

The wok should be blackened, and with this article, I attempted to explain how to do it. You'd be amazed how many people think it should stay shiny and scrub it to the steel after each use, and again before each use to remove the rust.

It's not the recipes that are as important as the techniques, and I don't think I can explain it in words (or maybe I just don't have to patience to try). The majority of Chinese recipes use fewer than 12 ingredients out of a pool of less than 30. The tricks are the preparation and techniques.


"You're more screwed up than turmeric and you're not even drunk!" — A Proud
Parent ]

No, its wok-it science [n/t] (5.00 / 5) (#65)
by Pop Top on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 04:58:32 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Don't feel the same way at all (none / 0) (#70)
by LairBob on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 10:34:38 PM EST

Everything in life doesn't have to be complicated, but there's a side of me that does relish understanding the thorough details of how something gets done well. Sometimes, I take up those avocations myself, and more often, I'm just left with a sense of satisfaction and learning. I wouldn't begrudge anyone here the effort to write a comprehensive article on wok-seasoning, goat-head stew preparation, or anything else that exposes me to the details of a topic that's completely foreign to me. (Plus, you get great hints from the comments like cleaning with salt, which I now remember someone mentioning to me a long time ago, but had totally forgotten.)

[ Parent ]
Never thought I'd see a BadDoggie.. (5.00 / 1) (#62)
by Kwil on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 02:04:04 PM EST

..telling people how to get a Wok ready for use.

Seems a bit on the suicidal side to me.

That Jesus Christ guy is getting some terrible lag... it took him 3 days to respawn! -NJ CoolBreeze

Woks Are Wonderful (5.00 / 1) (#63)
by 0xA on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 02:09:14 PM EST

I can't think of a single thing in my kitchen I love to use more than my wok.

I have a couple different ones but the one I go back to is the one I got at Ikea for $12.95. It's a simple carbon steel afair with wooden handles and a flat bottom. I think it's the weight of it I like, it's just the right balance between heavy and easy to fling stuff around in. Because of the weight or maybe the steel it's made of it heats very evenly for a flat bottom, it's also more difficult to get yourself in the face with a bunch of hot oil and veggies. That you only do once, trust me.

You can find a lot of different advice on seasoning around, BadDoggie explains it well. The only thing I'd change is using safflower oil rather than peanut oil. I found it was too easy to get the gummy residue he talks about with peanut oil. Another thing you can try is pork fat, this is the traditional method. I diced up a couple pounds of bacon and fried it up a little bit at a time, making sure to spread the grease around. This is a smoky, dirty method to be sure but it results in an amazing finish. Just DON'T eat the bacon, it make you sick as a dog.

For a good book that covers techniqe, ingedients and has great recipes I'd suggest Ken Hom's Quick Wok (ISBN 0-7472-2223-1) The stir fried prawns with chives recipe is a must try.

sick? (none / 0) (#69)
by Suppafly on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 09:33:55 PM EST

why does fried bacon make you sick as a dog?
Playstation Sucks.
[ Parent ]
fried bacon (none / 0) (#72)
by skelter on Tue Jun 10, 2003 at 03:19:43 AM EST

not fried bacon in general...just fried bacon prepared on a wok.

[ Parent ]
The Steel (5.00 / 1) (#80)
by 0xA on Tue Jun 10, 2003 at 04:39:56 PM EST

It has something to do with the steel leeching out nasties unless it is seasoned. The seasoning process seals the pores in the steel with carbon. I'm not sure of the deatils exactly, I'm not even really sure it is true but I've heard it said a lot.

I figured better I repeat something incorrect than not say it and have somebody get sick.

[ Parent ]

Alternate cleaning method (4.88 / 9) (#64)
by BlaisePascal on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 04:35:05 PM EST

One thing I do differently than described here is that I scrupulously don't use water -- and never soap and water -- to clean my seasoned pans, including woks.  Instead, I use a trick I learned from my father.  If there's one thing I want to inherit from my father , it's his wok.

The trick I learned from him is salt.  It's a nice, mild abrasive, safe for use with food, and cheap to boot.  After cooking and the wok is empty (and usually still hot) I put in a small handful of salt and lightly scrub it with a folded dry paper towel until it feels smooth -- no crusty-bit sticking anywhere.  I might add a little oil if necessary, or just use the oil remaining in the pan from the cooking I just did.  It gets rubbed into the surface as I scour.

The salt and paper towel also absorbs any residual moisture, keeping the wok dry and rust-free.  It also encapsulates the grody bits, making them not stick anymore.  When I'm done, I brush the dirty salt out into the trash, and hang the (still-warm) wok back on the wall.

I do the same with my cast-iron as well.

If you don't have a gas stove no problem. (5.00 / 1) (#66)
by Godless Wonder on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 05:54:51 PM EST

Gas is really the best, but if you don't have a gas stove, you can get a little propane burner like you'd use for camping (such as this one) at any outdoor sporting goods store for about $10, and it works great.

Of course it does say "Not for indoor use" so maybe this isn't the smartest idea in the world. (Hmmm, my hair seems to be on fire... that can't be good.)

THIS (3.50 / 2) (#67)
by Kasreyn on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 06:59:43 PM EST

Is why I love k5 so goddam much. Weird, eclectic articles on crazy shit I'd never be able to figure where to go to learn. Saves me a lot of internet dredging, because on k5 all the weird knowledge I want comes right to my doorstep.

Rusty, you have permission to quote that as an ad, if you gimme a cut. =P


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
Please (1.80 / 5) (#68)
by MMcP on Mon Jun 09, 2003 at 07:59:04 PM EST

I doubt the coincidence of this story, most of is seems like it is verbatim from "The modern art of Chinese Cooking" by Barbara Tropp.  I hate to see so much of her book in this article, uncredited.  If the author has a response to this, I would be glad to hear it, otherwise I see this as a borderline plagiarism case.  

Original work (4.00 / 4) (#71)
by BadDoggie on Tue Jun 10, 2003 at 01:01:53 AM EST

Who the hell is "Barbara Tropp" and who the hell do you think you are accusing me of plagiarism without showing anything to back up your claim? SCO?

I've been cooking Chinese for about 25 years, I don't live in the U.S. and haven't for a few years now. I don't have any Chinese cookbooks -- not even one from Joyce Chen.

BAD TROLL! NO COOKIE! A look at your comments turned up no surprises. Go back under your bridge.


"You're more screwed up than turmeric and you're not even drunk!" — A Proud
Parent ]

hmm... (none / 0) (#89)
by ceejayoz on Fri Jun 13, 2003 at 05:04:32 PM EST

He might be a troll, but a quick Google would reveal that Barbara Tropp is indeed the author of a Chinese cookbook.

Having never read it, I dunno if the plagarism claim is true.

[ Parent ]

Advantage over teflon? (5.00 / 1) (#73)
by manekineko on Tue Jun 10, 2003 at 05:02:42 AM EST

So one question that I come away from this whole article and discussion with is why would I want to do this? Seems to me like the net result of this whole exercise is a wok that isn't quite as non-stick as teflon, and is a helluva lot harder to maintain and care for. Besides tradition, what are the actual objective improvements of this over an easy to use modern wok?

same as for cast-iron griddle pans (none / 0) (#74)
by werner on Tue Jun 10, 2003 at 08:12:57 AM EST

the pan gets a bit of flavour of its own after a while.

course, it's an utter pain in the arse to look after. i got rid of my cast-iron griddle years ago for a teflon one, and i'm looking for a decent teflon wok to replace the authentic plain steel one which i have let rust to death.

[ Parent ]

I can't stand teflon (4.00 / 1) (#75)
by nowan on Tue Jun 10, 2003 at 09:26:46 AM EST

Teflon is fragile as hell and teflon pans generally don't hold heat worth a damn. I've never done much wok cooking, but cast iron is far superior to teflon, just in terms of handling properties.

And once you've seasoned it, it's not really much work to maintain it. Just don't let it sit long with liquid, or drip dry.

[ Parent ]

You'll never see teflon in a restaurant's kitchen. (4.33 / 3) (#76)
by waxmop on Tue Jun 10, 2003 at 09:36:30 AM EST

Teflon is great for home use, but you'll never see serious chefs in a restaurant using it. It doesn't heat up as evenly and the teflon inevitably flakes off after heavy use.
We are a monoculture of horsecock. Liar
[ Parent ]

Harder surface (5.00 / 4) (#77)
by BlaisePascal on Tue Jun 10, 2003 at 11:07:24 AM EST

Teflon is a soft, waxy material that doesn't stick to anything very well.  Several layers of teflon and adhesive have to be applied to make it stick to a pan, and even an accidental use of a utensil made of a harder-than-teflon material (like, say, any metal) will scratch the pan, causing an irreparable deterioration of it's non-stickiness.  It can even cause the teflon to unstick itself from the pan and come up in pieces.

While teflon is heat-tolerant, it doesn't conduct heat very well.  Stir-frying is best done at high temperatures so everything cooks quickly and evenly without too much loss of flavor or texture.  Everything you add to the pan cools the pan down, so high heat is used to restore the pan to working temperature as quickly as possible.  This doesn't work as well with teflon-coated pans.

The seasoned surface, on the otherhand, is an oil-and-carbon impregnated porous steel/iron surface, which is smooth and slick because the burning oils fill all the gaps and smooth it out, and because oil and carbon are natural lubicants.  The surface coating is thin, and oil conducts heat well (compared to teflon).

The surface is also self-healing during cooking.  If a scratch forms, cooking oil enters the scratch and bonds with the surface around it, especially once the oil starts to burn when it contacts the hot steel.  So continual use only enhances the surface, not deteriorates it.

I do not know if the surface is naturally hard, but even if it isn't, the self-healing feature combined with its hardness and smoothness means you can use any utensil, metal or otherwise, directly in the wok without worrying about destroying the finish.

The traditional implement is a large, flat metal spatula/"shovel" whos front edge is rounded to match the curve of the wok.  But the surface allows you to grab just about anything that seems immeduately useful -- wire wisks for mixing sauces, forks for tasting, wire baskets for deep-frying, etc.  At the high temperatures, it's useful to use metal implements.  Wood chars, most plastics melt.  It's very useful to have a metal-safe surface.

[ Parent ]

It lasts longer (5.00 / 1) (#78)
by Eric Green on Tue Jun 10, 2003 at 01:48:56 PM EST

and you can heat it to higher temperatures without ruining the coating. Teflon wears out, and if you overheat teflon, you get a) a toxic smoke, and b) ruined teflon coating.

That said, I cannot seem to find the traditional round-bottomed wock anywhere in my area. I've tried a couple of the oriental groceries, and all they have is the flat-bottomed wocks. Sigh.
You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...
[ Parent ]

You can't build flavor against teflon (5.00 / 1) (#81)
by LairBob on Tue Jun 10, 2003 at 05:00:39 PM EST

First of all, just as a basic issue, try browning anything other than eggs in a Teflon pan, versus a well-maintained stainless steel pan or a well-seasoned cast iron wok/skillet. It's almost impossible, because the caremelization that creates browning only happens when the food has a chance to start basically searing itself against the cooking surface--when you're sauteing or browning anything, you're really going back and forth between letting the food sit in one place till it sticks for a little while and starts to brown, then breaking that seal and moving it around a bit, letting it stick for a little bit, then moving it again. The functional definition of a well-maintained pan, with any surface, is its ability to let you do this just right--teflon sucks. It just lets everything slide around, and nothing ever sears or browns well.

Browning is just the first part of the equation, though--most really good Western/European style cooking (and to my understanding, Asian cooking, as well) relies on exploiting the brown bits that end up seared against the cooking surface when you saute. In snotty French cooking, this is called the fond, but anyone who knows how to cook a hearty, tasty meal knows this as the incredibly flavorful layer of brown that's left at the bottom of your pan. Depending on what you're cooking, you can do a lot of things with that--you can just cook it into the next ingredient you use the pan for, or you can use a liquid to bring it off up the pan surface and make a sauce. Whatever you use it for, it's a key element of almost any dish that you've relished, and you'll never create it using Teflon.

[ Parent ]
Chemical (none / 0) (#87)
by Cackmobile on Fri Jun 13, 2003 at 08:10:50 AM EST

Also teflon is not safe. DuPont (i think) recently admitted its dodgy at high temps. The wok coating is all natural.

[ Parent ]
Origin of the word wok? (5.00 / 1) (#82)
by hengist on Tue Jun 10, 2003 at 10:12:55 PM EST

Can anyone tell me the origin of the word wok? My wife, who is a Mandarin speaking Chinese, calls it something completely different, and had never even heard the word before I mentioned it to her a while ago.

Good article, though. Most informative!

There can be no Pax Americana

According to Dictionary.com.... (5.00 / 1) (#83)
by BlaisePascal on Wed Jun 11, 2003 at 10:44:02 AM EST

According to www.dictionary.com it's cantonese, equivalent to the Mandarin hu or hou (both with some sort of accent character over to u, on the web-site).  That entry is given a citation of the American Heritage Dictionary of the Enlgish Language, 4th edition.

[ Parent ]
Mandarin (5.00 / 1) (#86)
by kongjie on Thu Jun 12, 2003 at 09:28:10 AM EST

I always used to call a wok "guo1" in Mandarin, the numeral one standing for the first or level tone; a "guo" is a type of pan; I suppose technically the other reply might be right, as "hu2" is a cooking vessel as well.

There are a number of specialized terms for cooking vessels in Chinese, as there are in the west; in all likelihood, the word your wife uses and the Cantonese word "wok" are the same Chinese character/graph pronounced differently, the same as common words like "cat" and "dog" and "house" are pronounced differently but written the same.

When you ask for the "origin" of a Chinese word, you're usually asking a completely different question than asking the origin of a word in English. Looking at many English words, it is immediately apparent to those with Latin, Greek and romance language backgrounds where the word's root comes from; in Chinese, it's often easy to say where a recently-coined word like "coffee" comes from, or "marathon," because they sound like the western versions of those words and are sound borrowings.

But older words are much more difficult to trace. You can't look at the "spelling" like you can in romance languages; moreover, you have a number of dialects to deal with, so which pronounciation do you choose? Most people think that Cantonese is closest to Tang dynasty Chinese, so that's one step, but I guess you would have to look to the linguists to reconstruct the earliest Chinese pronunciations and then examine nearby civilizations of that era and see what sound borrowings are possible.

I'm definitely not an expert in this, though.

[ Parent ]
To anser the question (none / 0) (#88)
by darthaya on Fri Jun 13, 2003 at 03:40:08 PM EST

It was originally from cantonese, whose pronounciations varies vastly from mandarin.

[ Parent ]
+1 Informative! (none / 0) (#90)
by redking on Sun Jun 15, 2003 at 12:31:56 AM EST

Cool article, thanks.

Hard Wok Pays Off | 92 comments (48 topical, 44 editorial, 0 hidden)
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