So you’ve got your carbon steel wok home and unpacked, and you’re excited to use it.
But first, you have to season it first before putting it in good use. Also as you get busy cooking with carbon steel wok, you will need to eventually season your wok. That’s because with use, carbon steel could lose some of its non-stick quality, and could even rust. So seasoning is simply part of the regular care of your carbon steel wok.
Why Does Carbon Steel Wok Need To Be Seasoned?
Carbon Steel Wok has many benefits over other types of cookware, one of which is a natural non-stick surface. But carbon steel isn’t non-stick until it’s seasoned, which is a simple process that involves oiling and high heat to develop its non-toxic, non-stick surface.
Carbon steel’s surface also becomes smoother with more seasoning. And, the seasoning process will help ensure a long life for your cookware. After multiple uses, the non-stick quality may start to diminish, or your cookware may develop rust if it hasn’t been dried properly.
So the more you season, following the right process, the longer your wok will last. You’ll get out of your cookware what you put into it.
What’s The Key To Seasoning Carbon Steel Wok?
One of the keys to seasoning is to make sure the factory coating is removed by using hot water, dish soap, and vigorous scrubbing with steel wool. Dry the wok and then put it over low heat to finish drying thoroughly. A clean surface of the wok helps to hasten the development and strength of the patina
The other key point, which we are about to cover, is choosing the right oil to season your carbon steel wok. You need an oil with a high smoke point, which is the temperature at which the oil starts to burn and smoke.
It’s not a good idea to season (or cook) with oil heated past its smoke point. It makes the pan and the food smell and taste burned, but it also destroys beneficial nutrients found in oil, and can create harmful “free radicals.”
Which probably leads you to ask, “What’s the best oil to use to season your carbon steel wok?”
So we’re here to help with the 8 best oils to use for carbon steel seasoning, and 2 oils to avoid.
1. Soybean Oil
Soybean oil has a high smoke point of 234 degrees celsius (453 ºF). That means it can withstand anything you want to cook, from eggs to stir-fry to fry rice.
Soybean oil is also rich in healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. That makes it a great choice as an oil for cooking with, as well as for seasoning your cast iron cookware.
2. Grapeseed Oil
This is another good choice as it has a high smoke point of 216 degrees celsius (420 ºF). It’s also a popular choice because its taste blends well with other flavours. In other words, it doesn’t stand out with a distinct taste that can overpower other seasonings.
In fact, it lets other flavours shine through, so it’s also good to use for making salad dressings and in other recipes where you want a neutral base.
3. Avocado Oil
Avocado oil is increasing in popularity for cooking, because it’s high in healthy fats and antioxidants. As avocados increase in popularity, its oil is following behind.
Avocado oil is also beneficial for seasoning because of its high smoke point of 271 degrees celsius (519 ºF). That makes it ideal for searing and frying in your cast iron as well. You can also use it for roasting, or for making salad dressings.
4. Peanut Oil
Peanut oil does have a distinct flavour, so it’s not quite as versatile as grapeseed or soybean oils. However, it’s extremely popular for deep-frying, mostly because of its high smoke point of 232 degrees celsius (449 ºF).
And you may want that somewhat powerful flavour, depending on what you’re cooking. Peanut oil is ideal as a complementary flavour, so Asian cuisine is a natural for this oil.
5. Lard/ Pork Fat
Traditionally used by chinese families. This method adds spectacular flavor to the wok. Just simply cook 1kg of fresh pork lard (available from butchers in wet markets) over low heat for 30min, coating the wok evenly with the fat.
Pork Fat smoke point is 190 degrees celsius (374 ºF).
6. Vegetable Oil
Vegetable oil is usually a blend of several refined oils. Its neutral smell and taste does make it versatile, but it only has a smoke point of 204 degrees celsius (399 ºF).
It would serve your needs as a seasoning oil, but may not be the best choice. You can use it after seasoning to fry or sauté in high heat, but don’t count on it to add any flavour.
7. Canola Oil
Canola oil is similar to vegetable oil in many ways: neutral flavour, the same smoke point of 204 degrees celsius (399 ºF) , and it can be used for many of the same recipes and cooking needs.
With canola oil, you know exactly what you’re getting – a product pressed from the rapeseed plant. It isn’t a blend. It’s also handy for salad dressings, as it won’t overpower herbs and other seasonings.
8. Flaxseed Oil
Some experts claim flaxseed oil is the ideal choice, but the results can vary greatly depending on the grade of oil that you purchase.
Flaxseed is favoured by some because it dries out naturally, but depending on the quality you're using it may only smoke as low as 107 degrees celsius (224 ºF), making it less than ideal. You have to be certain to get 100% flaxseed, not blended, which is said to smoke up to 232 degrees celsius (449 ºF) . It has a unique smell though which can turn off some people.
It’s also pricier than other oils and usually only found in health food stores and occasionally pharmacies.
Bonus: What Oils NOT To Use
Now you know the top choices for seasoning, here’s what not to use to season your carbon steel wok.
1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is 109-162 degrees celsius (228 -323 ºF). Save olive oil for dipping bread and preparing dressings with its unique flavour. It’s not ideal for seasoning carbon steel.
2. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has a higher smoke point of 232 degrees celsius (449ºF), but has a strong flavour that doesn't match many cuisines. It’s also solid at room temperature, so it’s not great for salad dressings or other meal prep.
Instead, use your coconut oil for moderate-heat cooking if you desire a tropical scent and flavour; think prawns or other shellfish. Just don’t use it for seasoning carbon steel wok.
Over To You
One of the benefits of carbon steel is the natural non-stick quality of the cookware. It’s excellent for preparing a wide variety of foods, without unnatural chemicals added to the surface to give it a non-stick finish.
To keep that non-stick quality, however, it’s essential to properly care for the wok, including re-seasoning it from time to time. This doesn’t require much work, and it will ensure you get years of use from your carbon steel wok.
Now that you’ve read our guide to the 8 best oils to use to season your cast iron cookware, along with a couple you shouldn’t, you’re ready to head to the store and get some oil to use with your carbon steel. Happy wokking.